CPR Council Meeting: Abraham Lincoln and Dispute Resolution

By Xin Judy Wang

The June 22 CPR Council meeting featured a presentation on Abraham Lincoln and dispute resolution by the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution’s former CEO & President Thomas J. Stipanowich, the William H. Webster Chair in Dispute Resolution and a law professor at the Straus Institute at Pepperdine University’s Caruso School of Law in Malibu, Calif.

He served as CPR’s president and CEO from 2001 to 2006, and returned to discuss his project, “The Lincoln Way: Abraham Lincoln as a Problem Solver and Manager of Conflict.” 

Stipanowich began his presentation discussing the United States’ fascination with Lincoln, the 16th president. Possibly the nation’s most familiar historical figure along with George Washington, Lincoln lived one of the most documented and written-about lives from the nineteenth century. Almost everyone feels some level of familiarity with Lincoln, attaching him to particular principles, life experiences, or lifestyles. Lincoln was also a self-taught lawyer who worked on a broad spectrum of cases ranging from pig-stealing incidents to representation of railroads.

Stipanowich said he was attracted to Lincoln’s legacy through a telling quote: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” The quote came from Lincoln’s lectures to fellow lawyers around 1850, many of whom were trial attorneys.

From this quote, Stipanowich saw a striking similarity between Lincoln’s peacemaking spirit and CPR’s mission to reduce conflict to enable purpose.

As Stipanowich’s project title suggests, Lincoln was a lifelong problem solver and a conflict manager.

Lawyer Lincoln encouraged fellow trial lawyers to discourage litigation and always sought ways to resolve conflict out of the courtroom to avoid the often-unsatisfactory result through trials. Stipanowich found evidence that Lincoln was an informal mediator and had served as an arbitrator. Once, he organized a minitrial with a judge outside the court, with the judge rendering a nonbinding decision that settled a dispute without going to trial.

Stipanowich found Lincoln recognizing that, especially for reputational conflict–a popular type of suit at the time–going to trial is not the best way, whether one is representing the plaintiff or the defendant. It was better to reach a negotiated settlement privately.

As a politician, Abraham Lincoln navigated across party lines to achieve resolutions in the context of a mega-negotiation to address every stakeholder group. He had contacts in different parts of the country, reaching out to border states and southern politicians. It was his awareness of changing circumstances that led to his campaign leading to the Emancipation Proclamation. The African American community’s support was critical for restoring the union as a growingly important constituency and a necessary force in the military.

As an individual, Lincoln wrestled with internal conflict on self-image, religion, and relationships. Stipanowich found Lincoln to be tremendously influenced by reading the autobiography of Ben Franklin as a teenager, thus developing an enduring rationalist spirit. Lincoln was clear in his mission and ambition: “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.” In pursuit of such honor and respect, Lincoln wrestled with depression, a broken engagement, and an avoided duel.

Through navigating conflicts and periods of crisis stemming from his internal and external conflicts, Lincoln built and rebuilt a transformational leadership. Lincoln’s rational, problem-solving spirit is just as relevant today for lawyers, corporations, and interested parties. In Stipanowich’s 2009 article, “Lincoln’s Lessons for Lawyers,” he summarized Lincoln’s legal practice principles:

  1. Use litigation as a last resort—and be frank with your client about its costs and risks.  
  2. Try to be objective in assessing your client’s case; avoid “irrational optimism.” 
  3. Begin negotiating cooperatively and encourage the reliance of others by behaving in a logical and predictable way. Look for trade‐offs.
  4. Seek creative ways of bridging the gap to an agreement that achieves a client’s key goals and priorities in a simple, straightforward manner.
  5. Do not place your own financial interests or ego above the interests of the client.

Thomas, Stipanowich, “Lincoln’s Lessons for Lawyers” Dispute Resolution Magazine 18  (Feb. 1, 2010) (available at https://bit.ly/3INyalO).

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The CPR Council, the governance body of the CPR Institute, promotes the practice of more efficient and effective dispute prevention and resolution. It oversees the development of dispute management resources and tools. The Council’s web page is available at www.cpradr.org/about/cpr-council.

In addition to Tom Stipanowich’s presentation, the June 22 Council meeting also discussed the updated Council Charter, new Council programming, CPR Dispute Resolution Panelists, CPR’s new Immediation Platform for dispute resolution services, and the revised CPR Diversity Commitment. The meeting concluded with a networking session.

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The author, who will be a second-year student at Columbia University Law School in New York this fall, is a 2022 CPR summer intern.

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Lincoln & ADR: Pepperdine’s Stipanowich Discusses Evolution in Arbitration

By Alice Albl

The second series of New York Law School’s Conversations in Conflict drew to a close Sept. 23 with an interview featuring Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law Prof. Thomas J. Stipanowich.

The discussion centered around the progress of arbitration since the release of Stipanowich’s five-volume treatise on federal arbitration law in the 1990s; his expansive view included advancing the practice with lessons taken from the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Stipanowich’s theories focused on a tension between familiarity and efficiency. In drawing from what they know as lawyers, neutrals in arbitration may bind the process too closely to the establishment of litigation, he explained.

While neutrals may believe that apparently tried-and-true procedures inspired by litigation form the best avenues to successful dispute resolution, this mindset hinders the use of more creative, and potentially more effective, methods.

Instead, Stipanowich invited neutrals to follow in the footsteps of President Lincoln, whom he considered to be a “super functional” arbitrator. Like Lincoln, modern ADR community members should seek to work for the parties’ interests and not a nominal win.

But when Stipanowich began studying arbitration in the 1980s, neutrals weren’t the focus. Back then, arbitration suffered from a lack of procedural structure, most notably missing protocols for discovery and case management, he said.

In the ensuing years arbitrators filled these gaps. Stipanowich described this as the “legalization” of ADR, a process by which neutrals appropriated features from the practice of law into their work.

While legal processes may be effective in arbitration, their familiarity causes them to monopolize the roles they serve. Stipanowich cited examples in both the United States and abroad to demonstrate that the dominant legal processes are not necessarily the best.

Domestically, Stipanowich discussed the double-blind arbitration process used in contracts by the Writers’ Guild of America. Under this process, the disputants’ and arbitrators’ identities are not known to each other. This has the practical purpose of preventing conflict in the industry beyond the dispute, but it may also prove for a more equitable resolution beyond the reach of “legalized” ADR.

Abroad, Stipanowich, who is former president and chief executive officer of the CPR Institute, which publishes this blog, looked to the “multi-lane” duties neutrals performed in other cultures, such as the way German arbitrators help craft settlements or Chinese arbitrators often double as mediators.

U.S. arbitrators seem to be gradually warming to the idea of building multi-lane brands, something that Stipanowich encourages. He praised those who use a variety of roles and techniques to find the true conflict in disputes.

Stipanowich emphasized that finding the true conflict as early as possible will allow a neutral to spend more time balancing resolution with the interests and relationships among parties. After 40 years of study, he has found that this balance is key to success in ADR.

For Stipanowich, few could exemplify care for interests and relationships more than Abraham Lincoln. He closed the session by emphasizing the icon’s willingness to look beyond wins and vengeance during the Civil War, instead focusing on a goal of rights and equity. To see beyond the fray toward a fair resolution, Stipanowich says, is what ADR is about.

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Recordings of NYLS’s Conversations in Conflict Resolution series are being posted at the school’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program at https://bit.ly/32A3aAP.  

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

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