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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Law in University Park Arbitration Law Review, a student-run publication, hosted its annual symposium on February 12, 2020, in the Lewis Katz Building. Five experts from across the country joined as guest panelists to discuss a variety of topics under this year’s theme, collective bargaining and adhesive arbitration.
Panelists included Theodore J. St. Antoine, James E. and Sarah A. Degan Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Michigan; Jill Gross, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law at Pace University Elisabeth Haub School of Law; Stephen Ware, Frank Edwards Tyler Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Kansas School of Law; Richard Bales, professor of law at Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law; and Mark Gough, assistant professor of labor and employment relations at Penn State.
Jaime Fell, a third-year student at Penn State Law and editor-in-chief of the Review, took the lead in organizing this year’s symposium. He described the experience of putting together an academic conference—deciding on a topic, reaching out for speakers, coordinating logistics—as a valuable learning opportunity, and was thrilled with the positive feedback he received from panelists and audience members.
“Penn State Law has really fostered the Arbitration Law Review as a group,” Fell said. “For a relatively small student group, we were able to bring in some big names. I would like to thank all of our guest speakers, as well as Penn State Law faculty and staff, for helping us put together a successful event.”
“Jaime Fell and everyone at Penn State Law organized this symposium as well as any I’ve seen,” said Professor Ware. “I learned a ton from the other speakers, who draw on their experiences in the trenches of arbitration as well as their broader perspectives as prolific scholars.”
The combined experience and expertise of the panelists provided the audience with detailed and nuanced perspectives on labor and employment arbitration, collective bargaining, and other forms of arbitration agreements.
Though it may seem like a niche topic, employment arbitration has a wider impact than many non-lawyers might realize.
“This symposium, dedicated to labor and employment arbitration, is timely and brings awareness to important public policy issues,” Professor Gough said. “Employment arbitration agreements now cover almost half of private sector workers, but very few have ever heard of it. Providing a forum for researchers, students, and the public to discuss one of the most provocative developments in the contemporary workplace is a credit to Penn State Law and higher education in general.”
Professor Bales added that, beyond the realm of labor, arbitration agreements are ubiquitous; whenever you click “I agree” on a new electronic service or product, there is a good chance you are consenting to, among other things, an arbitration agreement.
“Participating in this symposium exposed me to other ways of approaching the issue of how to balance the benefits and the drawbacks of arbitration in a wide variety of contexts,” Bales said, adding, “The other participants in the symposium all are legends in the field of arbitration, but their experience with arbitration is from very different contexts, creating a highly diverse set of perspectives.”
By bringing together experts from various institutions, the symposium offered panelists and audience members alike the opportunity to think about arbitration in new ways.
“It is critical for scholars to come together to present research and exchange ideas regarding the consequences to everyday Americans who are bound by an adhesive arbitration agreement in the workplace,” Professor Gross said. “Comparing and contrasting labor arbitration with employment arbitration highlights the pluralistic nature of the arbitration process and exposes the need for continued exploration of and respect for these differences.”
Joseph Korsak, a solo practitioner in State College who has been practicing for 45 years, focusing on employment rights and discrimination cases, said he was drawn to the event because of the topic and opportunity for continuing legal education (CLE) credits.
“Penn State is amazing with the number of events offering free CLE credits, but beyond meeting the [American Bar Association] requirements, it’s important to stay on top of developments in the field,” Korsak said.
Law students, too, walked away from the symposium with tangible benefits.
“The most inspiring and rewarding part of the day was when I had the opportunity to talk with the panelists individually,” said Ginger Snapp, a second-year student at Penn State Law and Arbitration Law Review member. “Each and every one of them was incredibly distinguished, full of wisdom, and eager to teach and interact with us students. The event as a whole went from a great learning experience to an even better networking experience.”