The Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution Clinic
By Clinical Professor Pam Kentra
Strong negotiation skills are essential for every successful lawyer. Over 95 percent of cases are settled before going to trial. Mediation is so popular because it saves people time and money and helps them avoid the stress involved in litigation in a confidential setting. If you want to learn how to settle cases in the most favorable way for your client and gain a valuable certification in mediation skills—the Mediation/ADR Clinic is for you.
Students in the Mediation/ADR Clinic attend an intensive mediation skills training with the highly regarded Center for Conflict Resolution. This training teaches students to master negotiation, mediation and communication skills in an interactive setting. To be a good mediator you must first become an expert at negotiation so you can apply those skills to help the litigants settle their case.
Once students are certified as mediators, they begin mediating real cases at the Daley Center and various suburban courthouses. The cases are referred directly from the judge’s calls that day and often include contract, tort and landlord-tenant disputes. Students routinely interact directly with judges, attorneys and litigants in court.
This real-world experience allows students to have a direct impact on the cases and lives of real clients and to develop skills that could never be taught in a classroom. Many students go on to use this experience in their legal practice, whether they are continuing to mediate cases, representing clients in mediation, or negotiating the strongest possible settlements for their clients. The mediation certification is a valuable addition to any resume and is often the thing that sets students apart from many other applicants.
Some thoughts from recent students in the program:
Nick Ustaski (3L) recently secured an amazing job at Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Houston. Nick reported that having the mediation certification on his resume was a big help in the interview process. His interviewer asked lots of questions about the mediation training and was impressed that Nick had such advanced experience while still in law school. Nick says, “The Mediation/ADR Clinic has been a great way to see an alternative way in which the courts, parties and individuals use the mediation system and how it leads to actual settled solutions. I saw first-hand how two parties who are going to court/have a dispute can solve that dispute by coming to an amicable agreement. I was properly trained and now have actual experience as a certified mediator. I hope to use my mediation skills in my future negotiations and view the skill set as another asset into helping me succeed at my post-law school job.”
You can use your mediation skills outside of the courtroom in other real-life scenarios as well. Just the other day Nick reported that he used his mediation skills to help settle a dispute between two high school hockey players for a team he coaches.
Chris Hartman (2L) says, “Chicago-Kent’s clinics have a reputation of getting you out in the real legal world, but the Mediation/ADR Clinic takes it a step further. You’re not sitting side chair watching someone else do something; you are in the Daley Center, in a courtroom, mediating between two people with two real problems. You get to see the real results of what you learn in clinic affect people in real time.”
Don’t have any training in negotiation or mediation?
No problem—we will teach you everything you need to know. Students in Professor Pam Kentra’s clinic also get exposure to her arbitration practice at the Cook County Mandatory Arbitration Center, the Better Business Bureau and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
C-K Law Group Expands into Cat Law
Well, not officially, but Clinic Director Richard Gonzalez and his students won a big victory for this lovable feline! Reggie is a Maine Coon with a penchant for trying to escape. You may have seen this story in the news.
When Reggie slipped out of the home of his loving adopter and was found by a good Samaritan, he was taken to a veterinary office that found his microchip was registered to the adoption agency that originally sold him to his owner five years ago. But the owner was floored to learn that the agency refused to give back Reggie, arguing that she must be a negligent cat owner if she allowed Reggie to escape.
What ensued were hundreds of pages of legal documents and briefs and a full-blown trial after which Reggie was returned to his rightful owner! Reggie did not take the stand at trial, but he was later welcomed home at a party attended by a few hundred cat lovers at his Logan Square home.
Read more about Reggie:
- Reggie the runaway cat, at the center of court custody battle, is back home in Logan Square, Chicago Tribune, June 28, 2018.
- Reggie Watts gets involved in a cat custody battle, A.V. Club, January 30, 2018.
- Column: Stop the silliness of cat custody case and give Reggie back, Chicago Tribune, January 24, 2018.
Professor Kraus Explains Vaccine Injury Litigation
Professor Ed Kraus has been a clinical professor at Chicago-Kent for the past 20 years. When he first came to the law school (looking more like a 3L than a law professor), he supervised the Health Law Clinic. Over the years, his practice has evolved, and the Health Law Clinic became the Health and Disability Law Clinic and included representation of clients in cases involving Social Security benefits; long-term disability benefits; health insurance coverage; disability discrimination in employment, schools and prisons; and various other health and disability-related issues.
In 2012, Professor Kraus re-branded his clinic to reflect his growing focus in representing people injured by vaccines. Professor Gonzalez sat down with him to ask him about his work in this fascinating, but little-known, area of law and also how he ended up as a vaccine injury lawyer.
GONZALEZ: So, what the heck does it mean to specialize in vaccine-injury law, and why is that different than other kinds of medical negligence or medical product liability cases?
KRAUS: Well, the short answer is that because of the social utility that vaccines provide, Congress decided to treat vaccine injuries differently than other kinds of medical-related injuries. They accomplished this by passing the Vaccine Act in 1986 which essentially preempts claims against vaccine manufacturers (e.g., pharmaceutical companies) and vaccine administrators (doctors, nurses, hospitals) with a program run by the federal government (HHS). As a result, rather than filing a medical negligence or product liability claim, a person injured by a vaccine has to file a lawsuit against the Secretary of Health and Human Services seeking compensation for their injuries.
GONZALEZ: Where do these cases get filed?
KRAUS: They’re filed in the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., and the cases are decided by judges, called special masters, whose only job is to decide vaccine injury cases.
GONZALEZ: Does that mean you have to travel to Washington every time you go before the court? I’ve wondered why you’re not in the office very often.
KRAUS: I do have to travel to Washington sometimes for trials, but all the routine status conferences and interaction with the court are done telephonically. It’s great because that means I don’t have to waste time traveling to and from court and, even better, I can wear jeans to work most days. I do have to travel for hearings and when I meet with clients because the majority of my clients aren’t from the Chicago area.
As for my being out of the office, that’s just me sneaking off to Cubs games—which I obviously won’t be doing again for a long time.
GONZALEZ: What do you have to prove to get a recovery for your client?
KRAUS: The good news is that we don’t have to prove negligence. We need to prove that it’s more likely than not the vaccine caused the injury, and then our client is entitled to compensation. Proving causation can be fairly easy if it involves someone who developed a shoulder injury immediately after receiving a vaccination. On the other hand, if the injury is an encephalopathy (brain injury) or Multiple Sclerosis or Transverse Myelitis, proving that the vaccine caused the condition is a lot more challenging.
GONZALEZ: Not that I necessarily know what those conditions are, but how do you go about proving causation in those kind of cases?
KRAUS: Basically, we use incredibly brilliant medical experts who write detailed reports, with lots of references to complicated medical literature, in support of our theory of causation. Ultimately, if our expert’s report doesn’t convince the government to consider resolving the case through some kind of settlement, we have a trial at which our expert goes up against the government’s expert. In the end, it’s up to the special master to decide whether or not we’ve been able to meet our burden of proof under the Vaccine Act. If we have, then we move into a separate proceeding involving damages.
GONZALEZ: What kind of damages can your clients recover in those cases where they suffer a very serious injury?
KRAUS: The damages are more limited under the Vaccine Act than in traditional tort litigation, and they include a $250,000 cap for pain and suffering. However, medical expenses—both past and future—and lost earnings—past and future—are also available. So, in cases where the client is disabled, the damages can easily exceed a million dollars because of lost earnings. And if the person has significant ongoing medical needs, damages can include the government purchasing an annuity to pay for future medical costs that pays out many millions of dollars over a client’s lifetime.
GONZALEZ: Okay, one last question. Why are you so hooked on this practice area?
KRAUS: Well, the legal-medical causation issues are endlessly interesting; the clients are usually very sympathetic and have suffered a lot, especially in cases involving children. And believe it or not, we’re actually able to help most of our clients recover compensation that can directly help them improve their life situations, oftentimes by helping them pay for medical care and services that they’ve had to do without. That makes for a pretty darn satisfying practice area.
GONZALEZ: Wow, that's really interesting – I sort of wish I’d asked a few years ago so I didn’t have to pretend to know what vaccine injury practice was really like.
It sounds like students in your clinic would get great exposure to a lot of interesting and useful civil litigation skills and issues. Of course, it’s not as interesting as representing cats that are unjustly separated from their owners, but then again, not everyone can have the same niche practice areas.
Did You Know About These Clinic Offerings?
C-K Law Group offers a variety of clinical education experiences that can enhance your marketability in this tough legal job market.
The standard clinical experience is a three- or four-credit residency within one of C-K Law Group’s practice areas: Criminal Defense, Family Law, Tax Law, Vaccine Injury Litigation, General Civil Litigation, Plaintiff’s Employment Law, or Alternative Dispute Resolution. And for the first time—in spring semester 2019—first-year students can elect to take clinic through the 1L Your Way Program—choosing either the full semester in one practice group or dividing it between two practice areas. Plus, there exist a variety of off-campus experiential offerings, including the Intellectual Property Clinic and an array of externship opportunities at firms, government agencies and corporations.
Beyond the traditional clinical experience, students can also enhance their resumes with a semester of Intensive Clinic or enrollment in one of the clinic-related J.D. certificate programs.
Intensive Clinic gives third-year students a chance to spend a semester doing only clinic work for 12 credit hours. Meanwhile, the four certificate programs offer students a chance to gain a competitive advantage in the job market by “majoring” in an area of legal study.
The four clinic-related certificate programs are the Criminal Litigation Program, the Litigation & Alternative Dispute Resolution Program (LADR), the Labor & Employment Law Program, and the new combined Labor & Employment and LADR Certificate Program (Workplace LADR). Many legal employers seek only students who have completed one of these certificate programs.
More information on each alternative can be found in the C-K Law Group section of the website!