Michael Camarinos, FCRH ’07, LAW ’10, happened to be blogging at abovethelaw.com this past April when someone released an advance list of the U.S. News and World Report law school rankings.
As chairman of Fordham Law’s Dispute Resolution Society (DRS), Camarinos was thrilled to discover that Fordham’s Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program had risen to eighth in the nation, ahead of most Ivy League schools with similar programs.
“I was overjoyed,” Camarinos recalled. “I thought, ‘We are right in the game now, even ready to take on Harvard.’”
The game Camarinos referred to is the coveted stage of international competitions in arbitration, negotiation and mediation—competitions that all fall under the umbrella of ADR programs at Fordham and other universities. The eighth-place ranking was the highest ever by a Fordham law school specialty program. An enthusiastic Camarinos called its faculty director, Jacqueline Nolan-Haley, immediately with the news.
“In competitions, this was one of our best years ever,” said Nolan-Haley, professor of law and director of the ADR and conflict resolution program. “With the successes of our various teams, getting to that rank was wonderful for us.”
While the phrase “dispute resolution” sounds rather dry, the philosophy of the program is not. Through courses, competitions and even some real-world negotiating, students gain practical experience in how to become some of the most creative problem solvers in the legal marketplace.
Those that compete in the DRS hone their skills through vigorous practice in mock negotiations, mediations and arbitrations with student, faculty and alumni coaches. They are then matched with a teammate and are entered into domestic and international competitions, traveling to locales such as Hong Kong, Vienna and Paris.
“Mediation is a very hard process, actually,” Nolan-Haley said. “It is based on problem solving instead of an adversarial model of ‘fight as much as you can, get as much as you can.’ And it requires creative thinking.”
In fact, Fordham’s DRS is so popular at the law school that last year nearly 45 percent of second-year law students and a quarter of first-years—nearly 150 students—tried out for 28 positions on the team.
Those 10 or 15 percent who are chosen look forward to long hours of training outside of classes, sometimes as much as 50 hours a week when preparing for a competition. What they get is a chance to compete in one or more of five competitions each academic year.
This year, Fordham’s team at ICC International Commercial Mediation—Justin Elliott, LAW ’10, and Cindy Alvarado, LAW ’10—placed fourth in the world and first in the nation in the competition that attracted more than 40 teams from 18 countries.
They participated in seven mock cases dealing with international commercial disputes—ranging from a liability battle between a wine merchant and wine distributor over bad wine, to an intellectual property fight over who had the rights to sell a patented perfume.
The team’s head coach was Stephen Grable, LAW ’07. A commercial litigation attorney at Hahn & Hessen L.L.C., Grable volunteers some 60 to 70 hours of prep time each year in the month leading up to the competition. A former DRS team member and chairman himself, Grable routinely invites students to practice in his Manhattan office and travels to Paris as part of the coaching team.
“My involvement with the society is easily my greatest source of pride as an alumnus,” Grable said.
The strenuousness of that ICC competition, said Camarinos, made it the hardest in which he has ever been involved. The teams had only a few hours between competitions, so they had to adapt quickly, often turning arguments, or points of view, on a dime. What ultimately puts a team ahead, Camarinos said, is “good instinct.”
“Part of it is knowing how to proceed with your options and interests, and ultimately evaluating your best alternative, i.e., when to make a deal,” he said. “That instinct is something the judges know when they see it.”
Nolan-Haley is the force behind the establishment of the DRS and Fordham’s ADR program. While practicing law several years ago in international trade litigation, she suspected that there was a “better way” to do her practice. In the late 1980s, she began teaching a mediation course at Fordham.
Nolan-Haley’s course proved so popular that she set up a mediation clinic at small claims courts in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. The clinic still operates today and provides students the opportunity to mediate such issues as landlord-tenant, employer-employee and defective goods and services cases.
Eventually, the mediation focus was expanded to include all forms of alternative dispute resolution.
“Over the last 10 years we have really tried to grow a program,” Nolan-Haley said. “The successes we’ve had have been a massive effort—by faculty, by students and by our alumni.”