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Three joint ILR and Law School initiatives explore intersection of labor with legal system

From conflict resolution to labor and employment law to a hands-on labor law clinic, Cornell's Law School and School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) are forging innovative cross-campus collaborations with strong outreach components.

The new initiatives reinforce the academic and outreach missions of both schools, say Deans Harry Katz of ILR and Stewart Schwab of the Law School.

"Cornell's ILR and Law Schools have complementary interests, and it is only natural that the two schools develop a more extensive partnership," says Katz. "With these three new initiatives we are taking a long-standing relationship to a new level of intensity and interaction."

That interaction is a benefit to the university as a whole, says Schwab. "We deeply value our many avenues of collaboration with the ILR school. The two schools have a long history of engagement, including several jointly appointed faculty, and our new initiatives will strengthen these important ties."

Conflict Resolution

This fall, the two schools announced a joint initiative called "The Program on Conflict Resolution," aimed at raising the standards of arbitration, mediation and other methods of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

"Our school's faculty includes experts in international arbitration and the use of ADR in a variety of domestic contexts," says Schwab. "This new partnership provides us with an existing programmatic structure to more readily engage our faculty and students in pursuing conflict resolution projects and research."

The new initiative marks an expansion of the leading-edge work under way within the ILR School's Institute on Conflict Resolution.

"With the addition of the Cornell Law School, we are able to expand our current focus from exclusively workplace-oriented projects and research to now include non-work related issues," says Katz. "These include the potential for ADR to resolve both domestic and international conflicts."

A certificate in workplace ADR will be offered under the new program; beginning in fall 2007, a counterpart certificate program will be offered in commercial and international ADR.

Labor and Employment Law

Since becoming ILR dean in 2005, Katz has been keen to enhance the school's outreach efforts. The creation of Cornell's Labor and Law Program headquartered in New York City was one of the first steps in that direction.

"Many of the top labor and employment attorneys are Cornell ILR graduates," says Esta Bigler, ILR '70, developer and director of the new program. "The research of the ILR faculty defines the issues in the workplace that result in changes in legislation and regulations, new policy initiatives, and the decisions of the courts and administrative agencies."

The program brings together faculty, practitioners, legislators and policy-makers to provide training and education. The ultimate goal is to create a labor and employment law think tank.

This fall the program introduced its Cornerstone Workshop Series for Lawyers, which offers New York state continuing legal education credits. The classes are intensive and interactive, appropriate for both new and experienced attorneys, and provide skills training along with discussion of ethical, historical and political contexts of the law and its enforcement.

Policy forums, seminars and conferences are another integral component of the program. Bigler and her staff initiated a recent legislative forum on heath-care policy and, in a similar effort, are planning an Albany roundtable with policy-makers to explore the state's Taylor Law and its enforcement.

"As an attorney, I am enthusiastic about the educational opportunities this program offers my colleagues," says Bigler. "As the program director, I look forward to creating a space for discussion and analysis of critical legal issues affecting the workplace."

Labor Law Clinic

In spring 2006, the Law School offered Cornell's first-ever labor law clinic, taught by Angela Cornell, associate clinical professor of law who also holds a joint appointment with the ILR's labor and employment law program.

The clinic is the only one in the country where students learn substantive labor law and practice while representing labor clients in a closely supervised environment.

"This hands-on learning approach can't be duplicated in the typical classroom," says Cornell. "This course provides students the opportunity to work with real clients, and it advances skills and professional development emphasized by the American Bar Association as central to legal education."

As in the medical field, law school clinics help students transition from the study of law to the practice of law. Students in Cornell's clinic work with union representatives and have to be prepared to appear before the National Labor Relations Board, the Public Employment Relations Board and other administrative tribunals in the field of labor and employment law. Last spring two law students in the clinic successfully arbitrated on behalf of an area maintenance worker who was unjustly fired. The worker was reinstated.

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Joe Schwartz