October 20, 2013

Solutions Lawyering?

By Andrea Schneider

We had New York Times journalist Tina Rosenberg visit the law school this week in honor of the ABA’s Mediation Week and she was fascinating.  First, she is a recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant which she used to travel to South America and lived there for several years.  Second, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her second book, written about the fall of communism.  And those were not even the reasons we invited her!  Her “Fixes” column in the Times focuses on “solutions journalism”–the idea that journalists can cover what works as well as what the problems are around the world.  In her talk to students, she discussed how solutions journalism is one response to the “argument culture” also shared by lawyers and we talked about how the ADR movement is similar in many ways–trying to create a shift in how lawyers think of themselves and their role.  Tina’s most recent book–Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World–focuses on another type of persuasion that relates to lawyering and mediating skills.  Really eye-opening in a variety of ways–and I am coining the phrase Solutions Lawyering right now.  I am also going to read Join the Club and think more carefully about how we teach ethics–Tina would argue that only pointing out the bad behavior might not be nearly as persuasive as celebrating, and making normal, the good behavior.  Hmmmm–much to contemplate.  Link here to a blog post about her visit with our own distinguished journalist in residence–Mike Gousha–and here is a link to the video of her visit with him.

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Comments

  • Jeffrey Morrell says:

    I have to say I really liked the solutions journalism concept; it’s representative of a movement toward a preference for finding effective solutions for problems rather than ones that are easy, sound good, or are obvious. We as humans, especially our reps in DC, like to think we are very good at solving problems by creating incentives by way of laws, regulations, and taxes, while it is becoming more clear we’re very bad at it-social pressure is often the most effective solution. Makes me think of the Hummer, which went the way of the do do bird not because of government CAFE standards or gas guzzler taxes, but because of a broad based social distaste for the oversize and the accompanying peer pressure. I’d like to see more problems solved this way.

  • Heather Hough says:

    I enjoyed Ms. Rosenberg’s class visit, particularly her information about peer pressure transformation. The story she told about the Serbian youth was inspirational. But it made me think about the teen/group of teens who started the movement. Of course, for peer pressure to work, and to work for good or bad, there needs to be a charismatic and motivated leader to get the ball rolling. While I have not met Ms. Rosenberg’s book, and I’m sure she probably discusses the concept of an effective starting point for transformational peer pressure, I would like to know more about how society can perhaps guide the charismatic to generate positive peer pressure instead of negative. Too often, the most charismatic people that others follow are mouthpieces for negative messages (bullies, politicians, etc.). Training those who can generate followers to utilize peer pressure in a positive way might be an effective way to get more of the good stuff going around. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to hear Ms. Rosenberg speak and look forward to reading her work after this nightmare of a semester is over.

  • Taylor Wilson says:

    I found Ms. Rosenberg’s talk to be a refreshing change from what I generally perceive the overall attitude of today’s journalists to be. The concept of “solutions journalism” should be a welcome shift in viewpoint for the profession, and as such, I hope that it will find popularity nationally. Rather than focus on the negatives, Ms. Rosenberg and her colleague have found a way to make a more productive use of front-page bylines. I believe that Ms. Rosenberg made a comment during her talk in our ADR class about the dwindling need for print news sources in an age where breaking news is a mouse-click away. This idea of “solutions journalism”—taking the time to report on a means by which to solve or positively impact the consistently negative news stories flooding our television and computer screens—makes the front page of printed news sources relevant once again.

  • TJ Wendel says:

    I had not really spent much time thinking about it in this context but the news and society do tend to dwell on the negative and the problems “it’s the squeak wheel that gets the grease”. Solutions journalism or solutions (insert group here) is very good idea and a huge improvement over how we look at life now. The little I know about educational and parental pedagogy argues that students/children who have good work rewarded are likely to do more good work or even better work. Conversely, students/children that have bad deeds punished are not as likely to do good work or improve there work. I think using a, highlight the good not the bad, approach might be helpful to ethics in lawyering and in general. Referring back to one of the earlier commenters, we spend a great deal of time talking about the grid lock in Washington but very little time talking about compromise and success. The media had almost round the clock coverage of the failure of Washington to pass a spending bill and reach an agreement. However, that coverage stopped the moment there was an agreement. Maybe if in politics and in life we spent more time rewarding and calling attention to the good we would improve society rather than what we do now which is demonizing the bad and striving for mediocrity.

  • Megan Schulz says:

    I found Tina Rosenberg’s concept of Solution Journalism fascinating in that it is reinventing journalism today. I know many people who have said they have a hard time watching the news or reading a newspaper because of the negativity that is so often covered. I think that Ms. Rosenberg’s approach is incredibly refreshing and will show people that while a lot of conflict and negativity exists in the world, solutions are being crafted to try to solve these problems. The problems of the world seem a lot more hopeful when individuals can see positive change and this may inspire others to make positive changes as well.

  • Britany Morrison says:

    Solutions Journalism is such a fascinating concept and one that I wish I would of thought of. Switching the focus from problems to potential fixes is just what our country needs right now. Her example of the Washington school taking homework away from the home in favor of take home lectures was such an interesting “fix” to the shortcomings of the education system. I really hope this idea catches on in the legal field as well. There are plenty of forums in the legal world for “Solutions Lawyering” to really work. Reporting on what really works at the ground level, instead of what some legal scholar believes will work could have a huge impact just like it already has in the field of journalism. I think Ms. Rosenberg is really onto something special here using positive behaviors to influence others and it will be interesting to see if they idea takes a hold in the legal profession.

  • Kelsey Burazin says:

    While listening to Tina Rosenberg talk about the ideas that led to Solutions Journalism, I thought of a scene in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” where a journalist is talking with the owner of the hotel about the awful things he had filmed. In the end, the journalist says, “if people see this footage, they’ll say ‘oh my god, that’s horrible,’ and they’ll go on eating their dinners.” I think journalism today often makes viewers feel hopeless and powerless because journalists often report about all of these negative things without providing any plausible solutions to their readers. I think this problem can be paralleled in the legal world. The thought of litigation can also be daunting and make people feel hopeless and powerless. The litigation process is often lengthy, expensive, and bleak. Like Solutions Journalism, alternative dispute resolution in the legal world can empower people to find solutions to their disputes and underlying needs that could otherwise go unresolved and unmet through the litigation process.

  • Chad Fahrenkrug says:

    I appreciated her approach that enlightened me to the potential of positive reinforcement. Her example that was most striking was the example that in hotel rooms, a sign stating that “people that stay in this hotel hang up their towels after use”.

    This can be used in many other forums.

  • Mark Eldridge says:

    As a journalist in my other life, it was refreshing to see that there is someone like Tina Rosenberg out there who is trying to advance journalism’s purpose in our society.

    There will always be a need for journalism in society both to inform and as a watchdog on those in positions of power. Solutions Journalism satisfies both those needs by pointing to who is effective in solving a problem, and who might be coming up short.

    Most importantly, Solutions Journalism avoids the problem of attaching narrative to a solution. It doesn’t look at whether a solution is “liberal” or “conservative,” or whether it was proposed by a politician with an “R” or “D” next to his or her name.

    It simply looks at whether a solution works. And really, isn’t that what we’re all trying to figure out?

  • Kyle Russo says:

    I believe Mrs. Rosenberg’s idea that informing a party (party A) that some random other party or person (party B) acted in a certain way can influence party A to act in the same way as party B is fascinating. I believe this could be used extremely effectively in an evaluative mediation setting. If the mediator can communicate to party A that someone or party acted a certain way in a similar situation, it could entice an agreement in mediation. This could be very useful if a party is close to a settlement agreement in mediation but may still be hesitant to accept the mediated agreement. When the mediator is acting in an evaluative setting and the party leans on the mediator to tell them the outcome or information, the mediator can introduce the information that a different party acted a certain way to encourage a settlement agreement in mediation. Under Mrs. Rosenberg’s theory, this would motivate the individual to accept the settlement agreement even without knowing the details of this mysterious other party.

  • David Woolf says:

    I enjoyed Ms. Rosenberg’s class visit very much. She presented a unique and refreshing perspective on the feasible ways that professionals can more effectively problem solve. Far too often many professionals, lawyers included, default to the adversarial nature of conflict resolution because they see it as the most effective means to settling or solving a dispute. Oftentimes, this is a misplaced idea. As Ms. Rosenberg said, often times there is a way to problem solve that is based more on the “how” of the debate and less on the “if.” This focus bings parties together and makes them look forward as better problem solvers often looking for a collaborative solution that is more efficient and tends to expand the pie. By taking the time to alter our perspective and look to the negative and the positive to see where solutions may lie, we are able to come up with solutions to problems instead of mere agreements that don’t always leave parties satisfied. There is a change in perspective.

    Another interesting perspective that Ms. Rosenberg left us with was a new conception of peer pressure that shows that it is not entirely a negative idea. Many individuals around the world have used peer pressure for the greater goof to either organize students to overthrow a dictator or to combat binge drinking on a midwestern college campus. Effective use of pressure and persuasion can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes. Overall Ms. Rosenberg left me with a new outlook on several aspects of modern day business and lawyering.

  • Michael Fortney says:

    I would like to join my colleagues from Professor Schneider’s ADR class in saying that Tina Rosenberg’s talk with our class was highly thought provoking. Until Ms. Rosenberg’s talk, I had never heard about, much less thought about, peer pressure as a positive force. In my undergraduate days uttering the phrase I succumbed to “peer pressure” was used as an excuse for, let’s face it, just about every bad decision I made. Not to describe a positive force in my life. However, after listening to Ms. Rosenberg’s talk I learned that peer pressure can be used in highly productive, life altering ways.
    In retrospect, positive peer pressure is something that I have/has been used on/by me. During the time leading up to finals in the fall of my 1L year there is no way I would have been able to stay focused and sane without the help of my friends, who were also in the same boat. No one wanted to be the first person to go home, forcing all of us to stay hours longer than we, at least I, could have alone. Hopefully I will be able to rely on that positive peer pressure in the coming weeks with finals just around the corner, again.

  • Derek Fulce says:

    Tina Rosenberg spoke to Professor Schneider’s ADR class about peer pressure, the ways in which it is perceived, understood, and can be used. She discussed how peer pressure can be a positive force, something that can lead a person to work harder and achieve greater goals. I could not agree with her more. When peer pressure is discussed both in public and private it is almost always presented as a negative and harmful force. However, as Tina Rosenberg pointed out, it can and is often used with positive outcomes. This is something that those of us who will be working in ADR must keep in mind. People want to ask and achieve in a similar manner to those around them. These forms of positive peer pressure, and positive reinforcement will be helpful in the world of ADR. In my own personal experience I have seen the positive effects. In my small Catholic grade school there was no discussion of if one would graduate from high school and go to college, it was assumed that all students would graduate from college. As a result of this shared assumption and the peer pressure it created all but one member of my grade school class attended college. While working on victim/offender mediations I often used positive reinforcement and positive peer pressure to help the teenage offenders to work through the process with their victims. I think that my closeness in age helped in many of these situations because of this idea of positive peer pressure.

  • Jared Schneiderman says:

    I appreciate Tina Rosenberg’s efforts to use the weight of traditional institutions and theories and redirect them in order to effectuate positive societal change. The examples given in class of the Milosevic protestors, the Brazilian HIV story, and the Northern Illinois story are concrete examples of how these ideas can be used for good. I think these results based ideas can be applied in the ADR context with respect to reducing the adversarial culture, creating a more ethical/responsible culture of lawyers who approach problems from a new perspective.
    The fact that she is not trying to reinvent the wheel but rather use existing models and simply shift their focus to be more productive, efficient, and effective is very interesting and acts to inform those who wish to have a positive impact in the world.

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