Are we nearly there yet? Reflections on the HDR journey

As we move towards the middle of this my fourth year of PhD candidature, my thesis submission date is drawing rapidly nigh and the anxiety level is elevated a notch,  I thought it might be useful to reflect on the journey thus far and to share with you some of the highlights and low points of the journey although, thankfully, of the latter there is little to report.

child drawing

Image: ‘Child Drawing’ by The Naked Ape, Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I think it is fair to say that the journey may never have commenced at all, had it not been for the blindingly obvious conclusion after thirty years of legal practice as a commercial litigator, that the solutions being offered to litigants by the traditional justice system were somewhat less than ideal.  Clients were complaining that the court could not offer the relief they were seeking, the costs of “winning” were prohibitively high and most of the cases in which I was instructed were resolved on some basis well before they reached a hearing.  Try as I might, I could never quite be convinced of the claim that the public interest in having the courts “…explicate and give force to the values embodied in authoritative texts…” (1) or otherwise declare the law for the benefit of the public good, had any real relevance to some of the mundane and routine cases in which I was involved.  In fact, of all of the hundreds of cases in which I acted throughout my career as a lawyer, only two found their way into the law reports.

And so it was that, armed with the vision of a broader view of justice and a transcript of my Masters in Dispute Resolution, I arrived at the academy with a request to be admitted to the RHD program.  It is worth noting at this juncture that the welcoming and supportive culture of the academic community generally and my academic supervisors especially, has been nothing short of outstanding and I believe it is a tribute to their encouragement and support that I have persevered this far.

I am happy to say that my first year of candidature was both vigorous and productive.  Together with my colleague Armin Alimardani I represented the Faculty of Law at UNSW in the Three Minute Thesis competition where we both performed without distinction but were grateful for the experience.  The formulation of an appropriate research question, the preparation of a proposal and writing of a literature review  occupied most of the year and did much to clear my thoughts about the path that lay ahead.  I was delighted to discover that others had trodden the path I sought to travel and there was a rich and abundant supply of research evidence in the general dispute resolution field.  The filtering of this material was as fascinating as it was challenging and the effort was well rewarded because it placed me in an excellent position to approach the confirmation examination with confidence and to receive and consider the reviewers’ comments constructively.  Other features of the year included attendance at a compulsory course on research methodology and the acceptance for publication of the first of three articles which have appeared in the Australasian Alternative Dispute Resolution Journal.

The clear highlight of 2015 was the opportunity of presenting a paper at the 4th ADRN Roundtable at UNSW in September, an event which I shall long remember because it was there that I was introduced to the members of this research network, a group of like-minded thinkers, researchers and teachers who share my passion for a broader framework of justice.  I have attended each of our roundtables since and hope to do so again this year. It is, I think, an important and integral part of the aspiring academic’s learning experience to have the opportunity to present his or her research at as many roundtables and conferences as possible.  It provides an opportunity for practice at presenting, an opportunity to review the work of others and to receive comments and review of one’s own work in a supportive and non-threatening environment.    It also encourages collaboration and the formulation of collaborative networks such as the ADRRN.  For the RHD candidate, it also provides a much needed point of human contact with other researchers.  The road to a PhD can be a lonely journey at times and it is a good thing to meet with others professionally and socially to exchange thoughts and ideas about what is happening in the research discipline.  For me, the ADRRN roundtable is an end-of-year reward for diligence throughout the past year.

The research question with which I am concerned is how lawyers are engaging with court-connected mediation.  In her optimistically titled work, The New Lawyer: How settlement is transforming the practice of law (2) Julie Macfarlane explores the reasons why lawyers have traditionally acted in an adversarial manner in response to conflict and dispute.  She says that it is a cultural issue and that we (lawyers) behave as we do because of our “legal professional culture.”  She posits the existence of three core elements of legal professional culture which guide our thinking and steer us towards adversarial competition whenever a dispute arises.  Those elements are, firstly, the default to a rights based system of justice, secondly a belief in justice as process and thirdly a belief in the superiority of the lawyer as expert.  Using a data collection instrument designed to capture the presence of those elements in research respondents and with ethics approval sought and obtained, I set off in the Spring of 2016 to drive to various country centres throughout New South Wales to speak to lawyers about their views on court-connected mediation.  I spoke with each respondent for an hour, recorded the interviews with their permission on my smartphone and transcribed the interviews later.  (For anyone who may be contemplating this as a strategy for the future, be warned: the transcription time to interview time is 6:1 so for every hour of interview you can expect to spend six hours transcribing).

The verdict is in.  The qualitative data has been analysed and the interviews studied.  In many respects the results are not surprising.   They align with other research done in other places and at other times.  The good news is that, even over the past five years or so, we lawyers have made some progress in embracing court-connected mediation although at times with a begrudging acceptance and a resignation that it is here to stay and we may as well get used to it.  Particular themes emerged and are dealt with in my thesis.  They include, notably, the much vexed issue of disputant participation and the issue of confidentiality.  Understanding of how lawyers grapple with these issues is of particular interest to me because they go a long way to explaining what Olivia Rundle calls “the dilemma of court-connected mediation.”  Other themes which emerged from the data were the inclusion in mediation narrative of non-legal material and the question of whether, in court-connected mediation, mediators should be facilitative or directive.  A better understanding of these issues will give lawyers and their clients a better understanding of mediation and a more satisfying mediation experience.

So, as I turn into the straight for the final run home to what I hope will be a successful conclusion, I am sometimes reminded of family holidays and long car journeys and colouring books when my children would ask: “Are we nearly there yet?” and their mother would patiently reply: “Nearly there.  Just a little while to go. Just keep drawing in your book.  I’m sure you can make it a little better.” 


(1) O. Fiss Against Settlement 93 Yale LJ 1073 1983-1984 at p 1085

(2) J. Macfarlane The New Lawyer: How settlement is transforming the practice of law (Vancouver UBC Press 2008)

 

 

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Mediation in NSW schools

by Frances Richards.

Frances is a volunteer adjudicator for the Law Society of New South Wales mock mediation competition. Frances is an accredited mediator and an Adjunct Lecturer at the School of Law, Sydney, The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Mock mediation grandfinal

2017 Mock mediation Grand Final – this was the winning team Trinity Catholic College Lismore, with presiding adjudicators on either end of the team in the black jacket (Lara Bishkov), white jacket (Monika Lama) and pink jacket (Helen Miedzinski). Photo courtesy Frances Richards

This article is about initiatives to introduce mediation to students in NSW schools.

The NSW Department of Education offers peer mediation programs for primary and secondary public schools in NSW. These programs are one of the conflict resolution strategies available for schools to adopt. The Department provides resources for schools to use and intends to update these resources. The resources can be found at: Peer Mediation.

The Law Society of NSW organizes an annual mock mediation competition for secondary public and private school students. The competition provides an opportunity for students to develop, refine and practice cooperative problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

What are the objectives of these initiatives to introduce mediation in NSW schools?

According to the Department’s resources, the peer mediation programs are intended to ‘empower, prepare and support students and staff to deal successfully with conflict situations at school, at home and in later life.’

According to the Mock Mediation Manual 2018, the competition aims to:

“ Recognise the opportunities for change and progress that can result from conflict and improve the ability of students to manage conflict in a way that leads to a positive outcome

Acknowledge the increasing use of mediation by courts and the community, and equip students with the skills necessary to participate in a mediation process.

Educate students about the importance of the process in tandem with constructive dialogue.”

How does mediation in schools work?

The peer mediation program involves one or two trained student mediators assisting two disputants through a structured process to reach resolution of a dispute. Peer mediation programs are coordinated by staff trained in mediation, who provide ongoing supervision and support to student mediators. Peer mediation programs are intended for minor disputes such as gossip and rumour spreading, name calling, friendship problems, teasing, loss of property and exclusion.

The mock mediation competition is open to students in years 9 and 10. Each school participating in the competition has 1 team with a maximum of 9 students.  Each team participates in 3 rounds. All teams in the competition receive a certificate of participation. The two teams who reach the grand final receive a certificate and a medal. The winning team receives a trophy.  The competition requires involvement and support from teachers as coaches and mediators as adjudicators.

To receive points for the competition, the students must demonstrate skills including:

Listening, Brainstorming, Empathy, Judgment, Questioning, Decision making, Communication, Teamwork, Problem solving, Leadership, Negotiation, Time management, Assertiveness and Reflecting.

What are the benefits for students?

Both the peer mediation program and the mock mediation competition are intended to benefit the students, staff, schools and community.

The intended benefits for students are:

  • Skill development including communication, listening and problem-solving skills
  • Assuming greater responsibility for solving their own problems
  • Creating an awareness of their responsibilities when dealing with others
  • Furthering personal development and self-improvement
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Learning to manage conflict in a productive way

In addition to the mediation competition context, acquiring these skills may be of importance for the future employability of the students. A recent study of the Canadian workforce by the Royal Bank of Canada shows that these are the types of skills students will require to negotiate the future. The study found that “An assessment of 20,000 skills rankings across 300 occupations and 2.4 million expected job openings shows an increasing demand for foundational skills such as critical thinking, co-ordination, social perceptiveness, active listening and complex problem solving.”

The study also found that “Virtually all job openings will place significant importance on judgement and decision making and more than two thirds will value an ability to manage people and resources.”

The findings of the study are contained in the report “Humans Wanted How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption” published on 26 March 2018.

What are the other benefits?

The intended benefits for schools and the wider community include:

  • reduced conflict in the school environment
  • reduced bullying and aggressive behaviour
  • reduced tension in the classroom environment
  • reduced time spent by staff on minor disputes
  • safer and more harmonious school environment
  • maximising the opportunity for learning for all students
  • promoting open communication to resolve contentious issues
  • maximising the benefits of cooperative problem-solving
  • encouraging mediation and negotiation as an alternative to litigation

What does the research show?

An exploratory study into a peer mediation program in a primary school context in NSW collected data that demonstrated therapeutic benefits for the school community, that students reported that participation in the peer mediation program had benefited them in their lives after school and that the training and knowledge obtained from the program can be applied in different situations (McWilliam, N., A school peer mediation program as a context for exploring therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ): Can a peer mediation program inform the law?, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (2010), doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2010.09.002.)

Research has also been conducted into the use of mediation as an educational strategy in schools in other countries. One recent study of mediation in Spanish schools found evidence that the programs did teach students skills that they do not have the opportunity to learn in other subjects and to manage their own conflicts (Raga, L. G., Sanchis, I. C., Mora, A. M., & Santana, G. R., (2016). Strengths and weaknesses of the school mediation from the perspective of students in secondary education. Pedagogía Social: Revista Interuniversitaria, (28), 203-215. 10.7179/PSRI_2016.28.15.)

Conclusion

As an adjudicator for the mock mediation competition I have observed the students participating enthusiastically and reflecting on their experience of how hard it is to actively listen, what it feels like not to be heard and how hard it is to find strategies to unlock deadlock.

The potential of the peer mediation program and the mock mediation competition to deliver their intended benefits is limited by the time, resources and commitment of staff and volunteers.

Research is needed to provide evidence of the benefits of students participating in peer mediation programs and mock mediation competitions. Such evidence would assist schools in deciding to allocate time and resources to expanding the use of mediation initiatives. Submissions to conduct research in NSW public schools can be directed to: <http://www.serap.det.nsw.edu.au/>. Information about participating in the mock mediation competition in 2019 can be found at: Law Society Mock Mediation

Consultation comment invited – Review of the Farm Debt Mediation Act 1994 (NSW)

The following has been posted on behalf of Dr Hanna Jaireth, Farm Debt Mediation Officer at the NSW Rural Assistance Authority

Consultation comment invited – Review of the Farm Debt Mediation Act 1994 (NSW)

drought

Photo credit: Tim Vrtiska

The Farm Debt Mediation Act 1994 (NSW) (FDMA) is being reviewed to ensure it continues to deliver on its original intent, and to provide a model for nationally consistent legislation.

The Board of the NSW Rural Assistance Authority (RAA) is overseeing the review.

Your feedback is requested in response to questions in the Review Consultation Paper (PDF, 696.57 KB).

Submission options

You may respond by 5 May 2017 by:

  • completing theonline survey, or
  • emailingyour comments, or
  • posting your comments in hardcopy, or
  • one or more of the above.

Online survey

The online survey provides the questions raised in the Review Consultation Paper (PDF, 696.57 KB) so that if you wish, you can respond easily to all or some of the questions.

Individual survey responses will not be published.

Questions 1 to 3 are mandatory so that we can assess which stakeholders express which views, and we can provide you with information about the outcomes of the review.

Email your comments

If you wish to email a submission, please email farmdebt.mediation@raa.nsw.gov.au.

We would prefer to receive longer submissions in Word and/or Pdf format as an attachment.

Please make it clear if you attach additional documents to your submission, whether those documents may be published on the review website.

Post your comments

You may send a submission in hard copy to:

Dr Hanna Jaireth NMAS | Farm Debt Mediation Officer

NSW Rural Assistance Authority

Level 2 | 161 Kite Street | ORANGE  NSW  2800
Locked Bag 23 | ORANGE  NSW  2800
Ph: 1800 678 593 | Fax: 02 6391 3098 | E: hanna.jaireth@raa.nsw gov.au
W: www.raa.nsw.gov.au

Release policy

The RAA will not accept or publish anonymous submissions or comments.

Private contact information will not be published, but submitters’ names and organisations will be published unless a request for confidentiality is agreed after consideration of a written request.

Submissions will be published on the RAA’s website in full or in part unless the RAA declines to accept a submission because it contains information of a private, legal or otherwise sensitive nature, or because it is vexatious, offensive or defamatory.

If a submission includes something critical of another person or organisation the RAA will write to them and ask them to respond, and the RAA may decide to withhold publication of both the submission and the comments made in response.

Further information

If you need to access a translating and interpreting service please telephone 1300 651 500 or visit the Interpreting & Translation page of the Multicultural NSW website.

For further information please: