County court mediation clinic brings students to the table of dispute resolution

Published: September 17th, 2012

Category: News

MediationThe vast majority of disputes never go to trial. At the Virgil Hawkins County Court Mediation Clinic, students have front-row seats to the resolutions of those disputes.

The County Court Mediation Clinic is one of four UF Law civil clinics. The Mediation Clinic is the only one that allows participants to mediate real cases brought before a court.

Senior Legal Skills Professor Robin Davis directs the clinic as well as the Institute for Dispute Resolution. She is the former director of alternative dispute resolution for Florida’s 8th Judicial Circuit Court.

The Florida Supreme Court governs certification requirements for county court mediators. Only select schools in Florida, including UF Law, have the ability to provide the required training.

Davis says participants can expect to complete the main prerequisites for county court mediation certification, which is an otherwise time-consuming process outside of a clinic.

“I have had quite a few students, before graduating, get certified. It is exciting,” said Davis.

Admission into the County Court Mediation Clinic is limited, and each semester between 20 and 30 students apply. The clinic accepts eight students based on seniority.

The clinic participants for the fall semester include Jasmine Saleem (2L), Amanda Delbusto (3L), Lindsay Cohen (3L), Rebecca White (3L), Danielle Edwards (3L), Daria Mitas (3L), Keisha Edwards (3L), and Whitney Mefrew (3L).

Mitas, a Polish national, recalls her excitement to join the clinic as she was studying law in Poland.

“I came here and really knew I wanted to be a part of the program,” said Mitas.

Clinic members attend Friday classes or mediations. Students meet at either the Alachua County Family/Civil Justice Center in downtown Gainesville or in a classroom at UF Law.

At the beginning of the semester, students attend small claims court, where cases may be denied and sent to a mediator. A mediator will take two clinic students into the mediation to observe the process. Near the middle of the semester, students will have completed enough training to co-mediate cases. Co-mediation may be as involved as giving opening statements and writing up an agreement.

“By the end of the semester, the students mediate several cases,” Davis said.

Clinic participation is broken down into a point system, where five points are awarded for every observation of a mediation session and ten points are awarded for every co-mediation. To successfully complete the clinic, participants must accrue 60 points.

Students are also paired with a mentor, one of the Florida Supreme Court’s requirements for county-court mediation certification.

All of the training and mentorship culminates in a final mock mediation in which the student acts as the mediator for a dispute. The mediation is critiqued by eight certified mediators.

Students agreed that Davis makes the clinic easy-going and hands-on; two qualities sometimes missing in the hectic life of a law student.

After completion of the clinic requirements, the application process for county-court mediation certification can begin.

Davis noted that mediation skills are applicable to  many legal areas.

“I could not categorize (mediation). Mediation spans all types of law practice,” she said.

Davis also stressed the importance of mediation in the ever-changing legal landscape. She cited a recent article from The Florida Bar News that discussed the decline of jury trials in civil cases and the accompanying rise of mediation. According to Davis, trials can be expensive and time consuming.

“Litigation is (now) the alternative,” said Davis.

From a student’s perspective, Delbusto added, “A lot of people do trial team or moot court, but realistically, that is far from what you do as a new lawyer.”

The skills learned from the County Court Mediation Clinic can be incorporated into an attorney’s practice. However, some may opt to hang their own shingle and become a full-time mediator.

More broadly, Saleem, one of this semester’s mediation-clinic students, believes mediation skills are useful in life.

“I think mediation is an important skill in dealing with people in general,” she said.

 – Felicia Holloman
Law student writer