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Another Year Teaching Mediation at Humboldt University

Report on another year teaching mediation at Humboldt University in Berlin: This year as a visiting lecturer

In late July and early August I taught at the 19th International Summer School on Dispute Resolution – Negotiation, Mediation, Arbitration. This is a program coordinated by Tulane University (USA) and Humboldt University (Germany). The summer school takes place in Berlin at Humboldt University.

Humboldt University was founded in 1810 as the University of Berlin by Willhelm von Humboldt. It developed a new model of education under von Humboldt, based on humanist principles of a ‘unity of teaching and research’. This style of education would come to dominate 19th century education.

Humboldt University has had 29 Nobel Prize winners undertake some of their scientific work at the university. The University is located in Berlin on Unter den Linden not far from to the Brandenburg Gate.

The course focuses on providing an introduction to the main tenets of Alternative Dispute Resolution, particularly mediation and negotiation. The students come from different countries all around the world. In the years I have been involved, those countries included USA, Germany, India, Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, Chile, Nigeria, Italy, Spain, Brazil, England, Australia, Morocco, Ukraine and Austria.

The faculty for the summer school is made up of leading academics and practitioners from around the globe. In previous years guest lecturers included Supreme Court Justice Alito from the United States of America and the former Dean of Tulane University Law School Edward Sherman. Guest faculty this year included Elizabeth Opie, an Australian Arbitrator working in Germany predominately with IT and IP law, as well as Dr Fan Yang from Hong Kong, a Barrister, Arbitrator, Mediator with a wealth of practical and academic experience.

The course runs over two weeks with one week devoted to negotiation and the other to mediation. Optional courses also occur on arbitration, political mediation, and transformative mediation.

The Negotiation Week  provides an introduction to negotiation and the principles established at the Harvard University, including consideration of the book Getting to Yes. There is a focus on practical exercises and practical learning with  opportunities for practising  negotiations and different techniques.

The Mediation Week provides students with an introduction to classical mediation and  opportunities to practice the components of mediation, including opening statements, information gathering, agenda setting, brainstorming, etc. Again there are multiple opportunities to practice and participate in mediation.

I assisted Professor Lela P Love from Cardozo University (USA) with a lecture on brainstorming in mediation. Brainstorming is a possible tool in a mediation to help parties step outside their conflict and brainstorm creative solutions in an impartial and non-judgemental space. We ran a large brainstorming exercise and a mock mediation demonstration of brainstorming. We covered  the formal rules and processes of brainstorming in mediation. These include ensuring that there is no judgement and that ideas are not attributed to the parties during the process. The aim is to keep the parties creative and open minded to try to step parties back from an entrenched position and think creatively about solutions. We worked through the ways in which the new ideas generated can then be reintroduced to a mediation to help break an impasse.

I also assisted Karl-Michael Schmidt, the course coordinator for Humboldt and a current law teacher at Osnabrueck University, with a lecture on Ethics and Professional Responsibilities in negotiations. We focused on ethical dilemmas in negotiations. These included issues such as lying by parties and between parties as well as overstepping authority. We discussed developing trust and how this is critical to ethical negotiation. Finally the importance of understanding and respecting the limit of a negotiator’s authority was thoroughly covered.

During the course Professor Fedtke (Tulane University/Passau University) and Professor Moti Mironi (Haifa University Israel) gave a series of lectures on political mediation. These fascinating lectures discussed their experiences mediating political disputes around the world.

Topically, Professor Fedtke considered the mediation and negotiation process involved with Brexit. He described the multiple layers of interested parties, the different countries and cultures, their formal political parties, as well as the businesses and activist lobby groups. Whilst not all are parties to the negotiations, they look to ensure that the process secures them the best possible outcomes. Professor Fedtke fleshed out a number of potential internal conflicts within United Kingdom and the European Union. For example, Easy Jet, a British company, has already moved its ownership to within the European Union to avoid post Brexit flight plan restrictions.

Whilst the Brexit negotiations have a strict timeline there are serious long-term ‘sleeper’ issues that may fall outside formal  Brexit negotiations but are likely to result from the completed Brexit outcome. For example, it was hypothesised that statements by US President Trump indicating an anti-NATO view, combined with Britain’s departure causing the loss of one of NATO’s most staunch supporters in Europe, could leave the door open for parties in Europe, with interest in increased militarisation, seeking reductions in NATO and or development of a form of European Union armed forces.

Whilst planning and environment law in Victoria is a world away from Brexit negotiations, these lectures and my time teaching at the summer school always resharpen my belief that parties, no matter how entrenched and how bitter, can with the right commitment and incentives reach a mediated or negotiated outcome. It certainly is not easy or quick but I believe the power of an outcome forged by the parties can be far reaching and lasting.


Hubert Algie

1 September 2017


Copyright © Kellehers Australia 2017 This post is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest. It does not constitute legal advice. You should always seek legal and other professional advice which takes account of your individual circumstances.