Students Gain Vital ‘Soft Skills’ in CNDR Certificate Program

More than 50 UC Hastings Law students participated in this summer’s first Leadership Lab Certificate program, a six-week series featuring interactive learning in a virtual environment focused on practical skills-building in the dispute resolution field.

Organized by the Center for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution (CNDR), the program imparted vital “soft skills,” which both the American Association of Law Schools and the American Bar Association stress are vital for producing well-rounded advocates.

Students learned from top faculty and staff, exploring topics such as language choice and building trust; personalities and conflict styles; anger and de-escalation; negotiation skills; managing emotions and bias; and power imbalances.

The program was led by CNDR’s Deputy Director Mattie Robertson ’10. Using a combination of lecture, large-group discussion, and small-group exercises, students worked with distinguished faculty and staff including Professor Sheila Purcell, Director of CNDR; Clint Waasted, Director, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution Team; Professor Joan Williams, Director of Center for Worklife Law; Gabriel Bellman ’05, Director of Graduate Advising, Career Development Office; and Lauren Lofton, Associate Director for Student Life & Inclusion, Office Of Student Services.

The curriculum was based on a month-long training program CNDR did with the Eviction Defense Collaborative in the Tenderloin to help Shelter Client Advocates build their negotiation and communication skills. Robertson realized that as the pandemic changed how advocates communicate with clients—in a virtual environment where reading body language may be more challenging—these skills were more important than ever.

“I want our students to discover that becoming a well-rounded professional means not just understanding legal concepts, but improving how we interact with others,” Robertson said. “Things like taking time to discover what’s important to clients as well as the opposing party, and breaking down assumptions and biases, are key skills for the next generation of lawyers working to create positive change.”

Mahnoor Yunus
Mahnoor Yunus

Rising 2L Mahnoor Yunus is in the health law concentration and hopes to work as in-house counsel or in public policy reform. She recommended the course, even for students who aren’t planning careers in mediation. “The course was very thought-provoking. It provided diverse perspectives from different speakers each week that allowed us to explore our own emotions, thought processes, and personalities,” Yunus said.

The breakout groups provided an environment to practice specific skills, said rising 3L Brittany Stahl. “The material was so accessible,” she said. “And I loved how supportive and invested everyone from the CNDR were. It made me more invested in the course and the material.”

Given the program’s success, CNDR plans to make it an annual summer program.