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Q & A with Tom Stipanowich

Tom Stipanowich

Tom Stipanowich, academic director of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution and a distinguished scholar, practitioner, and leader in the field of commercial arbitration and dispute resolution was recently named the American Bar Association's (ABA) recipient of the D'Alemberte/Raven award, the ABA's highest honor for the section.

His distinguished career includes leading the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR Institute) for five years, creating CPR's Corporate Counsel Roundtable, serving as the director of CPR's National Commission on the Future of Arbitration and as the inaugural CPR/Hewlett Professor, holding the position of the William L. Matthews Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and founding a non-profit court-connected mediation program which has operated successfully for seventeen years.

Stipanowich has co-authored leading books on commercial arbitration law and practice and a five-volume treatise that has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court and many other federal and state courts. His many articles have appeared in the Northwestern, Boston University, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Indiana law reviews and numerous other periodicals.

He was the first non-British member of Companions of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a Fellow of the American College of Construction Lawyers, and a Founding Fellow of the American College of Commercial Arbitrators.

Before Stipanowich flew to Seattle, Washington, to accept the D'Alemberte/Raven award on April 4, we asked him a few questions about his career thus far.

Congratulations on your D'Alemberte/Raven award, the American Bar Association's highest award for dispute resolution. What was your reaction to the news?

I was surprised to receive the award, in part because it is normally conferred on individuals a bit closer to the end of their career. I have been given a lot of opportunities but hope that my best efforts are yet to come. I'll use the award as a spur!

You've had a long career in commercial arbitration and dispute resolution. How did you get into the field initially?

My first degrees were a bachelors and masters in architecture, and during law school I sought a way to marry my legal and architectural training. I joined what was then the leading law firm specializing in resolving disputes about construction, and very quickly discovered that construction disputes were often resolved by informal means out of court. Even if it was necessary to have questions adjudicated, I was as likely to end up in private arbitration as in a court of law. Within a year of graduation I had already had extensive experience with arbitration, and some experience with mediation even though very little mediation was occurring in those days.

What drove you to stay in the field and commit many hours to spearheading innovation?

My career coincided with an era of unprecedented experimentation with new approaches to managing conflict, and I've been given many and varied opportunities to participate in innovation on the local, regional, national, and international planes. Because I've been a trial lawyer and I'm firmly convinced that court trial is a very poor way of resolving the great majority of disputes, I'm passionately committed to finding other appropriate solutions. I am especially interested in seeking solutions "upstream"at the very roots of conflict. Thus, for example, I have played the role of a facilitator in "partnering" programs aimed at effective team-building, communications, and conflict management in long-term relationships.

You joined Pepperdine in 2006 and have prompted a global focus through symposia, video conferences, and the Straus Council of Distinguished Advisors. Tell us a little about your global vision for the Straus Institute.

Pepperdine is a unique environment for entrepreneurial thinking because instead of coming up with ten reasons why you can't do something, colleagues encourage bold and imaginative ventures. At a time when the revolution in conflict management that swept the U.S. in the eighties and nineties is becoming global, the Straus Institute is set to play a unique role in developing international educational partnerships, promoting top-flight professional training (like the program we just conducted in China under the auspices of the Beijing Arbitration Commission), and creating new media programs to encourage change in the popular culture of conflict management.

Out of all your professional accomplishments, of which are you most proud?

I tend to look ahead and not backwards, but I'm happy about having helped create a regional mediation program, of having given new energy to the CPR Institute as its second president, and occasionally offering an entertaining, thoughtful or inspiring speech or written piece. Day in and day out, however, teaching, counseling, and guiding students are by far the most rewarding parts of my professional life.

If you would, predict the future for the field. What's in store for dispute resolution both nationally and internationally?

The overarching factors are globalization and information technology both will play key roles in the future of conflict management. Creative minds will also seek new, more systematic approaches to preventing or effectively managing conflict instead of waiting for it to become a legal dispute. This in turn will produce long-needed changes in legal education, which is still dominated by a model established in the nineteenth-century! My only worry is that intense efforts to make mediation, arbitration, and other approaches more effective and neutrals more accountable will ultimately produce more costs than benefits.

Thanks Tom!