We serve client organizations—corporations, non-profits, government agencies, community groups—facing real world challenges. Using the tools of strategic negotiation, conflict management advice, or dispute resolution system evaluation and design, we collaborate with clients to turn conflicts into opportunities for growth. Listen to our clients share the impact of our innovative approach on their work.

Conflict is inherent in any organization or community. At the Dispute Systems Design Clinic, we believe that conflict can be a tremendous source of value—as long as it is managed effectively.

The Dispute Systems Design Clinic serves clients that are experiencing challenges relating to conflict or dispute resolution, and who are committed to engaging these challenges constructively, systematically, and equitably.

The Clinic has served clients as wide-ranging as court systems and community organizations, international NGOs and universities, non-profits and start-ups. In all of our projects, we seek to understand and analyze conflict-related challenges, and develop actionable, creative solutions. To do this, a team of 2-3 dedicated students, along with a faculty supervisor, will spend the semester applying best practices to identifying sources of conflict or tension, engaging with clients and stakeholders skillfully and empathetically, and recommending approaches for preventing, navigating, or resolving the challenges that are coming up.

Sample Project Objectives Might Include:

  • Examining an existing dispute resolution system to identify challenges and potential improvements   
  • Conducting a conflict assessment that maps out the stakeholders in a conflict, their interests, their relationships, and possible approaches for moving forward 
  • Developing strategic advice for engaging in a challenging negotiation 
  • Engaging with individuals and groups in a community to understand their perspectives and help organizations to better serve them
  • Identifying systems that center justice and equity in the way conflict is managed 
  • Surfacing diverse and potentially unheard perspectives and recommending ways to incorporate these voices more systematically 
Check out examples of our past projects HERE
Group of HLS students working together

If you are interested to learn more about working with the Dispute Systems Design Clinic, please reach out to us! We’d love to set up an initial conversation with you to see if your potential project can be well served by our clinic.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do we supervise and support our students on your project?

The Clinic has the dual mission of serving clients while also teaching students to engage in the theory and practice of dispute systems design. As a result, our faculty supervisors and the required seminar we run concurrently with our projects focus on providing the academic grounding of dispute systems design work; guiding and supporting students’ ability to take ownership over the project; and giving individualized coaching and feedback to each member of the team.   

Students spend 12 to 20 hours per week on their projects, depending on their credit load.  

All of the professional obligations incumbent on attorneys in Massachusetts apply to our students. They meet at least once per week as a team with their faculty supervisor. 

What reciprocity do we ask of our clients for our services?

All of our services are pro bono. Our students receive academic credits for their work. 

We ask that clients designate one point-person within the organization to serve as the client-supervisor, who can facilitate the project and meet regularly with our students to provide direction and feedback, as well as access to the necessary information, contacts, and advice that they need to complete their work.   

What is the timing for our projects?

Projects must fit into either Harvard Law School’s fall semester (early September to early December) or spring semester (late January to early May). If projects are broader in scope than what might reasonably be completed in three months, HNMCP may work with clients to develop multi-semester projects, with concrete deliverables to be completed each semester by successive teams of clinical students. 

How does the client application process work?

To apply to be a client in the Dispute Systems Design Clinic, we ask that you complete a project proposal formThe project proposal will be reviewed by Clinic faculty and staff, who will follow up for further conversation within several weeks.   

If you are interested in learning more about being a client, we strongly recommend that you reach out to the Clinic team before you submit a proposal form as an initial first step. We value these conversations as opportunities to learn more about the challenges that are coming up, and how the Clinic can potentially be helpful. You can email us through the contact link in the footer below. 

Project proposal forms for the 2024-2025 academic year are due on the following dates: 

For Fall 2024 semester projects: July 12, 2024 

For Spring 2025 semester projects: November 15, 2024. 

We will select projects most in line with our pedagogical mission and our capacities as a clinic, and work with those clients to finalize project descriptions before the semester begins. 

Can clinical work be done remotely?

It is common for many types of clinical work to be done remotely in the Dispute Systems Design Clinic. Our clients work all over the world, and we are comfortable engaging in different time zones and contexts. Client meetings, some types of stakeholder interviews, and even some focus groups can be handled via Zoom or telephone. 

In many cases, it can be highly valuable for students to spend time connecting with stakeholders and visiting the client site in person. When possible, we can work with client organizations and communities to arrange travel. 

What can I expect from a clinical student?

You should assign the students responsibilities comparable to work that would be performed by a new attorney or conflict management consultant working 10 to 20 hours per week (this depends on the student’s chosen credit load for the Clinic). In addition, you should actively encourage the students to take on the most challenging work they can reasonably handle. The students should be active participants in, not just observers of, the strategic decision-making process of matters in which they are involved. 

At the same time, please keep in mind that for many of our students, this will be the first time they will be working directly for a client in a professional context. Also, keep in mind that all students enrolled in our clinic are simultaneously enrolled in other Harvard Law School classes while doing their clinical work. So, while this is a primary focus of their semester, it is not their only focus. 

Can I request students with specialized skills and/or knowledge?

You may; however, we cannot guarantee that we can accommodate these requests. That said, many students with particular knowledge of a certain subject will automatically be drawn to a project requiring those skills. 

Ready to explore the path from conflict to resolution? Dive into our proposal form and discover how we can turn challenges into opportunities together.

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