Behind the Scenes of the Landlord-Tenant Mediation Clinic
Participating in the Landlord-Tenant Mediation Clinic has been one of the most valuable learning experiences at Georgia State Law.
The program lasts two semesters. Students receive mediation training in the beginning of the fall semester. Then they practice mediation for a couple of weeks with more experienced co-mediators before they mediate on their own for the rest of the fall and spring semester in the Fulton County Landlord Tenant court.
The most obvious benefit of the program is that students become certified mediators, a skill they can maintain and use for the rest of their careers. I find this certification incredibly important, because I believe that alternative dispute resolution can be such a powerful tool for helping our clients save time, money and energy. Even as a future litigator, I am happy to be able to mediate and understand how the process works.
Less obvious benefits of the clinic are the skills students gain, the perspective they get, and the friendships, mentorships and professional relationships they develop.
The skills, like listening, are ones that can be used both professionally and in our everyday lives. Listening carefully — to what others say, and to identify their real concerns and goals— is a skill that is often underestimated. Further, as a mediator you learn how to handle and contain heated arguments and emotional situations. Talk about skills that can be used in our professional and personal lives!
Students also write settlement agreements every time parties agree to settle. And Fulton’s County’s Landlord Tenant mediators settle more than 80 percent of the cases they mediate (#humblebrag). The point is, students get plenty of opportunities to write agreements, which teaches them how to address all of the parties’ concerns in an agreement, while predicting any issues that may arise and addressing them.
We write all agreements aiming to ensure their enforceability and legality, otherwise the judge will not sign the agreement, and even if they do the parties may end up back in court. And maybe I am a nerd for finding this so cool; the agreements that we write are signed by the judge and become an enforceable order of the court!
I mentioned that the court provides students with a unique perspective. The majority of the parties we mediate with are people facing serious financial, and sometimes mental and physical, challenges. Everyday, we meet families who may lose their homes with nowhere to go.
Many of these tenants are pro se parties, who have trouble navigating the legal system. Some of them even have trouble expressing their concerns and thoughts, an ability we take for granted. Speaking with these people every day was a sobering reminder of how privileged we are, and how powerful it is to have a legal education. As a result, I was inspired to volunteer to help underprivileged communities with their legal needs whenever I can.
I also mentioned that students develop professional relationships, mentorships, and friendships in the clinic. Above all, we all benefit from the mentorship of Bonnie Powell (J.D. ’99), the director of the program. She’s a role model (and really super woman/mom/mediator/everything) we all feel lucky to learn from and know. Even after we complete the program, she continuities to be a mentor and a friend.
Moreover, participants mediate in the Fulton County courthouse twice a week for the entire school year, which provides them the opportunity to meet and work with other students, judges, and many practicing attorneys. Many professional relationships are developed through this experience, some of which provide job opportunities. Multiple students from our group and previous groups received and accepted job offers from attorneys they met while working as a mediator in the program.
Speaking of employment, students can mediate and get paid over the holidays and the summer. Students also can get added to the mediation program’s roster, not an easy thing to do, and will get to mediate for pay after they complete the program.
Finally, the friendships that are built through the clinic are invaluable. After a year of working together, learning from each other, and enjoying all the laughter and Girl Scout cookies that there is always an abundance of in the office (thanks Bonnie!), the group really turns into a new group of wonderful friends.
Kimmia Salehi (B.S. ’12, J.D./M.B.A.’16) majored in political science and government/international affairs with a minor in economics. She is a dual-degree student, pursuing her master’s in business administration and a juris doctorate at Georgia State Law.