Friday, January 25, 2013

What the Harvard Mediation Program Means to Me

Before I came to law school, I worked as a paralegal at a small law firm, with only three attorneys. I was in charge of all of the litigation files, and I soon came up with a new system for how the files should be organized. Sure of myself, I immediately went to the secretary, file clerk, and pre-litigation paralegal to implement my system. Weeks later, after all of the intra-office bickering about filing died down, the pre-litigation paralegal said to me, “Amanda, you are very smart, but your people skills could really use some work.”

I came to law school determined to work on my “soft” skills. I decided that a major goal was to learn better how to communicate with others, especially in organizations. I was quickly drawn towards mediation and negotiation, and honestly I joined the Harvard Mediation Program (HMP) only to improve my chances of getting into the “Negotiation Workshop” as a first-year student. I cannot believe how lucky that choice was.

HMP quickly became my home away from home at law school. The people in HMP were totally unlike all of the other people I met. Instead of being too busy to take time out of their day to see you, the people at HMP want to see you, to ask you how you are doing, and they genuinely care about your answer. The staff and members alike are warm and welcoming. As I try to think of a single story to encapsulate this feeling, I find myself coming up empty because there is no one moment that can explain the feeling of being “home.”

Before joining HMP, the idea that HMP also had membership from the broader community meant little or nothing to me. However, I now find that to be one of my favorite parts of the program. I really enjoy meeting people of all ages and all walks of life who have been drawn to mediation. Their perspectives mean that I am always learning, and I have come to make friends with some people I probably would never have met otherwise. HMP would be lost without our community members, who pick up the bulk of the mediation duties over school breaks, including the summer. But even if we could find a way to fill these needs without non-law school members, I would advocate to keep the community members in the program. HMP is really a community organization, both in whom we are and in whom we serve, in a way that I have found unique at the law school.

The work is also fascinating. This semester was my fourth actively mediating, and I still feel that every mediation I participate in, whether in small claims court or through our other programs, I gain new and unexpected insights. I know I am not alone in feeling this way. Every time I attend an advanced training, I am humbled by the realization that members who have been mediating for over twenty years are still picking up new insights of their own!

Finally, HMP has taught me many of the “soft” skills that I wanted to learn. I remember at one of the first HMP events I attended, someone was wearing a shirt that said, “When We Listen, Other People Talk.” I thought that was funny, but I have found it to be overwhelmingly true. The active listening, problem solving, and interest-development tools I have learned have not only helped me during mediations, but they have also helped me in every aspect of my life.  Every time that we train a new group of mediators, I always hear comments on the second weekend of training like “I went home and tried this out on my husband. I was shocked how well it worked!” When I graduate, I will deeply miss the HMP community, and I only hope someday I will return to Boston so I can become involved again.

Amanda Frye ‘13 is a third-year law student and co-president of the Harvard Mediation Program. After graduation she will be clerking on the 10th Circuit for the Honorable Harris Hartz. Her long-term interests lie in patent litigation and education reform.