“Lisa, you are great at arguing! You should be a lawyer.”
While growing up this was a statement I frequently heard. It was true. I was excellent at arguing. I loved the thrill of the heightened emotions, the adrenaline of crafting my next point, and the satisfaction of watching my opponent squirm. What I didn’t love was the aftermath—the relationships that were damaged, the pain of not being heard, and the emptiness when a resolution was not reached.
In undergrad I took a step away from what seemed to be my predestined path of law school and studied international relations and Asian studies. My international relations classes told me that the drivers of conflict were political and economic power, but my Asian studies classes showed me that religion, history, culture, pride, fear, and reputation all also had an impact on conflict and its resolution. I found my way back on the path to law school because I wanted to explore international conflict resolution as a practitioner who bridged the gap between the perceived drivers of conflict and the underlying factors that also impact it.
The first semester of law school was a blur of black letter classes and learning to become even better at arguing. At the end of the semester I felt the same hollow feeling so familiar to me after a failed argument. As future lawyers, how were we being trained to resolve disputes? During the spring semester, I took the Negotiation Workshop. In the Workshop, I was trained in skills such as interest identification, effective communication, value creation, option generation, and responses to difficult tactics. The Workshop was a paradigm shift for me. I discovered a new way of engaging in a dispute that challenged me to redefine what it meant to “win” and to become part of the solution. That semester the combination of the Negotiation Workshop and a course on Public International Law inspired me to dedicate myself to conflict resolution not as an arguer, but as a problem-solver.
After the Workshop, I dove headfirst into the world of dispute resolution. The following fall as a student in the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinic (HNMCP), with the support of my clinical supervisor Heather Kulp, I worked on a project with the New Hampshire Superior Court designing and delivering a curriculum to prosecutors and defense attorneys on effective negotiation skills in the context of criminal settlement conferences. During the spring semester I undertook a second HNMCP project under the supervision of Rachel Viscomi to work with an organization in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo that negotiates with refugees and armed combatants to disarm and repatriate to Rwanda. The project culminated in a curriculum on negotiation, communication, and conflict management and I traveled with Rachel and my clinic partner to Rwanda and the DRC to deliver our training. Also during the spring, I served as a Teaching Assistant for the Negotiation Workshop, led an HLS Negotiators project that designed and facilitated a coaching program for high school students on the fundamentals of negotiation, and took the Dispute Systems Design course. Through working in these incredibly diverse contexts I was struck by how the skills of interest-based negotiation transcended their differences; high school students in Cambridge and peace-builders negotiating with combatants in the DRC struggle with similar barriers in communication, including difficulties identifying interests, generating options, and effectively framing advocacy. And these barriers are what I had developed the skillset to help solve.
This summer I put my skillset to the test working on Syrian peace negotiations. I had learned negotiation skills in the context of simulations during the Workshop, trained others in these skills through my 2L client projects and TA experience while expanding my academic knowledge in my classes, and now I was challenged to serve on a team of lawyers who support the negotiation efforts of the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Opposition. Again, I found the theory and skillset taught by HNMCP—including conflict analysis, negotiation advising, effective framing, and client relationship development—invaluable as I navigated the complexity of a deeply divisive, hostile, and painful conflict.
As lawyers we are often confronted with the worst of humanity and challenged to serve clients at their darkest moments. In the world there are more than enough arguers who provoke and sustain conflict. I truly believe that what we need are more people equipped with the knowledge to engage with conflict with an understanding that conflicts started by people can be resolved by people as longs as they have the skillset to craft durable, lasting resolutions to conflict. My experiences with HNMCP have transformed me into that kind of person and that kind of lawyer. I am no longer an arguer. I am a problem-solver.
Lisa Dicker ’17 is a 3L at Harvard Law School originally from Tennessee. Lisa is a co-Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Negotiation Law Review, a two-time student of the Negotiation and Mediation Clinic (HNMCP), a teaching assistant for the Negotiation Workshop and the Program on Negotiation’s Negotiation and Dispute Resolution Seminar, and a former co-President and current board member of HLS Negotiators. As part of her ADR-focused coursework, Lisa has taken the Negotiation Workshop and Dispute Systems Design courses and is currently enrolled in both The Lawyer as Facilitator and Collaborative Law.