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The Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Courthouse Story: Part 1

The Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Courthouse story will be told in four blog entries. Part 1 will focus on the concept. Part 2: the Tulsa, Oklahoma, story. Part 3: the Houston, Texas project. Part 4: District of Columbia Superior Court Multi-Door.

In the early 1980’s the ABA (American Bar Association) Dispute Resolution Initiative* decided that they wanted to be actively involved in a futuristic dispute resolution project. Under the leadership of hair Ronald L. Olson, Vice Chair and Harvard law professor Frank E. A. Sander, and Executive Director Larry Ray, they rediscovered Sander’s visionary idea of the multi-door courthouse. He opined about this concept at the 1976 Pound Conference in St. Paul, MN.**

The causes of dissatisfaction with the US justice system stems from the following:

- The legal system is behind the times

- Many view justice as a game

- There seems to be a mechanical operation of rules

- There is very little flexibility or adaptation

There seems to be the assumption that “justice” is an easy task.

Los Angeles attorney Olson reminisced:

I Chaired the ABA dispute resolution initiative for seven years. During this time, I emphasized the approach of etting a Thousand Flowers Bloom. I encouraged many dispute resolution initiatives and was especially excited about our Multi-Door Dispute Courthouse project. The successful concept has now spread throughout the nation as did the law teaching of alternative dispute resolution techniques.

Multi-Door Concept

In 1976, professor Frank E.A. Sander presented the vision of a multi-door courthouse. Each door would represent a dispute resolution process ranging from mediation to arbitration. Each dispute presented to the courts would be analyzed in an attempt to match the complaint with the most appropriate dispute resolution process. This matching might be called the taxonomy of dispute resolution.

Taxonomy is defined as a classification system. The term derives from the Greek terms taxis (arrangement) and nomos (law).

ABA Selection of Three Model Sites

ABA began a national search for three model sites who would be interested in this concept. They secured the guidance and advice of University of Massachusetts professor Janet Rifkin. Rifkin is a leading dispute resolution advocate. She pioneered community mediation at the university and especially during the time she served as Ombudsperson.

Rifkin, along with Ray, traveled to many sites to discern if the major legal elements at each site would be receptive to the idea. Legal elements included the bar association, prosecutor's office, legal aid, public defenders, and the courts. Another issue was fundraising abilities for that site on both national and local fronts.

Ultimately, the ABA choose Washington, D.C., Houston, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Rifkin has now repurposed her life to California, but reminisced about the experience:

I was honored to be asked by the ABA to give my advice as to site selection. It was a challenging process for such a visionary project.


The multi-door approach to disputes is a winning concept. Today, most U.S. courthouses have some semblance of the idea. Importantly, all three experimental projects are ongoing and integrated into their legal communities.

*The ABA created the Washington, D.C. based Special Committee on Resolution of Minor Disputes in 1979, which then evolved into the Standing Committee on Dispute Resolution, and eventually, into the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution.

**The Pound Conference is short for the name of the conference: The Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice, 1976. This conference was inspired by US Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger. Judge Griffin Bell, who then became US Attorney General,attended this conference. This was a commemoration of the 1906 conference by essentially the same name.

In 1906 Roscoe Pound who later became the Dean of Harvard Law School gave a remarkable major address outlining the dissatisfaction with the US justice system.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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