ADR expert helps guide program at law school


by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Dispute resolution –and especially mediation – saves time and money, and empowers people to reach their own decisions and find creative solutions that may go beyond what a court might decide, says Brian Pappas, assistant clinical professor and associate director of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program at Michigan State University College of Law.

The ADR program, celebrating its 10-year anniversary next year, was launched when Professor Mary Bedikian joined the MSU faculty; Pappas is the second full time faculty member.

“We have several dedicated adjunct instructors as well,” he says. “We’re the only formal ADR program in the state and are doing some very innovative things. We now have a required 1L contract negotiations class that provides every student with an excellent foundation.”

The program also offers civil and domestic relations mediation certification classes – the 40-hour trainings required to be a court-rostered mediator – multiple negotiation, arbitration and workplace dispute resolution courses, competition classes, and an on-line Dispute Resolution course.

According to Pappas, one of the defining features of the program is small class sizes and the fact that he and Bedikian both teach competition classes, competing regionally, nationally, and sometimes even internationally in mediation, negotiation, and arbitration. Competition classes range from 4 to 8 students.

“We really have a gifted group at MSU,” Pappas says. “I really enjoy watching students develop the confidence to act professionally and effectively in challenging situations. The practice of law requires effective communications skills and I like to say that practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. So the self-awareness, planning, listening – a major focus of mine – and ability to execute are critical and I really enjoy watching students improve in ways that they initially did not think were possible.”

Pappas, who earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s in public policy from the University of Michigan and his juris doctorate from Wayne State University Law School, knew from a young age that he wanted to be a lawyer.

“I was always fascinated by history, government, and politics and I knew I wanted to do something that would help people,” he says.

Growing up around his uncle Ed – a.k.a. Edward H. Pappas, 74th president of the State Bar of Michigan, and also a mediator and arbitrator – was certainly influential, as well as being raised around higher education: Pappas’ father, Richard, is President of Davenport University in Grand Rapids, and his grandfather, Charles, served for 10 years as President of Mott Community College in Flint.

“So teaching dispute resolution at MSU Law is a perfect fit for me and I love what I do,” Pappas says.

He was first introduced to ADR the summer after his 1L year, studying abroad with the University of Missouri in Cape Town, South Africa. “I eventually earned my LL.M. in dispute resolution from Mizzou and so my interest in the field all began studying abroad,” he says.

Trained in both facilitative and transformative methods, Pappas has mediated hundreds of civil and domestic relations cases. He is a State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) approved civil and domestic relations mediator and trainer; other areas of expertise include multi-party dispute processes, public policy dispute resolution, the use of organizational ombudsman, and mediation confidentiality. Pappas served on the Michigan Supreme Court’s Mediation Confidentiality Committee.

“I initially became involved with confidentiality in 2008 when I authored a position paper for the State Bar’s ADR Section on whether Michigan should adopt the Uniform Mediation Act,” he explains. “The committee was convened to draft a new confidentiality court rule.

Confidentiality is an essential feature of mediation, and the issue is more nuanced than it initially appears.”

Pappas has presented dispute resolution topics at numerous conferences, including the American Association of Law School’s Dispute Resolution Works-in-Progress Conference; the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution Spring Conference; and before multiple local bar associations. He conducts negotiation and mediation trainings, most recently teaching SCAO’s 40-hour domestic relations mediation training for Friend of the Court personnel, attorneys, and community members – at the end of which, a participant went out of her way to compliment him on his presentation.

“I was so touched, it fired me up to keep working hard to make my teaching as good as it can be,” he says. Pappas also does pro
bono negotiation and mediation trainings.

“I believe we’ve only scratched the surface of the ways in which dispute resolution can be used to address conflict and even improve our public policy decision-making, so I try to be as active as possible to help to advance the field,” Pappas says.

He serves as a member of the governing council of the State Bar of Michigan’s ADR Section, co-chair of ABA Section of Dispute Resolution’s Law Schools Committee, and as co-chair of the ADR Section of the Washtenaw County Bar Association, which works closely with the Dispute Resolution Center of Washtenaw/Livingston Counties, co-hosting a monthly brown bag lunch series.

“I’m a big believer in community mediation and the brown bags are a great chance to interact with lawyers and community mediators with a passion for mediation,” he says.

Pappas and his wife Debbie make their home in Ann Arbor with their 11-month-old son Charlie, named after Pappas’s grandfather. While work on a dissertation for a Ph.D. in public administration from the University of Kansas doesn’t leave Pappas with much free time, he is a big Detroit sports fan and loves golf and playing the piano.