Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Students Decide the Case in Innovative Arbitration Clinic

Lindsay Brewer '17 JD/MEM and Jeremy Aron-Dine ’18, a former and current student in the Arbitration Project clinic at Yale Law School.

The Yale Law School experience transforms the lives of students, alters the future of their clients, and changes the national conversation. This Yale Law Report feature spotlights the innovative and life-changing work happening through four clinics and centers in which students lead the way.


Deciding actual disputes, awarding damages and lightening the State’s overburdened judicial dockets

At law schools around the country, it’s not uncommon to see arbitration clinics where students represent clients in real-life disputes. However, there are few—if any—like the one at Yale Law School, where students don’t simply represent clients but actually decide the case.

“The arbitration project is the only clinic I know where law students get experience adjudicating actual disputes,” said Ian Ayres ’86, the William K. Townsend Professor of Law and an expert in contract law who leads the clinic.

The Arbitration Project began several years ago as an extracurricular activity available to law students, and in 2017 became an official clinic. The clinic works through a partnership with the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection (DCP), which provides Connecticut residents with an avenue to resolve disputes over things such as defective cars or problematic home repairs.

The experience gives students a unique look into the world of arbitration while also helping the State hear more cases and avoid clogging up the judicial docket with lawsuits. Each semester, students are responsible for awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

“You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, and with that comes the opportunity to do a lot of good.” —Jeremy Aron-Dine ’18

“This clinic gives students a rare opportunity as law students—they apply law to facts in the capacity of decision makers, rather than advocates,” explained Ayres. “They learn to weigh the value of different types of evidence in order to determine the most likely truth of the situation. “They also learn how to run a hearing, ensuring that each side has the opportunity to tell its side of the story and that they receive all of the information they need to come to a fair decision.”

Students are prepared for this role with a mix of theoretical and hands-on training. They start by listening to a series of lectures on the substantive law and procedure, then participate in mock arbitrations, and lastly, they observe real hearings.

Currently, the clinic is mainly responsible for handling the New Car Lemon Law Program and the Lottery Delinquency Assessments Program for the DCP, though in the past they have also handled home repair claims.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to get that real-world experience,” said Jeremy Aron-Dine ’18, who has served as a co-director of the clinic. “You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, and with that comes the opportunity to do a lot of good.”

The collaboration enables DCP’s legal division to handle an increased workload within its existing resources, which DCP Commissioner Michelle Seagull said has been a tremendous benefit to the State.

“We have had an incredibly positive experience working with Professor Ayres and his students,” said Seagull. “They have provided us with well-thought-out decisions and have prompted us to take a fresh look at how we interpret our laws and regulations and how we administer the Lemon Law program, all to the benefit of DCP and consumers.”

Ayres and his current and former students agreed that the clinic program provides tangible benefits in the real world while providing an incredibly valuable experience for law students.

“Just the existence of the Lemon Law arbitration program leads many car manufacturers to settle with consumers, and we find that a large fraction (on the order of half ) of even those cases set for arbitration settle before the hearing,” said Ayres.

“I find it really rewarding that with the arbitration process, we are producing resolutions at a much lower cost than if the parties had gone to court,” added Lindsay Brewer ’17, a former clinic student who graduated last spring.

“It is a much less time-intensive option for consumers to seek redress. I hope our participation in the program gives them a positive interaction with the legal system that is expeditious and comes out with the right result. That’s our goal.”

Read more from the Yale Law Report feature on life-changing legal work covering the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, the Global Health Justice Partnership, and the Financial Markets and Corporate Law Clinic.