The Gould Program: Teaching Vital Skills in Negotiation and Mediation

While the interests of Stanford Law School students are as diverse as the fields they enter upon graduation, there’s a major commonality: About 75 percent of students take at least one course in the Gould Negotiation and Mediation Program. Hands-on and practice-oriented, Gould courses serve more than 263 Stanford Law students, while boasting waiting lists of even more students seeking to supplement their doctrinal coursework. “Negotiation is more than a formal contract or settlement agreement. It includes discussion with a broad array of people and organizations, whatever your legal, professional, or personal world,” explains faculty director Janet Martinez. In addition to negotiating with courts, regulatory agencies, and other counsel, law school graduates will inevitably find themselves negotiating with witnesses for information, boards of directors for authority, secretaries regarding support and extra hours, as well as family, friends, and landlords, explains Martinez, a senior lecturer in law at Stanford Law School. “At Gould, we’re giving them permission to look at interpersonal skills,” she says. “Whatever their future area of practice, students will find these courses relevant.”

Gould classes are popular not only because they’re practical but also because they’re interesting and engaging, Martinez adds. Core courses are taught through simulations, so future practitioners can learn to integrate theory into actual dispute resolution. In the entry-level negotiation seminar, for example, students start out by playing pairs of buyers and sellers. “We end up with pretty different results even though everyone starts out with the same information,” says Martinez. Working in small groups, debriefing how they opened, what worked, and what didn’t, “students get a chance to teach each other and watch themselves on video. They gain an ability to recognize which strategies were effective,” she says. Other simulated negotiations may involve a sports player and agent or siblings with lawyers fighting over an inheritance. As the course progresses, students eventually practice complex, multiparty negotiations. To maximize this opportunity for students to exercise lawyerly judgment and determine their personal style, Gould seminars are capped at 20 students.

Illustration by John Tomac

Founded in 1996 as part of the Martin Daniel Gould Center for Conflict Resolution, the Gould program prides itself on an informal atmosphere led by 13 experienced practitioners, including a retired judge, senior counsel at major corporations, as well as partners at law, consulting, and mediation firms.

One-time commercial litigator and former director of training at Morrison & Foerster, Julie Matlof Kennedy, AB ’87, JD ’91, recalls the rigorous process to become a Gould faculty member. “In the Gould tradition, the entire teaching staff interviews an applicant, all together. So it’s like you’re negotiating your way through the interview.” New faculty are also required to shadow, without compensation, a seasoned teacher through every single class for an entire quarter, which Kennedy did in 2004. “Gould has a strong team-teaching approach,” she adds. “Everyone on the team commits an extraordinary amount of personal time” to hone and perfect the courses. The faculty meets several times a year, including on an overnight retreat.

Advanced Gould courses teach more specialized dispute resolution skills, such as international business transactions and sophisticated public policy negotiations. Gould also runs a speaker series featuring senior experts in various fields. Recent presenters included government officials from the United States and Switzerland who debate government deal making, Silicon Valley lawyers who negotiate biotech transactions, and  Hollywood lawyers who handle film deals. 

One popular Gould course is Dispute Systems Design, in which students learn about the design and implementation of different conflict resolution processes, such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or a hybrid. “Whether a student becomes a transactional or international counsel, negotiating a dispute resolution provision in a contract or treaty, or becomes a litigator, advocating for a client in arbitration, a regulatory agency proceeding, or court, the student will benefit from understanding the resolution processes available and how to use them most effectively,” Martinez says.

Ayelet Sela, JSM ’09, JSD ’14,who describes herself as “an enthusiastic Gouldie,” believes that in the future, lawyers will increasingly transform into “legal architects” who design dispute-preventing legal mechanisms, rather than “reactors” to legal problems that arise. As part of Dispute Systems Design, Sela worked with San Mateo Superior Court staff to develop process flows for an online intake protocol for court mediation. The project, which Sela says was one of the best she had at Stanford Law, matured into one of the school’s policy labs. “It was an opportunity to leverage the knowledge and skills I’d gained as a student to contribute to resolving a ‘real-life’ access to justice problem.”

Former Gould teaching assistant David DeCarlo, JD/MBA ’14, initially took courses at Gould because he believed negotiation skills would be useful whether he went into law, business, or government. “Plus, they could be used in my personal life. It’s a toolkit you can draw upon in a challenging situation,” says DeCarlo, who is now a policy analyst for the Federal Reserve in New York. The work DeCarlo did at Gould “will absolutely pay off,” he adds. “I learned integrative bargaining, which is about more than just finding a compromise. It’s about collaboration, about reaching a state that’s better for both parties. That’s valuable from a teamwork perspective.”

For her part, Kennedy believes the Gould program “fits well with the clinical direction the law school is moving in.” She says, “Whether it’s about going to court or about deal making, the law school has a skills-based, learn-by-doing ethos. And Gould has been doing that for a long time. We view ourselves as part of that philosophy.” SL