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Frenkel ‘founding father’ of mediation program at Mexico university

July 22, 2013

Douglas Frenkel L’72, Penn Law’s Morris Shuster Practice Professor of Law, is the indirect inspiration for a program in conflict studies and resolution at one of Mexico’s leading universities, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE).

Prominent among those who led the creation of CIDE’s new program was Jorge Rosas, a CIDE alumnus and successful Mexico City lawyer, who is also a 2007 graduate of the Law School’s LLM program.  Rosas had taken Frenkel’s mediation course while at Penn Law and, valuing the experience deeply, he vowed to take it back to Mexico where nothing like this was going on but was desperately needed. Frenkel helped launch the new program last fall.

I was in Mexico for three days in late November at the invitation of CIDE, whose main campus is Mexico City,” Frenkel explained.  “They were inaugurating their new program and had invited me to be the keynote speaker at the event opening.”  Frenkel also held a teaching seminar and met faculty from different departments with interests in conflict resolution.

The CIDE program, he said, “has some aspects in common with a [U.S.] legal clinic in that they are very much committed to having an experiential base; it’s not simply going to be a center for scholarship, although it will include that, as well.” Moreover, he noted the program isn’t limited to CIDE’s law school. “There are participating faculty members from international relations, communications, and a number of other departments around campus with interests in this subject matter,” Frenkel said.

“CIDE has hired a full-time faculty member to be its director, and she is working to involve participants from a number of schools on the campus in its work.” Frenkel said. “While I was there we talked about ways that they can provide students the opportunity to study experientially in their own context, things ranging from simulations to summer internship placements at truth and reconciliation proceedings overseas, for example.”

Meanwhile, CIDE has been retained to develop a mediation training program for police officers in various states in Mexico that have never used this sort of approach. “Police officers there have had a strong law and order role,” Frenkel noted, “but have never been formally trained in the very sophisticated communications skills involved in mediation, though in reality they probably have been doing this in some fashion for years.  But the purpose of the program is to provide formal training in conflict resolution skills adapted to the local or indigenous cultures of different parts of the country, where these police officers operate.”

Frenkel was impressed with the reports he heard about during his visit: “This is being implemented on a very sophisticated level already by students who have studied courses in mediation and mediation theory at the University, who then go out to do this kind of applied work, sometimes for weeks on end, in remote parts of Mexico where they have serious problems of crime. As we’ve read in the press, Mexico is dealing with problems of serious crime and drug control.”

Of note, the mediation course being offered at CIDE’S law school is already using parts of Frenkel’s book, The Practice of Mediation: A Video-Integrated Text. “It was brought to their attention by my former student who was here at Penn Law when the book first came out,” Frenkel said. “And they found that the material translated very well from our system to theirs.”

Frenkel observed that they were using the book as a core skills teaching vehicle.  “Because of Jose’s  involvement they introduced me as the sort of founding father, and which I thought was a little undeserved since obviously they hadn’t consulted me directly on doing any of this, but I was just so very touched to be invited.”

His talk to mark the program’s inaugural was attended by hundreds of people, including representatives from Mexico City’s legal community, mediators, and members of the courts, as well as CIDE students, faculty members, and administrators.  “The questions that I got from people - whether from the courts or people working in all sorts of indigenous settings doing this sort of work - demonstrated that there was a huge hunger for this,” Frenkel remarked. 

Part of the reason, Frenkel said, is that “At the same time the government is cracking down on the crime and drug control problem with a top-down authority-giving legal system, they are also pushing mediation and other forms of docket-clearing processes through the court system for the first time.” 

While Frenkel pointed out he is not an expert on the Mexican legal system, he said “What I learned in my time there was that all the stars seem to be lined up, both academically and governmentally, to push this into the forefront.  In our country, for all we teach about trial advocacy, the number of trials that go on in this country every year, is probably dwarfed a hundredfold by the number of cases resolved by mediation.  So, the notion that this is an alternative is actually a misnomer.  The alternative is actually the trial; mediation is where much more of the action is now.  And things seem to be turning in that direction in Mexico, as well.”

As often happens, he said, “When the country and the courts are overwhelmed with criminal matters, this tends to push everything else in the system to the back.  That becomes a real problem in terms of justice being delayed for the great majority of cases, because crime has to get the first attention.  So, there develops a cry for other methods of disposing of other cases.”

Frenkel and his colleagues at CIDE are still determining to what extent he may continue to be involved in the program; but, he said, “This is their project, and, regardless, I was very touched that Penn was cited as the inspiration for this.”