An award-winning negotiation and dispute resolution team, a top-tier mediation clinic, and a holistic approach to providing students with the skills they need to be successful in the workplace are three of the qualities that likely earned UC Law SF its #8 ranking for dispute resolution programs in U.S. News and World Report.

“Mediation, arbitration, facilitation — these professional skills apply in a wide variety of settings,” said Center for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution (CNDR) Director Sheila Purcell. And as courts begin to tackle a backlog of cases stemming from pandemic shutdowns, it will be more important than ever for practitioners to be able to settle disputes outside of court.

Sheila Purcell, Center for Negotiation & Dispute Resolution Director

UC Law SF’ dispute resolution program has consistently been ranked as one of the top 15 in the country. This year it leaped into the top 10. In the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings, released this spring, UC Law SF was tied for eighth among the 111 programs in the U.S. focused on dispute resolution.

Purcell credited a number of factors. The school’s ADR team, for example, gave the program wide exposure by placing first at four different competitions since the COVID pandemic began.

UC Law SF’ ADR teams have consistently won national and international competitions for two decades. Team members have gone on to become leaders in business, government, and the nonprofit sector. Prominent alums include Matt Stratton (’07), associate general counsel and director at Snap Inc.; Tasha Matharu (’08), senior vice president, associate general counsel, and corporate secretary at S&P Global; and Akila Radhakrishnan (’09), president of the Global Justice Center and member of the team that originated the “Notorious RBG” moniker for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Clint Waasted, the team’s director for 20 years, said the program begins with an assessment of each 1L’s strengths and weaknesses and a comprehensive three-year plan to improve. Assertive hard chargers get feedback on how to be better listeners and more reserved students get coaching on projecting confidence. Everyone gains better creative problem-solving skills.

“We’re developing a toolkit for them to use in legal and nonlegal settings,” Waasted said. “When you consider that 90% of all cases filed do settle, it’s the most practical legal skill there is.”

To position students for success, the center offers everything from mindfulness seminars to conflict resolution workshops to trainings on how to design and implement court dispute resolution programs, Purcell said.

A free Leadership Lab, led by CNDR Deputy Director Mattie Robertson, was added last summer for teaching students practical dispute resolutions techniques such as language choice; trust building; de-escalation; negotiation; and how to manage different personalities, emotions, and biases.

Mahnoor Yunus, a 2L who attended the Leadership Lab, called it “very enjoyable and thought-provoking, and something I would recommend other law students to take even if negotiation and dispute resolution isn’t something they are planning on specializing in.”

“I enjoyed that this course provided diverse perspectives from different speakers each week and that it allowed us to explore our own emotions, thought processes, and personalities,” she added.

UC Law SF also gives students opportunities to test their dispute resolution skills in the real world, via the school’s Mediation Clinic, directed by nationally respected clinical specialist Carol Izumi. Students handle actual small claims court cases while being supervised and guided by faculty members, Purcell said.

When the usual format for the Mediation Clinic was disrupted last year by the pandemic, Professors Izumi and Gail Silverstein were able to arrange a quick pivot to San Mateo County Superior Court, where Purcell used to practice. The other quick adjustment came early in the pandemic, when the center was planning to hold an in-person training session for eviction defense advocates. Within a matter of weeks, her team had to shift to an online format.

That experience proved useful over the next year, as the center moved a whole year’s worth of trainings, workshops, and conferences online. In the process, they may have opened the eyes of the national law community to the center’s importance and expertise. Underpinning all this work has been invaluable support from Senior Academic Program Coordinator, Hind AlJarboa, who worked tirelessly to execute these virtual events behind the scenes.

Two events in particular stood out to Purcell as illustrations of that expertise being on display: the Northern California Alternative Dispute Resolution Faculty Conference, held in February 2021, and the ongoing New Frontiers in ADP speaker series.

“I do think Zoom accelerated people’s exposure to us,” Purcell said. “I imagine that events being on Zoom, it meant more folks had a chance to go to events — more people were seeing our team in action.”