JD/MBA Student Gains Career Skills Through Nationally Ranked ADR Program
McKensie Wren, a 3L and a natural competitor, was drawn to the winning spirit of South Texas College of Law Houston. Because she plans to continue her real estate development career after graduation, she loves gaining practical career skills through the law school’s nationally ranked Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program.
“Almost every interaction in the commercial real estate world is a negotiation in some way,” she said. “Without a doubt, marrying practical knowledge and academic knowledge through the ADR program has made me a better professional.”
STCL Houston’s Dispute Resolution program in the Frank Evans Center for Conflict Resolution was recently ranked 15th among all programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report in its 2023 Best Graduate School guidebook.
Wren is involved in almost every facet of the ADR Program, including participating in the Inter-School Negotiation Practicum and regional and national ABA competitions. She also is a student coach for the Transatlantic Negotiation team and achieving excellent outcomes for parties through the STCL Houston Mediation Clinic.
Inspired to pursue a legal education by her father’s best friend, a real estate attorney and mentor, Wren said her experience in the ADR program has further enhanced her understanding of key legal processes she will encounter during her career. Though her path into the program was a bit non-traditional, Wren said she has still gained tremendously by participating.
“Most people do participate in the ADR Intramural as an intro to the program, but since I’m a J.D./M.B.A. candidate, I spent the year between my 2L and 3L years at Texas A&M,” Wren said. “My route to ADR started when I was doing a simulated mediation in class, acting as the attorney. After class the professor asked if I would be interested in competing.”
Wren agreed and quickly learned the ropes, then she paired up with her good friend Vikesh Patel. Wren and Patel competed together for ABA regionals and won – an especially impressive victory because it was Wren’s first-ever competition. They competed together again at ABA nationals and later were asked to stay on as student coaches for another team.
“The process has come full circle,” she said. “Now we’re teaching what we were taught and seeing other students catch on and compete really well. It’s been such a fun part of law school. The competitions and coaching have been a great way to hone practical skills I will use every day.”
STCL Houston students shine in competitions because of their superior preparation and training, Wren said. And she should know after winning first place at the prestigious ABA Negotiation Competition in November with Vikesh Patel.
Wren said the most rewarding part of participating in the ADR Program has been learning from some of the top legal minds.
“Professor Berman is truly the best when it comes to ADR,” Wren said. “And Jonathan Trimble has gotten to learn from Prof. Berman for the past five years and gives great advice on what real-life scenarios will be like as a lawyer.”
Negotiation, arbitration and mediation are all pivotal skills attorneys need, and the ADR program is the perfect place to practice them.
“It says a lot about the quality education South Texas students get from the Mediation Clinic,” Wren said. “The hands-on experience adds so much to the time spent listening to lectures in the classroom.”
Prior to the Mediation Theory & Practice class and then the Mediation Clinic, Wren only had exposure to mediations through property tax protests. Learning how to be a mediator has given her insight into the ADR process and taught her a variety of strategies to deploy in negotiations. She has since served real clients, mediating insurance and small claims cases.
“Mediation is almost like negotiating with both sides at the time,” she said. “You have to remain neutral and keep everything clearly delineated.”
Perhaps Wren’s most exciting South Texas experience thus far was the month-long Inter-School Negotiation Practicum through the Mediation Clinic where she negotiated the settlement of a pending lawsuit (Nona Gaprindashvili v. Netflix) with a student from Mitchell Hamline Law School.
Wren speaks highly of her experience with ADR program, and she has some advice for students: participate in the ADR Intramural at the beginning of the school year to try it out.
“I suggest trying out ADR in this low-pressure environment to get a taste before jumping right into serious competitions against students from other law schools,” she said.
Wren appreciates the dedicated effort professors invest in students’ academic and future success. “South Texas is the best learning environment with the best professors, bar none,” Wren said. “I can’t thank them enough for all I’ve gained here.”