Dispute Resolution in Washington and the Women Behind It — From the Nordic Bronze Age to the 2019 NW Dispute Resolution Conference

Women lawyers shaking hands outdoors

The origins of mediation and arbitration can be traced back as far as 1800 B.C. to the Mari Kingdom in Syria as a way to resolve disputes with other kingdoms, according to A History of ADR, published by the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR).

In the book “Malinche, Pocahontas, and Sacagawea: Indian Women as Cultural Intermediaries and National Symbols,” author Rebecca Kay details how Native American women such as Pocahontas and Sacagawea navigated the landscapes, tribal leaders, and foreign newcomers with attuned conflict-resolution skills.

Fast forward a few hundred years to 2017, when the Women, Peace and Security Act was signed into law in order to strengthen efforts to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflict by increasing women’s participation in negotiation and mediation processes.

What do women bring to mediation? As it turns out, quite a lot. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “the participation of women and civil society groups in a peace negotiation makes the resulting agreement 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last at least [15] years.”

The concept of mediation gained acceptance from the legal community as a result of the 1976 Pound Conference that promoted dispute resolution and the development of the multi-door courthouse. Before 1976, “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) was often met with skepticism from the legal and business communities. Mediation was confused with meditation, and dispute resolvers were viewed as operating on the fringes of the legal system.

In 1990, the Washington State Bar Association’s ADR Section and the University of Washington School of Law jointly developed The Northwest Dispute Resolution Conference. One of the early objectives was to provide an opportunity for attorneys, mediators, advocates, students, arbitrators, and anyone interested in conflict resolution to gather together to share techniques, skills, ethical issues, and research to further the field of dispute resolution. The annual conference, now in its 25th year, has featured a wide variety of dispute-resolution topics covering negotiation, mediation, arbitration, communication, and other skills applicable to dispute resolution and conflict engagement.

For most of its history, this conference has been led by three women: Kathy Kline, Julia Gold, and Nancy Highness. Kline has been the conference coordinator since 1994, first as the CLE Director for the King County Bar Association and later as continuing education director at the University of Washington School of Law. Gold was a law professor and director of the mediation clinic at the University of Washington. Highness, an employment and workplace mediator, joined the planning committee shortly after attending the conference for the first time in 1995. The three of them teamed up for 15 years to bring together high-level programming from around the country and the region for the enrichment of Washington’s dispute-resolution community. Today, the conference is still led by women: Kathy Kline and the current co-chairs of the planning committee, Sasha Phillip and Melissa Fuller.

(The inaugural conference was co-chaired by Michael S. Gillie, creator of Washington Arbitration Services, the predecessor to the Washington Arbitration and Mediation Service; and professor Alan Kirtley, who was instrumental in the passage of the Uniform Mediation Act in Washington and the author of the influential article in the November 2004 Washington State Bar News, now NWLawyer, “The Top 10 Reasons for Adopting the Uniform Mediation Act in Washington.”)

This history of Northwest innovation in dispute resolution has other roots in the same time period. In 1990, Donna Lurie and Richard Croll authored RCW 7.75.035 under the Washington State Court Improvement Act of 1984 (RCW 7.75). Their bill became part of the act with the help of Sen. Marlin Appelwick. The amended law allowed counties to impose a surcharge on each civil filing fee in district court and a surcharge on each filing fee for small claims actions to provide a permanent funding mechanism for Dispute Resolution Centers (DRCs) in Washington.

For 35 years, the DRCs have provided low-cost and effective community conflict resolution services including mediation, facilitation, consultation, workplace conflict resolution, and training. There are 21 DRCs operating throughout the State, and 17 are currently led by women directors.

A culture of dispute resolution now thrives in the Northwest. All three of our states’ law schools offer alternative dispute resolution courses. The University of Washington and Seattle University schools of law also offer clinical practice in all aspects of dispute resolution. Washington’s small claims courts, family courts, and superior courts have adopted mediation programs as an important service to both the courts and to the parties in dispute. Superior Courts also utilize arbitrators to resolve civil litigation cases and Washington’s federal district courts extensively employ mediation and arbitration services.

Portions of this article originally appeared in the King County Bar Association Bar Journal, “2019 NW Dispute Resolution Conference: Dispute Resolution—Then and Now.”

Celebrate 25 Years of Innovative Dispute Resolution

The Northwest Dispute Resolution Conference will celebrate its 25th year on March 28-29, 2019, at the University of Washington School of Law. Attorneys, mediators, ombudspeople, advocates in mediation and arbitration, human resources professionals, students, and anyone involved or interested in conflict resolution are invited to attend. Registration is closed, but walk-ins are welcome.