A Look at the Future of International Disputes

February 20, 1999

Introduction
Writing about the future is a risky business.  A strong possibility always exists that the writer will be proven wrong about predictions or will later regret the analysis that seemed so certain just a short while ago. Nevertheless, our clients often ask our advice about what is going to happen, not what exists now, so as a profession we have become accustomed to talking about and even predicting the future.  And that is precisely the task undertaken in this paper.

It is significant to distinguish from the very beginning of these considerations, the difference between predicting the future and visualizing plausible future scenarios as a strategy for planning.  Noted futurist, Stephen P. Johnson, in a presentation in 1996 before the American Bar Association Board of Governors, described the distinction:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, futures studies (or ‘alternative futures planning,’ or simply ‘futuring’) are not about predicting the future.  The future cannot be known--it is not a finite something that simply ‘happens to us.’  The future, to a significant extent, is invented or prevented by our present-day actions.  By considering a range of plausible futures we can better identify the preferred future, and then seek its realization.

So perhaps Mr. Johnson has provided us an escape from the potential failure to inaccurately predict the future.  This paper is not designed to make predictions, but to describe one plausible future scenario, and to analyze the possible implications of that scenario for legal disputes, methods for their resolution, and conflict resolution management.

As attorneys, we inevitably must deal with, manage, and find ways to resolve the disputes in which our clients become involved.  To prepare ourselves for the next decade, and beyond, it is essential that we be aware of the macro trends already identified, the most plausible future scenarios emerging, and their potential impact on dispute resolution. If Mr. Johnson is right, the actions we take today will in fact help to shape that future and will make a difference for our clients as to whether or not they are well served by the legal community in resolving their international business disputes in the future.

This paper will begin by reviewing some of the macro trends and forecasts of most significance to our subject of  disputes and conflict resolution management.  Then the paper will go on to discuss the growth of alternative dispute resolution and the concept of conflict resolution management through client counseling.  The paper concludes with a comment on the ethical implications of these developments.

For the complete publication please download the PDF below.

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