Saturday, February 10, 2018

Filling Gaps in the Legal System through Mediation

From the Field is a recurring column written by current clinical students where they share their perspectives on their own experiences with clinical education. This post is from Yoon Won Song.  Born in Seoul Korea, Yoon is currently a third-year student at Columbia Law School. She has taken both Mediation Clinic and Advanced Mediation Clinic in the past and is continuing her third semester of the clinic. 


Mediation clinic taught me to view law in a very special way.  It taught me to accept the imperfections in the legal system and showed me how to navigate and overcome those deficiencies.  As a law student, I used to believe that the legal system effectively reflected the principles of justice, but the more I studied the traditional black letter law, the more I became aware of the system’s shortcomings.  Different people have different conceptions of justice and such complexities cannot be reduced into some master-value rule.  Oftentimes, legal system fails to account for various definitions of justice people have and court judgments do not offer the best solutions. 

Mediating real parties in real life disputes showed me that there are ways to fill such gaps in the traditional legal system.  Court-referred mediation is one of such instruments. Usually, by the time parties appear in court, things have become so adversarial that parties would not independently suggest mediation or negotiation, but many parties I have mediated were open, and even eager, to the idea of mediating and settling.  They wanted to try mediation, settle the matter, and move on.  What made them so eager to try mediation?  Perhaps it’s the anxiety that built up while waiting for a judgment or the crude reality that the judge will side with only one of the parties.  By the time parties appear in court, parties may have become doubtful of their claims than when they initially decided to file their claims in court.  I realized that parties to a lawsuit don’t necessarily seek court judgment and may wish for a different method of resolution. 

Court-referred mediation offers parties a second chance to opt-out of the traditional law and resolve their conflicts through open and honest conversation.  It allows them to find a win-win solution tailored to their specific case that court judgments cannot offer.  Had the judge not refer their cases to mediation some of the most successful settlements I have seen would never have been possible.

As a student in Advanced Mediation Clinic, I also participated in Columbia’s partnership with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), where we learned that even global scale conflicts, complex business disputes, and multi-cultural tensions could be resolved peacefully through mediation and negotiation.  

After being exposed to various types of mediation, I came to realize that mediation can successfully fill the gaps that are present not only in legal system, but in society as well.  Clinical education has shaped the way I view law and society and imparted me with important skills that I will carry personally and professionally after law school.

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