Students in the Mediation Clinic participate in various court and community-based dispute resolution programs in New York City. In addition, the Mediation Clinic offers free dispute resolution services to the Columbia University community.
The Mediation Clinic gives those students who may make mediation part of their professional lives a good start in terms of both skills and ethics. It helps students see the benefits and limitations of mediation and other dispute-resolution techniques so that they can responsibly counsel clients about their choices; it helps students understand how feelings, background values, and personal style affect performance in a professional role; and it provides quality assistance to parties whose disputes the clinic mediates.
In the classroom, students receive mediation-skills training and analyze the ethical, systemic, and jurisprudential issues involved in the ADR movement. The "texts" for class include the mediations that students observe or conduct, as well as readings, tapes, and role-plays that highlight important issues in the development of mediation practice. In addition, students observe "neutrals" (mediators) at work in a variety of settings.
Students mediate actual community disputes at the Community Mediation Center at Safe Horizon, a nonprofit victim-assistance, advocacy, and violence-prevention organization. Typical cases include disputes between neighbors, roommates, and co-workers, as well as business and organizational conflicts.
Students also mediate civil cases at New York City Civil Court Personal Appearance Part and small claims cases at the Harlem Small Claims Court, as well as employment-discrimination claims brought by federal employees and referred by EEOC administrative law judges.
"Columbia's clinics offer a chance for students to do something out of the classroom that has direct practical application. What attracted me to mediation in particular was that it teaches skills—and requires that you develop and use them—in ways that are applicable not just in the mediation setting but in a lot of different settings. Mediation is largely about problems that people have, but problems are compounded by more elusive emotional issues. My favorite part of the clinic was learning how to really listen to people and understand what they mean as well as what they say. The most challenging part was putting my own opinions aside and accepting that the main goal was for the parties to come to an agreement that they both found acceptable."
– Michael Brown '03
Request A Mediation
Columbia's Mediation Clinic offers the unique service of an informal and confidential forum where participants can discuss their concerns. The mediators are trained law students who act as neutral third parties. With the help of mediators, the parties sit down together and generate solutions. Unlike a judge, a mediator does not decide who is right or wrong. The mediator simply helps the participants communicate and, when appropriate, reach an agreement that respects the needs and interests of all parties. Mediation is a confidential, voluntary process.
Why Should I Mediate?
Disputes, conflicts, and complaints are a normal part of university life. Mediation allows parties in a dispute to control the outcomes of their conflicts. Mediation can work well for people who want to avoid the stress and inflexibility of more formal procedures or for people who need to continue working relationships. Many kinds of conflicts can be resolved successfully through mediation.
Mediation can help resolve a range of issues including disrespectful treatment, noise complaints, harassment, assault, discrimination, and property damage. Disputes occur throughout the university community and between a variety of parties; for example, between students, between roommates, between faculty members and students, or between co-workers.
How Can I Get The Most Out Of Mediation?
Mediation works best when all the parties involved are present to discuss the issues that are the source of conflict. The neutral mediator helps create an environment where all participants have equal and full voice. Such open communication helps people in conflict listen to one another's viewpoints and identify the underlying issues and interests. In this way, the mediation process allows participants to find meaningful resolutions to their disputes. Often participants leave mediation better able to communicate and resolve conflicts in the future.
How Can I Request A Mediation?
The Columbia Law School Mediation Clinic offers free dispute resolution to members of the Columbia community. You can request mediation in these ways:
- Call us at 212-854-4291
- Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- See below to complete an online request for mediation. Information requested is confidential and will only be used by the mediators and their supporting staff
Flier for Mediation at Columbia Law School
Case Example: Adversaries Find Common Ground
Clinic students mediated a case between a construction company whose employee had dropped a tool from a scaffold and the woman on whose car the tool had fallen. The car owner had presented the bill for repairs to the construction company, but the company's owner had refused to pay, believing the cost could not have been as high as the woman claimed. The woman sued him in Harlem Small Claims Court, where both parties agreed to have their case mediated by Columbia students.
The student mediators explained the process to both parties, listened to their stories, and summarized the information straightforwardly. They also suggested that they hold separate meetings with each party. Although the woman had held her ground in front of her adversary, privately she was able to rethink the dispute and said that she would be willing to lower her claim. Likewise, in private, the man increased his offer by several hundred dollars.
The mediators brought the parties back together and they agreed amicably on a price. The students then wrote up the agreement—specifying how and when the payment would be made—and submitted it to the judge.
In Action: Students' Work In The Mediation Clinic
Rebecca Netter ’07 dealt with an interesting case that could have been resolved outside the court system while taking part in a mediation at the Harlem Community Justice Center.
Read about their work and the Mediation Clinic In Action.
Faculty Highlight: Professor Carol Liebman
Professor Carol Liebman, Clinical Professor of Law, joined the Columbia faculty in 1992. She has lectured and taught widely on negotiation and mediation, legal education, and professional-responsibility issues, and has written about the use of mediation in a variety of contexts.
To read Professor Liebman’s full biography and to find her contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.
Faculty Highlight: Professor Alexandra Carter
Alexandra Carter, a former associate attorney with Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and a mediator, is Director of the Clinical Program at Columbia. She teaches the Law School's Mediation Clinic with Professor Carol B. Liebman. Professor Carter, who won the Jane Marks Murphy Prize for clinical advocacy while a student at Columbia Law School, has become a strong advocate of mediation as a valuable tool for many kinds of legal challenges.
To read Professor Carter’s full biography and to find her contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.