BY PAT ROBERTSON
On Wednesday, November 3, three experts in alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) spoke about their careers and thoughts about mediation and arbitration. John Bickerman, Stacey Cushner, and Margaret “Peg” Leibowitz came to campus as part of the World of Law series of lectures sponsored by the Harvard Mediation Program, the Office of Career Services, and the Office of Public Interest Advising. The speakers talked about their background, what they do as mediators and arbitrators, and gave some career advice to those interested in getting involved in the field.
The president of the Harvard Mediation Program, Elena J. Voss, introduced each of the panelists. John Bickerman is the founder of Bickerman Dispute Resolution, a private firm in Washington DC that arbitrates and sets up dispute resolution systems for institutions. Bickerman is a former adjunct professor of Georgetown University Law Center, and his current practice covers a wide range of areas including mass torts, insurance, and natural resources, and he mainly practices mediation. Stacey Cushner is the president of BCK Dispute Resolution Services, and focuses in the areas of construction and employment arbitration. She was one of the first women to be appointed to the American Arbitration Assocation’s Panel of Arbitrators for Construction cases, and currently mediates and arbitrates disputes ranging from thousands to tens of millions of dollars. Margaret Leibowitz specializes in labor relations as an arbitrator, and works in cases involving unions and enforcing their collective bargaining agreements. She is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (as is Mr. Bickerman), and has taught at Cornell, New York Law School, and Baruch Business School.
Voss asked the panelists several questions, including how they became mediators and arbitrators, what kinds of disputes they worked on, what was the process of a typical case, and what they did on a typical day. The panelists represented a wide variety of practice areas and how they became involved in the field. Bickerman had worked as an economist focusing on public policy, and became involved in ADR by working at Kaye Scholer that had one of the few ADR practice groups in the country at the time. Cushner had been in an Attorney General’s office, and developed an expertise in construction law and was asked to be an arbitrator for construction disputes. Leibowitz had studied labor relationships as an undergraduate, and became an expert in labor law. She spent time teaching union stewards about representing their shops, worked in private practice and for the government, and later became a professor teaching various aspects of labor law.
All of the panelists agreed that there was no such thing as a typical day, but they all described a fair amount of preparation by learning the facts of the dispute in question and brushing up on relevant law. They also agreed that there was no such thing as a typical dispute. Bickerman, for example, spoke about work he did with Native American tribes mediating over such issues as water rights, while Cushner often deals with the technical aspects of construction and interrupted projects. Cushner described a highly formal process with discovery requests with co-arbitrators serving with her, whereas Leibowitz’s arbitrations are much more informal with union and management simply trying to reach a resolution.
Questions from the audience at the end provided another interesting set of perspectives on practicing professionally as an arbitrator or mediator. For example, all of the panelists agreed that the entire ADR field was becoming more legal. While at one point many arbitrators were professionals in an area such as construction or union relations, lawyers have become increasingly involved and thus substantive legal knowledge has risen in importance. The panelists also agreed that their interest in the field was a combination of intellectual stimulation as well as the fact that helping people resolve their problems and reach agreement (unlike the win-lose mentality of litigation) was truly satisfying.
The panelists’ passion for their work and their expertise in a wide variety of fields provided a comprehensive view of ADR practice.
A video of the panel will be available at http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/hmp/.