A Win-Win

USC Gould School of Law • August 7, 2015
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Mediation Clinic's partnership with Dept. of Consumer Affairs benefits students and community -By Christina Schweighofer When a local school district recently sued hundreds of employees for a return of overpaid wages, two USC law students found themselves in the midst of the disputes—as mediators. On behalf of the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), and through their work in the USC Gould Mediation Clinic, Gerard Olson ’14 and Deema Abini ’14 facilitated communication between the two sides to help them reach a resolution.
The series of mediations were set over several days. Working together as a co-mediation team, Olson and Abini presided over the mediations, listened carefully to the considerations and concerns that each side brought to the table, assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the claims, and helped forge workable deals. Many of the cases resulted in a same-day settlement.
Listen, hear, negotiate: Co-mediation team Deema Abini '14 and Gerard Olson '14
These mediations were part of a successful collaboration between the Mediation Clinic and the DCA, where the student mediators resolved matters running the gamut from small claims disputes between neighbors to civil court cases like the one involving the school district.
Caroline Torosis, the dispute resolution progam manager and legislative analyst at the DCA, lauded the law students for their work.
“I was impressed with the high level of skills that they had,” she said. “Everyone was very professional. The fact that we are able to have great quality individuals help us mediate those cases is really important to us.”
Torosis, who enjoys working with the students because of their enthusiasm, sees the partnership as mutually beneficial. “The students are getting real-life experience,” she said, “We’ve expanded to mediate more than 200 court cases each month.”
The partnership between the Mediation Clinic and the DCA is now in its second year. The director of the Mediation Clinic, Prof. Lisa Klerman, pointed out that mediation experience teaches students problem solving and persuasiveness, two crucial skills in the law world.
“Regardless of practice area,” Klerman said, “effective lawyers are those who are skilled at persuasion at every step: attracting clients, convincing a judge, charming a jury, navigating the politics of working in a law firm, negotiating with opposing counsel, putting deals together constructively and even occasionally talking clients down from the proverbial ledge.”
The consumer agency provided Olson and Abini each with a desk, resources and access to conference rooms at the agency’s downtown office, where they could conduct their mediation work.
Olson mediated about two-dozen cases while at the DCA. His work included contacting parties by phone, who were sometimes reluctant to participate in a mediation, in order to point out the benefits of resolving their disputes by mediation rather than court. But mostly his work consisted of setting up and conducting the mediations. Some parties he worked with were represented by attorneys, and others were self-represented.
Looking back on the experience he gained through spending his entire 2L year in the Mediation Clinic and additional time as a 3L in the Advanced Mediation Clinic, Olson said that being in court several days a week strengthened his professional confidence.
“Being able to participate in that world and helping to resolve disputes helps immeasurably,” Olson said. “I can’t imagine starting out as a young lawyer and never having been in court or seen how to interact with the court staff or the judicial officers.”
The alumnus, who started work with an environmental law firm in downtown Los Angeles in September, is convinced that the Mediation Clinic experience gave him a leg up in the highly competitive legal market. “It certainly helps for people coming out of school to have marketable skills beyond academics,” he said.
Olson described the work as challenging and intensive. “In mediation, the parties control the outcome and can get remedies that might not even be available in court,” he said.
Abini, who also found employment with a large Los Angeles law firm, said mediations are a win for everyone. “No one leaves with exactly what they want,” she said, “but everyone leaves with a mediated resolution they can live with.”

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