Saturday, February 17, 2018

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 Argemira Flórez, a current 2L at Columbia Law School. Argemira was a student in Columbia's Mediation Clinic last semester and is now taking the Advanced Mediation Clinic. 


One of my main goals while taking the Mediation Clinic last semester was to make a judgment as to whether mediation produces better justice than adjudication. While the lawyer in me found valid claims for both, the citizen in me found that mediation more closely aligns with my view for “better justice.” In my view, mediation produces better justice because it empowers people to be agents of their own change. It returns power to people whose main complaints are usually founded on a loss of power, or agency in some capacity.

Robert A. Baruch Bush is an author whose discussion on mediation vs. adjudication informed my views on why I think mediation produces better justice. In one of his pieces, Bush wrote an imaginary conversation between a judge, law clerk, law professor, and a court administrator, on the legitimacy and need for mediation. Through his realistic, albeit fictional, depictions of the goals of each player in the legal process, I became acutely aware of how the legal system is often much more loyal to its processes than to the people whom it is supposed to be serving through those processes. For example, Bush highlighted the goals of a court administrator as saving time and money. He presented the goals of a law professor as protecting the court as a public institution and promoting its values. Bush contrasted those goals with that of a mediator, which was to reach the best possible substantive result or solution to the parties’ problem. Admittedly, both litigators and mediators are loyal to a process. However, it seems to me that mediators are loyal to a process that more readily cedes to its parties’ will. In ceding to the parties’ will, mediation becomes a process that both protects, and empowers parties as they advocate for themselves. To me, that is better justice.

Unfortunately, I must admit that there are some cases that cannot be resolved through the mediation process. For example, there are many obvious reasons as to why mediation might not be the best means of resolving immigration disputes. Challenges might include power imbalances of the parties at the table, confidentiality concerns, and a heavy influence of law in the mediation However, I should note that the 9th Circuit has approved the use of mediation in some cases in the past (e.g. cases where a change in a petitioner’s situation might allow for an adjustment in status). It is my opinion that in issues of a polycentric nature such as these, the mediation process may fall short of what is actually needed (i.e. policy reform). Nevertheless, I agree with Michael Cardozo when he says that ADR may not be the answer to the resolution of every government problem, but it can play a major constructive role in resolving social policy disputes.

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