Most legal disputes are not decided by judges and juries, but rather settled prior to a formal decision. Whether brought together by court-mandated mediation or on their own volition to seek mutually acceptable outcomes, those engaged in legal disputes will often find themselves making their case across the table rather than to judges. Legal professionals must, of course, know how to read and debate the law to do the best for their clients and make sound legal decisions. They must also, however, know how to be good negotiators. Training lawyers and others engaged in legal disputes the art and science of negotiation is a core mission of the Program on Negotiation.
A wide range or role-plays on negotiation in the context of legal disputes are available through the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC). In Eazy’s Garage, two lawyers – with or without their clients present – negotiate a billing dispute around car repairs. In Nazi Party of America v. Town of Hokey, a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties League meets a lawyer from the Town to advocate for the permitting of a Nazi Party parade through a largely Jewish community. Not all legal disputes involve lawyers. In Lake Wasota Fishing Rights, six different parties meet to negotiate an agreement on the rights of Indian tribes, commercial fishermen and recreational fishers rather than accept a court decision.
Videos available through the TNRC illustrate effective negotiation techniques in legal disputes. Lawyers & Clients: The Initial Interview demonstrates how lawyers – or other representatives – can effectively engage their clients to best represent them. A variety of books on negotiating legal disputes are also available. Some are more general in nature. The Handbook of Dispute Resolution, for example, is a comprehensive reference for lawyers and others engaged in negotiation. Other books deal with specific legal issues. Dividing the Child: Social and Legal Dilemmas of Custody, for example, explores custody issues and their impacts on the children involved.