Practice and Power: Highlights from NYLS’s ADR and Diversity Symposium

By Tamia Sutherland

New York Law School’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program annual ADR and Diversity Symposium featured a former New York governor and a lineup of prominent practitioners and legal organization officials.

The Jan. 27 event presented keynoter David A. Patterson, the 55th governor of New York who served from 2008-2010. It also featured speakers and an expert roundtable panel that discussed diversity in ADR, their experiences, and the legal profession more broadly.

Following welcoming remarks, Patterson’s keynote speech highlighted the need for discussions like the symposium, sharing personal stories about his first mediation job in the early 1970s and working for the NAACP in the early 1980s. He explained that he transferred the skills he learned in ADR to his position as governor. And the skills were instrumental when working with the New York Senate Majority Leader and Assembly Speaker in efforts to balance the state budget.

Next, Deborah Enix-Ross, the American Bar Association’s president-elect and senior adviser in international dispute resolution at New York-based Debevoise & Plimpton, provided ABA history. She shared that in 1912, the ABA rescinded the membership of William H. Lewis, the first black Assistant U.S. Attorney, and restricted membership to white lawyers only.  ABA membership, she explained, was restricted until a resolution passed in 1946 that stated that membership is not dependent on race, creed, or color.  

Enix-Ross also provided information on the ABA’s 2018 resolution that urged domestic and international dispute resolution providers to expand their rosters with minorities, women, people with disabilities, and people of diverse sexual orientation/gender identities. She encouraged the selection of diverse neutrals.

Then, Thomas Maroney, the ADR Committee Chair of the Defense Research Institute, a 52-year-old Chicago-based membership organization of defense attorneys and in-house counsel, discussed insurance industry diversity initiatives. One of DRI’s main goals, he said, is to gather ADR diversity data and put it in a central database. More specifically, he said the data will show national data averages for appointments of underrepresented neutrals, which will help insurance companies assess and identify which law firms are increasing the frequency of appointments of underrepresented neutrals.

An expert roundtable panel, followed, moderated by Rekha Rangachari, the Executive Director of the New York Arbitration Center, a nonprofit that promotes New York’s role in international arbitration, and Jeffrey T. Zaino, Vice President of the Labor, Employment and Elections Division of the American Arbitration Association in New York. The panelists included:

After the panelists introduced themselves and the organizations they represent, the moderators began with a question inquiring about what is not working in the profession and whether continued discussions about diversity issues make a significant difference. Panelist Duggal explained that in ADR, the central tension lies with the fact that a major tenant of the processes is self-selection. Panelist Gupta flipped the question, and talked about how the profession has succeeded and is working to introduce younger neutrals to the field.

Moderators then asked should diversity discussions move past gender and race. The panelists explained that the conversation has to move beyond gender and race, especially when examining diversity from a global lens.

Panelist Duggal stated that power structures globally are generally held by Caucasians. The concept of global white supremacy was raised. The moderators countered with a question, inquiring whether white male arbitrators are being excluded from diversity initiatives.

In response, a panelist stated that the answer is yes, assuming the hypothetical white male is straight, healthy, and able-bodied. Moreover, the panelist acknowledged feelings of exclusion and suggested therapy and vocalization to reveal the triggers that may be coming from a hostile place internally.

The last question to the panelists was how far one could actually push ADR users—that is, in-house counsel–to select diverse neutrals. The themes from the answers suggest using education, awareness, networking, and bringing the problem and solution to light.

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2022 Spring Intern.

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