Alumni Spotlight: Hazel Navarez (LLM in ADR, 2023)

USC Gould School of Law • February 5, 2024
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Hazel Navarez is an aspiring legal professional who graduated with an LLM in Alternative Dispute Resolution in December 2023. Moving from the Philippines, her fascination with the intricacies of the legal system found a perfect home in the dynamic environment of California with USC Gould’s global reputation and exceptional ADR program.

 Why did you choose to pursue your degree at USC Gould?

I have always wanted to further my legal education after obtaining my Juris Doctor degree in the Philippines. My goal was to learn in a dynamic environment, much like the U.S., with diversity and vast learning opportunities. California, with its rich landscape for exploring dispute resolution and opportunities for networking with like-minded professionals, became the perfect place for my career development.

My pursuit of growth as a legal professional, mediator and individual led me to USC Gould’s LLM in ADR program. USC is recognized as one of the top 20 law schools in the U.S. and holds a global distinction in offering one of the top 10 dispute resolution programs from LLM GUIDE. They provide hands-on dispute resolution training through their clinics and have a Recognized Course Provider status with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb). As one of only three recognized institutions in the U.S. by CIArb, I am eligible to join CIArb and receive a certification at the member level upon completion of my studies.

Before applying for my LLM in ADR degree, I received encouragement from a friend who is an alumna of USC Gould’s LLM in ADR program. I even participated in USC’s webinar introducing the ADR program and SCMA’s “So You Want To Be A Mediator, What Now?” webinar. These experiences not only deepened my understanding of the program but also ignited my passion to join the field of dispute resolution.

Another reason I wanted to study at USC Gould, with its top-notch program, is my firsthand experience in assisting courts and administrative bodies in the Philippines in drafting case decisions where I’ve witnessed the consequences of protracted legal battles, and the strain on overloaded court dockets. I wanted to contribute to alleviating these issues not just in my country, but in others as well.

What sparked your interest in the law?

Growing up, I had an interest in TV shows and news segments centered around discussions of law, and I would enthusiastically engage in conversations with my parents about my fascination with seeing how the law shapes systems to establish order and provide a framework for society to tackle moral dilemmas. I recall watching a TV show that portrayed a courtroom scene where lawyers passionately advocated for their clients and judges rendered case decisions. These experiences played a role in sparking my interest in studying law and pursuing it as my profession where I could contribute to society, whether by championing the interests and rights of others or resolving their conflict out of court. I’ve always identified with the values of peace, order, and fairness, and have a passion for assisting individuals in resolving their issues, which is why I find the legal profession to be service-oriented and in alignment with my aspirations.

What captivates me even more is that, despite often being jurisdiction-specific, the law inherently carries elements of diversity and international relations. This field offers an array of specializations, both within and beyond the courtroom.

Can you tell us about your current work in dispute resolution?

Currently, I serve as a Committee Member for the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA), California’s largest professional mediation association. My role involves contributing to SCMA’s overarching objective of advancing and advocating for the practice and profession of mediation in the U.S. and in other countries. I continuously enhance my knowledge in mediation and refine my skills through active engagement with well-esteemed professionals in the field and participation in various SCMA conferences.

Through the USC Practical Mediation Skills Clinic class and in collaboration with the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) and their dedicated mediators, I mediate actual small claims and civil harassment cases at Los Angeles County Courts. Building on this foundation, I became a Mediation Clinic Graduate Fellow, extending my commitment to mediating cases and supporting fellow USC Gould ADR students in their mediation efforts in this course.

I also became the Co-Vice President of the Gould Dispute Resolution Society (GDRS) of the USC Center for Dispute Resolution, with the goal of fostering educational and practical opportunities in the realm of dispute resolution, facilitating events that encourage networking, and promoting relationship-building between students and seasoned professionals in the field.

What is the most memorable experience or learning from your USC studies?

The experiences I’ve had during our Practical Mediation Skills Clinic class were truly remarkable. It allowed me to engage in mediating actual small claims and civil harassment cases within the Los Angeles County Courts, providing an unparalleled learning experience. Under the expert guidance of professors Richard Peterson and Michael Karagozian, this course challenged me and gave me a profound insight into mediation, effectively translating theory into practice. It is incredibly uplifting to hear from parties who have expressed their gratitude, acknowledging the role of mediation in fostering communication and finding resolutions. Knowing that we’ve empowered them to make well-informed decisions, offering an experience often quite different from a courtroom trial, is truly heartwarming. This experience facilitated my meaningful interactions with individuals from diverse backgrounds, ADR students, court officials, lawyers, and judges.

Further, I’ve taken part in courses involving immersive simulations of mediation, arbitration, and negotiation. It has enriched my understanding of dispute resolution. These experiences and learnings proved invaluable in honing my conflict resolution skills, not only as a professional but also as an individual, considering that negotiations, in various forms, are a constant presence in our daily routines, from minor day-to-day interactions to high-stakes endeavors.

How has your degree from USC Gould given you an advantage in your career? What do you want to do next?

As an international student holding a JD degree from abroad, my LLM in ADR program at USC Gould has been instrumental in navigating my transition and establishing a strong foundation for my career in the legal and dispute resolution field in the United States. The program has provided me with valuable networking opportunities with esteemed professionals in the industry. In addition to my mediation experiences, my studies have been enriched by my participation in the International Arbitration course under Professor Nathan O’Malley, which granted me the eligibility to join the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) at the member level.

I have also had the privilege of being a Teaching Assistant for ADR courses such as Negotiation Theory and Application, ADR Law and Policy, and Dealmaking in the Entertainment Industry, which have greatly enhanced my grasp of dispute resolution.

I intend to sit for the California bar exam, earning my license as a lawyer in the US. I aim to fuse my legal knowledge with my mediation, arbitration, and negotiation skills as I embark on my future career, creating a harmonious blend of skills and insight.

What advice do you have for students who may be interested in following a similar path to yours?

For aspiring students, especially those who are international or specifically interested in the LLM in ADR or Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR) degrees, a piece of advice: when that incredible opportunity comes knocking, and you’re set on broadening your horizons in dispute resolution or on seamlessly blending your work experiences with ADR, take the plunge and set your course toward becoming a peacemaker!

It’s never too late to chase a new dream, and unexpected opportunities often await around the corner. Even if you already have a legal background or knowledge in dispute resolution, further studies can be a pivotal step in advancing your career and personal growth. Have faith and if it’s meant for you, it will happen, no matter the odds.

Keep pressing forward and always remember: Fight On!

Learn more about the USC Gould Center for Dispute Resolution degrees and certificates here.

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