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50 for 50 Spotlight: LaCrisia Gilbert (MDR '97)

"I advocate for fairness."

After earning her Master in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in 1997, LaCrisia "Cris" Gilbert carved a flourishing career for herself in mediation and dispute resolution. In 2018, Gilbert was appointed as the first Ombuds for National University, the private, non-profit university headquartered in La Jolla, California. As Organizational Ombudsman, she serves faculty, staff, and students as issues arise. Gilbert offers guided facilitations, mediations through the University legal department, and she also oversees the more informal processes to bring parties to resolutions. This summer, Gilbert will teach Selected Issues in Dispute Resolution: Ombuds offered online by the Straus Institute. Colleagues describe Gilberts as "an effective teacher, practitioner, and leader in the profession of mediation." In this week's installment of the 50 for 50 series, we get to know this seasoned mediator.

Can you describe your role and responsibilities as Organizational Ombudsman at National University?

As an Ombudsman I am under the International Ombudsman Association's four guiding principles: Independence–my office is independent from all other departments in the university. I report to the President's office for budgetary reasons only. Neutral and Informal: I do not take the side of the visitors or the University. I advocate for fairness. The most important principle is Confidentiality. Everything in the Ombudsman office is confidential; there are no identifiers maintained or case files. An annual report is produced with statistics of the number of visitors seen, and I do track trends of issues discussed by the visitors to report to the University for support and correction.

What steered you into the legal field? More specifically, what led you to working in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)/mediation?

I started my career in ADR/Mediation. I was trained in mediation and family mediation prior to attending law school. I always had aspirations of law, even in my corporate work in contracts. After completing my undergraduate work, I took the LSAT to attend law school, and when I saw that Pepperdine offered the Master in Dispute Resolution, I applied, was accepted, and graduated from Straus.

How did a Straus Institute legal education influence your professional trajectory?

I was fortunate to have mediated professionally prior to Straus, so I was able to mentor some of the students without prior experience. Working with the courts led to a full-time position with the Dallas County Courts in Texas when I returned home. As the ADR Coordinator for Dallas County, I administered a contract with the local non-profit dispute resolution center and later became the CEO. I was also fortunate to become an adjunct lecturer with Southern Methodist University, Dallas County Community Colleges, and University of North Texas prior to accepting the position with National University. I also used my mediation skills as an advocate ombudsman for the State of Texas Long Term Care.

Is there someone who played a mentor role for you while at Straus?

Peter Robinson was an excellent mentor along with Nina Mierding after whom I modeled my teaching style.

In today's economic, political (and now health) climate, what do you feel is the value of a Straus education?

Throughout my mediation career, I always believed in convenience for the parties. In some cases, I even offered evening mediation and telephonic mediations. As technology has advanced, a new way of mediating and meeting with parties is through remote access like Skype and Zoom technology, which has become immensely popular during this time.

What do you hope to see for the next fifty years of Pepperdine Caruso Law school?

I expect that they will lead the trend of online law schools for the convenience and affordability for those unable to attend brick and mortar schools. The current climate has forced this trend to come to fruition.

As we resume regular coverage of our 50 for 50 series, we invite you to submit the name of an alumnus/a who demonstrates purpose, service, and leadership in their careers. Please email Chelsea Audibert at chelsea.audibert@pepperdine.edu.