Hope and Inspiration in the Land of the Aztecs

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This past week I was invited by my friend and colleague, Fernando Navarro, a former Weinstein International Fellow, to Mexico City to teach and lecture to mediators, attorneys and law students. The topic? How to advance the culture of commercial mediation in their legal environment.

My first presentation was an early morning lecture to ANADE, an association of corporate counsel, where I provided instruction and ideas on how to effectively represent clients in the mediation process. Later, I spoke to a group of eighty five public and private mediators on the history of commercial mediation in the United States and what lessons could be drawn for adaptation in their own culture. On my last day I lectured to an assembly of law students and professors at the Tecnológico de Monterrey on developing trends in mediation around the world where I challenged them to explore ways to shape their futures in a developing ADR marketplace.

During my varied presentations and the informal group conversations that followed, I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the attorneys I met and the rich cultural traditions reflected in their legal profession. One message came through clearly; as is so often the case around the world, these conservative traditions often resulted in resistance to change. Accordingly, many of the assembled attorneys and mediators were hungry for specific examples of the “American experience” in commercial mediation and particularly those lessons that might be adaptable in their unique environment. My message was one of hope and inspiration, telling stories of what has been involved in reshaping our own legal culture over the past twenty-five years.

One morning between lectures, I was able to visit the pyramids of the Aztecs located in the mountains just outside of Mexico City. As explained by our tour guide, these ancient pyramids predated the arrival of the Aztecs who arrived on the scene around 1325. The city of Teotihuacan included almost 200,000 inhabitants and was characterized by several pyramids, the largest of which was the Sun Pyramid standing almost 150 meters high. My climb to the top of the pyramid required ascending over 260 lung-burning steps before I was in position to enjoy the panoramic view of the valley.

As I stood on the top of this ancient pyramid, it dawned on me that I was experiencing a perfect metaphor for the challenge confronting my colleagues’ intent on developing the business of commercial mediation in Mexico City. Just like the ancient Aztecs who built their pyramids on top of structures formed by earlier civilizations, so too must those interested in building a culture of mediation today layer new ideas on the existing legal system to reach new heights. While this process may take the same dedication and perseverance as their cultural ancestors, what awaits at the end of the journey is not human sacrifice, but a new paradigm for resolving disputes.

Bruce A. Edwards is an ADR industry pioneer and recent chairman of the board of directors of JAMS, this country’s largest private provider of ADR services. Along with his wife, Susan Franson Edwards, Mr. Edwards recently cofounded Edwards Mediation Academy, an online education platform dedicated to improving the skills of mediators around the world.