What led you to the field of conflict resolution?
Preparing to graduate with a BA in Government, my classmates were all applying to law schools. Not ready for three more years of school, and that I needing some experience in the “real world” before I returned to get a graduate degree, I worked for 4 years in youth development programs, first in New York City, then in western Massachusetts. Both roles required me to guide, support, and motivate young people, as they engaged in service and work projects in their local communities. As I got to know these teens, it became apparent that they and their families faced many psychosocial problems and law related challenges. I began to notice that I was very interested in two specific topics: what made people “tick”- what motivated them, the choices they made, the options available to them; and how the legal system impacted their lives – for better or worse.
Once I made the discovery of what was most compelling to me, I was ready to go back to school. I was torn between getting a social psychology degree and going to law school. Then one day, as I was in the throes of this dilemma, three different people said: “You should go to law school.” Hearing those words brought my internal conflict to a close. I knew I needed to become a lawyer. The problem was, I did not have a very positive view of how the law was practiced, or the role lawyers played in resolving conflict.
I began researching alternative ways to study and practice law. I discovered Critical Legal Theory and Public Interest Law. Both seemed well suited to my interests, goals and personality. Additionally, I read a biography of Mahatma Gandhi; one particular quote became an inspiration to me. It is:
"I learned the true practice of law. I learned to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men's hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. The lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby -- not even money, certainly not my soul."
I was admitted into a law school in California. The curriculum was built around critical legal theory and each student was required to complete 600 hours of public interest legal work in order to graduate. In my second year of law school I took a mediation course co-taught by a psychotherapist and a lawyer. I loved it! It was then that my journey on the conflict resolution path really began. It’s been an amazingly gratifying journey!!