The Many Lessons of the Mediation Clinic

As an LLM student at NYU, you will try to fit the maximum number of classes that interest you into one year. When I took a first look at the courses we get to choose from, I was shocked: there were more than 200 of them, and only around 10 could become part of my schedule. But what I knew for sure was that I wanted to combine theoretical knowledge with some practical experience, and for me the Mediation Clinic was a perfect match!

Four students in mediation simulation session
Videotaped mediation simulation sessions helped us hone our skills in the Mediation Clinic.

So what is it all about? Mediation is one kind of alternative dispute resolution, and the mediator is a person who facilitates discussion between two parties in conflict. An important part of our clinic is a seminar familiarizing us with with various mediation techniques. During in-class videotaped mediation sessions, in addition to being mediators we get to play the roles of the parties in dispute. There is also fieldwork in which we apply skills learned in practice while working with real people at New York City Small Claims Court in Brooklyn and the Bronx or at the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution.

What do you get from it? Apart from the fact that the seminars are extremely interesting and interactive (for example, you get to take a test on your attitude toward conflicts or find out which unconscious biases you might have), during both in-class mediations and fieldwork sessions you get to know people’s personalities better, learn to guess their feelings, and determine underlying interests hidden behind the surface issues. Sometimes the process seems very easy at first glance, and then something serious suddenly comes up (such as, for example, discriminatory treatment at work or related to rental housing), and you learn how to deal with that as well.

Building housing Small Claims Court in the Bronx
Gaining real-world experience at New York City Small Claims Court in the Bronx was an important part of the Mediation Clinic.

The biggest challenge of the class is that our fieldwork experience is sometimes quite different from what we learn in the seminar. At Small Claims Court it could be all about money; people may be unwilling to develop an amicable relationship, so you don’t get to work with their feelings much. Sometimes people treat you as a judge and try to persuade you to make a decision about their issue (which, of course, a mediator cannot do). But I still consider this experience valuable. The most important thing I’ve learned is to act primarily in line with my intuition, inner feelings, and ethical principles, and to remember that the main goal of mediation is not to reach a solution but to put as much effort as possible into resolving a conflict with the best solution for everyone concerned.