Written By: Patricija Rukstelyte
In July 2017, after being awarded with the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation scholarship, I began my yearlong internship at the New York Peace Institute (NYPI), also known as Manhattan and Brooklyn Mediation Centers. As a recent law school graduate from Lithuania, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work in the biggest mediation center in New York City and focus my work on alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
The Center’s team is composed of lawyers and mediation specialists from varying backgrounds and levels of expertise. Throughout my time in the Center I had opportunity to work alongside people from Trinidad and Tobago, France, Venezuela, Australia, United Kingdom, Colombia, and the Netherlands. Each member of the team brings a unique knowledge and set of skills to the table. Employees work as a close team and cooperates on broad spectrum of issues arising from different cases. In the Center I was mostly working with two programs. Namely, Civil Court Mediation and Lemon Law Arbitration.
Civil Court Mediation program was the most challenging in terms of time and expertise it required to actually start mediating cases at Manhattan Civil Court. Due to NYPI’s partnership with Columbia University’s Law School (CLS), I was enrolled to the CLS Mediation Clinic training right at the beginning of my internship. Attending the classes with other law school students allowed me to gain insight on what mediation in civil court entailed. Being trained by brilliant professors was a challenging and professionally stimulating experience. After an intense training at CLS, I was able to enroll in our Center’s apprenticeship program. During the period of 12 weeks I was trained by an experienced lawyer-mediator, who blended classroom instructions with case observation and real mediation. After this training, I was required to pass a video evaluation exam, during which a video recording of me conducting mediation was evaluated by the program manager in order to determine whether or not I was ready to start mediating cases myself. After I had passed the exam, going to Manhattan Civil Court, pitching mediation to clients, co-mediating cases and settling disputes for the parties became a part of my daily work routine. Having the opportunity to help the parties reach their own agreement and settle the case was extremely rewarding, since it had prevented them from lengthy, costly and rather unpredictable process of litigation. My favorite part of the mediation process was observing how the parties had found solutions that were much broader and more fitted for a particular dispute than traditional legal remedies that were to be expected from the Judge.
Lemon Law Arbitration Program was another facet of my internship. The purpose of the program was for us to provide an independent, efficient and fair forum to settle disputes arising between vehicles manufacturers and consumers. I provided support to the arbitration team throughout the case administration process, which included case management in the “CaseLoadManager” database, being a liaison between parties and arbitrators while setting the hearings, collecting all of the documents and evidence, and attending hearings in order to provide support for arbitrators. All of this required great precision and attention to detail since the arbitration program itself has a strictly limited time frame. According to the law, a hearing has to be scheduled in 45 days and a decision has to be rendered in 5 days. Thus, it is required to always be responsive and react quickly to every changing situation. I found the opportunity to attend hearings particularly exciting and beneficial. Arbitrator’s abilities to lead the hearing were always advantageous to learn from. Counsel’s and consumer’s oral submissions and witnesses cross-examinations were curious to observe. As I observed the efficiency of the whole process, I have understood how arbitration procedure can offer an efficient and confidential way for parties to protect their rights and legal interests.
Another aspect of the NYPI internship was an opportunity to participate in conferences and Center’s partner’s events and meet different professionals of ADR world. Whether it was ACR-GNY Annual Meeting or the opportunity to support the ICC 12th Annual Conference on International Arbitration as a volunteer, I gained deeper insights on topics such as drafting enforceable awards, NAFTA as the second most invoked treaty in investment arbitration disputes, and strategies to utilize for awards enforcement. In addition, in these types of events chatting with the President of ICC International Court of Arbitration or other reputable figures in the arbitration and mediation world was a pleasure I couldn’t get anywhere else.
The internship overall exceeded my expectations as it provided me with practical and hands-on experience in New York City Courts and arbitration proceedings. I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity to gain professional experience and unparalleled international exposure, and I wish to thank Baltic-American Freedom Foundation for providing the support that made this possible. I feel beyond grateful for the opportunity to work alongside so many dedicated and passionate people. The energy and devotion I felt at NYPI was reflected in all of the Center’s daily work. I witnessed how committed everyone is about translating their ideas on how to better serve clients, and how to promote NYPI as a leading alternative dispute resolution provider in New York City. Amongst all the other things that I have learnt here, this is what I am mostly proud of bringing back and sharing in Lithuania – passion and endless potential of ADR in every legal system.