The Mediation Clinic was created by Professor Lisa Klerman to give students hands on experience with what many view as the essential task of lawyering - helping people solve problems creatively, effectively, and efficiently. In the Mediation Clinic, students learn the dispute resolution skills required to become professional mediators and use those skills to mediate actual cases in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Unlike traditional litigation clinics where students learn to use the law to advocate for one side in a dispute, as mediators, the students do not represent one side or the other. Instead, they are third party neutrals who act as facilitators to help the parties craft a resolution to their lawsuit.
In the Clinic, students learn basic and advanced mediation skills and study the legal, ethical, and practical issues that arise in mediation. They observe live court mediations conducted by professional mediators and practice their skills in simulated mediations both inside and outside of class. Upon certification by the instructor, students are qualified to independently mediate small claims and civil harassment cases for the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Each student is assigned to conduct over 25 "live" court mediations, either individually or in teams of two co-mediators. Back in class, the students and the instructor debrief the court mediations, discussing effective techniques and strategies to use in future mediations. Through their work in the Clinic, students have helped hundreds of litigants settle their cases.
Once students have completed a full year in the regular Mediation Clinic, they are eligible to enroll in the Advanced Mediation Clinic. In this second Clinic, students learn additional skills that enable them to mediate more sophisticated and complex court cases, where attorneys typically represent the parties in the mediation. USC has partnered with several agencies to provide additional mediation services, such as its partnership with the non-profit California Lawyers for the Arts. In this program, the students are able to provide mediation services to the arts and entertainment community.
In addition to providing a valuable service to the community, Professor Klerman notes that the Mediation Clinic develops skills that will serve the students well in their personal lives as well as their legal careers. "In each mediation, I saw my students get invited into the middle of conflicts that were deeply personal to the warring participants. They skillfully helped these parties to understand their conflict and make sense of it, gain back some sense of control over their situation, and arrive at solutions allowing them to move past the conflict and on with their lives. This is some of the most rewarding work that one can do as a lawyer."
Students in the Mediation Clinic have described the course as "life changing." Miguel Espinoza, one of the students enrolled in the clinic the year it launched, describes the clinic as "the single most formative law school course" he has taken. "I came into the Mediation Clinic with a very limited understanding of what the mediation process offered to the legal profession as an alternative to litigation. Professor Klerman provided an entrée into the world of alternative dispute resolution at a time when I was about to be released into the wild as an attorney trained to fight. The importance of this development in my education cannot be overstated; law school classes very rarely discuss or explain the alternatives to traditional litigation, and only because of Professor Klerman's guidance, I now have a well-rounded view of the legal profession, and the potential benefits of avoiding the traditional legal system."