Nancy Welsh, Professor of Law at the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law recently authored an interesting article entitled, “Integrating ‘Alternative’ Dispute Resolution into Bankruptcy: As Simple (and Pure) as Motherhood and Apple Pie?” Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 11, April 2011; The Pennsylvania State University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 6-2011; Conflict Resolution and the Economic Crisis, Symposium Issue. In her article, Professor Welsh advocates for greater use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in both bankruptcy and foreclosure matters. Additionally, she argues for increased education and regulation of attorneys with regard to alternative dispute resolution.
Here is the abstract:
Today, there can be little doubt that “alternative” dispute resolution is anything but alternative. Nonetheless, many judges, lawyers (and law students) do not truly understand the dispute resolution processes that are available and how they should be used. In the shadow of the current economic crisis, this lack of knowledge is likely to have negative consequences, particularly in those areas of practice such as bankruptcy and foreclosure in which clients, lawyers, regulators, and courts work under pressure, often with inadequate time and financial resources to permit careful analysis of procedural options. Potential negative effects can include: (1) impairment of a lawyer’s ability to provide her clients with competent advice regarding the appropriate application of these procedures; (2) impairment of a lawyer’s ability to suggest new dispute resolution hybrids that are both creative and implementable; (3) inappropriate use of dispute resolution procedures, adversely affecting clients, third party beneficiaries/victims, sponsoring institutions, and the integrity of dispute resolution as a field; (4) inadequate regulation, monitoring, and use of dispute resolution procedures; (5) the temptation of some lawyers, clients, and institutions to make intentionally inappropriate and even unethical use of dispute resolution procedures; and (6) new, and sometimes entirely unnecessary, satellite litigation arising out of the use of dispute resolution procedures. Meanwhile, the current ethics rules for lawyers, which are based largely on the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct and are supposed to provide some sort of an ethical and professional brake upon “sharp practices” by lawyers, are either so ambiguous or so insufficient in their treatment of “non-adjudicative” dispute resolution procedures that they may invite bad behavior by clever clients or their lawyers. This Article tells two tales – one hypothetical, the other the real story that inspired the hypothetical – that illustrate many of the negative effects described supra.
While now is the time to advocate for the increased use of dispute resolution procedures in bankruptcy and foreclosure matters, now is also the time to demand more stringent education and regulation of lawyers to assist them in making sufficiently knowledgeable, skillful and ethical use of “alternative” dispute resolution procedures, especially in the court-connected context. Law schools, meanwhile, play an essential role in educating students regarding existing dispute resolution procedures and their application, but law schools are much more likely to incorporate such material into their curricula if bar exams test for future lawyers’ knowledge and thoughtful application of these procedures. Last, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and states’ ethics rules for lawyers should be updated to respond to the many ethical ambiguities that currently haunt non-adjudicative court-connected dispute resolution.
What are your thoughts?