LL.M. Programs in Alternative Dispute Resolution

Specialized programs can help lawyers with tactics like mediation and negotiation, which are increasingly used as alternatives to litigation

Although almost every lawyer is aware of alternative dispute resolution practices like negotiation and mediation, it’s worth noting that these are pretty recent developments in law.

“When I went to law school, it was still considered fuzzy-headed fringe stuff,” says Paul Ladehoff, the director of the LL.M. program in Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri School of Law. 

“Now it's a regular component of practice.”

Many legal analysts have pointed to the growth of alternative dispute resolution – referred to by practitioners as simply “ADR” – as a main reason why fewer cases are going to trial. Many contracts today require participants to waive trial rights and instead opt for arbitration. Meanwhile, many political entities, like the EU, are relying more on ADR as an efficient way of settling problems.

This growth has spurred the creation of specialized LL.M. programs in the space. While the Missouri program has been running since 1999, other law schools are increasingly taking note of the shift.

All LL.M. programs in Alternative Dispute Resolution

Last year, for instance, the University of Manchester School of Law announced an LL.M. track in Transnational Dispute Resolution. The program trains lawyers to navigate the complex and evolving realm of cross-jurisdictional law, which can involve a mess of international courts and tribunals, and often demands mediation and arbitration skills.

In 2013, Fordham University Law School launched a similar program; over the past five years, a number of other law schools, such as the University of Dubai, Erasmus University, and Penn State Law, have launched various LL.M. programs in alternative dispute resolution.

And new programs just keep coming. Just last month, the USC Gould School of Law announced that it would launch a certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution later this year.

“We have been noticing that there's a growing interest in the legal community and also with our students about alternative dispute resolution, and we know that it's going to be a significant topic going forward,” says Sarah Hall, career adviser at USC.

For the USC certificate, only two courses will be required: one covering ethics in alternative dispute resolution, and the other looking at law and policy as they relate to the practice. The rest of the curriculum will be made up of elective courses, where students will be able to drill down into mediation, arbitration, and other subjects.

“I think that this is going to be really helpful for them to learn the ways that mediation and arbitration work, even if they don't end up doing arbitration or mediation,” Hall says.

The certificate, Hall says, was launched with an eye toward the future, where legal issues will be increasingly settled through alternative dispute resolution.

“Going forward, more and more companies will look to arbitration as a means of settling disputes,” rather than litigation, which can be costly and time-consuming.

ADR LL.M. programs appeal to a variety of participants, including litigators who want to transition into dispute-resolution full time, or those who just want to integrate it into their existing firms. Others want to be exposed to emerging topics in the practice, such as online dispute resolution.

[See the Top 10 LL.M. Programs for Alternative Dispute Resolution]

According to Amy Britton-Cox, director of professional LL.M. programs at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, some who attend the school’s Professional LL.M. in Alternative Dispute Resolution are already working in some kind of dispute-resolution capacity, but want to benefit from current research that can help them in their practice.

“It's one thing to be doing day-to-day work in your role as a negotiator, mediator or arbitrator,” says Britton-Cox. 

“It's another thing to step back into the classroom, study the theory, and really engage in the deeper themes and theories behind the work that you're doing.”

In Osgoode’s program, these deeper themes include aspects of diversity, culture, and power. In practicing alternative dispute resolution, “you can't ignore power imbalances,” Britton-Cox says.

It’s important to understand “what creates conflict, what leads to conflict, what facilitates conflict resolution, and what will be a lasting solution,” Britton-Cox continues.

On the flip side, some ADR-oriented LL.M. programs also allow students to get some relevant experience in the field, through internships, externships, or legal clinics. According to Paul Ladehoff, some Missouri ADR LL.M. students have done externships with local arbitrators, as well as with the United Nations and community mediators.

As part of Cardozo Law’s Dispute Resolution and Advocacy LL.M. program, participation in an experiential component is required. The school offers clinics covering a wide breadth of areas where ADR can be applied, such as Holocaust claims restitution, divorce mediation, and employment law, for example. 

Do you need an LL.M. to practice ADR?

According to law school representatives, completing an LL.M. in ADR can help open up a range of job opportunities, from teaching the practice to designing dispute systems. But do you actually need an LL.M. to practice alternative dispute resolution? 

“I've not seen too many jobs where it says [that an LL.M.] is required,” says Paul Ladehoff.

“Folks can mediate without an LL.M. Folks can arbitrate without an LL.M. Can they do it better, having had this experience? Yes. Are there some doors that will open more quickly for them? Sure.”

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