Carrel on Dreams of an ADR Career

This dispatch comes from FOI Alyson Carrel (Northwestern).

Last week, Robert DeNiro spoke at the NYU Tisch School of Arts graduation ceremony.  After congratulating the students on their success, he paused, then added, “ “and, you’re f***ed.”  Everyone laughed because they understood the uncertainty these students face.  Unlike their peers in accounting, law or medicine who have already found jobs that will lead to success and security, DeNiro said, students pursuing careers in the arts will likely struggle.  But he joked that artists aren’t jealous of those accountant jobs because he said, students who choose the arts, don’t follow reason or logic when deciding what career to pursue, they follow their passion. He said, they may be f***ed, but it isn’t a bad place to be.  Because, he said, it is their passion that will make them successful.

ABC News lumped DeNiro’s speech in a story about tough love messages found in this year’s graduations.  But I heard his message as uplifting and supportive.  I heard hope and inspiration in the idea that passion trumps reason or that even if you struggle, you will know you will be following your dream.

Of course cognitive dissonance may be at play because this past year I have been focused on finding hope and inspiration for students who are thinking of pursuing ADR early in their career.  I have been hoping to shift the message we tell these students from “it takes at twenty years before you can become a private mediator” to “if this is really what you want, it is possible.”

The ABA’s Dispute Resolution Magazine devoted an entire issue to the topic of ADR careers, exploring how career paths have evolved over the years, and what opportunities exist today. I want to thank the editorial board for dedicating so much space to this issue and allowing me to highlight the stories and experiences of individuals who followed their passions and chose to pursue a career in ADR early on instead of waiting to establish their career in another discipline and transitioning to ADR later.

I hope, at the very least, this issue of the magazine, can spark a renewed discussion about the choices and opportunities our students have.  An early career in ADR is not for everyone, just like not everyone is cut out to be an artist.  But for those students who are truly passionate about this work, we should stop setting up barriers and start finding ways to support and guide them beyond the classroom.  I started a forum for an online discussion about the realities of ADR as an early career on the ADR as 1stCareer video blog site.

4 thoughts on “Carrel on Dreams of an ADR Career”

  1. Alyson, you are a visionary! Your collaborative, creative, and rejuvenated approach is just what the field needs going forward. Your constant support of students and colleagues is much appreciated!

    1. Thanks so much Susan! I just conducted another interview for the video blog this morning. He said the old narrative of having to wait 20 years before transitioning to ADR may be wise, but is not the only narrative available. I liked that a lot. I want to make sure folks know the other narratives out there and let them choose instead of just saying it isn’t possible!

  2. Alyson, you remind me of the beginning of the Langston Hughes poem, Dreams.

    Hold fast to dreams
    For if dreams die
    Life is a broken-winged bird
    That cannot fly.

    Keep helping folks find their wings!

  3. Alyson is a former student of mine and I couldn’t be prouder of her. She is creative and full of energy and good ideas.

    After Art posted an item describing Alyson’s blog in December, I talked with her about it. As she says in this post, law students should not be unduly dissuaded from pursuing ADR as a first career – and they should have realistic expectations about this career path.

    In my 1L Lawyering course last fall, I told students that it is unlikely that they would get an “ADR job” right out of law school.

    This assumes that an ADR job involves work as a neutral or assisting providing neutral services.

    I believe – and argue passionately to my students – that lawyers acting as advocates serve important roles as DR professionals.

    Perhaps my caution about getting “ADR jobs” right out of law school was overly cautious. Perhaps not.

    To provide a nuanced message, I sent my students the following email referring to Alyson’s blog. Other instructors might want to convey similar messages to their students.


    Congratulations on finishing your first semester in law school. I hope you enjoyed it (though “enjoy” isn’t the first word that comes to mind for many students) or at least found it valuable.

    I want to elaborate on my comments that law graduates are not likely to get work as DR neutrals right out of law school.

    One of my former students, Alyson Carrel (’04), who now teaches at Northwestern, has developed a website collecting stories of people whose first jobs were in ADR. The website is described at this blog post, which includes a link to the site. Some of the jobs were as neutrals directly providing DR services and others were in positions in DR organizations.

    Alyson is trying to counter advice not to pursue an ADR career if that’s where your heart is. I share that sentiment.

    I also want students to have realistic expectations and not give up if at first they don’t succeed.

    In general, it really is hard to get ADR jobs and it usually takes a lot of preparation, patience, and perseverance.

    Although some people get work in ADR in their first job, I think that for most people in the field, it develops later in their careers.

    I want to reiterate that lawyers serving as advocates are important DR professionals in my view. Much of their work is negotiation of transactions and/or disputes. And they effectively serve as mediators between their clients and the other parties.

    So you may be able satisfy some of the desire to promote constructive dispute resolution as an advocate, not only as a neutral.

    Our Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution developed a useful website with lots of information about ADR careers.

    If you are interested in DR as a career, you should take relevant courses as you continue through law school, network, and get involved in DR activities. I would be happy to meet with you if you would like to discuss what courses you might take next year.

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