By Natasha Dyer
Rachel Wohl was not always the strong proponent and practitioner of mediation she is today. For eight years she worked as a trial lawyer, during which time she served as lead litigator in three related, contentious cases in federal court in 1995. She attempted to negotiate a settlement, but the aggressive opposition had no interest in settling. Eventually, after many battles, the opposing side realized the weakness in their cases and suggested mediation. Rachel had no prior experience of the practice, but despite believing herself to be a strong negotiator, assumed mediation would also fail. To her amazement, the mediation proved so successful that all three cases were settled in two days. Additionally, she learned effective techniques she had never encountered before.
Realizing that mediation much more frequently leads to more positive and sustainable outcomes that work for both parties in dispute, as opposed to litigation, Rachel enrolled in Harvard Law School’s forty-hour mediation seminar. After completing several advanced courses, Rachel looked for a way to transition from law into mediation, but soon found she could not support herself solely as a mediator. There were so few mediations taking place in her home state of Maryland at that time, that only a few individuals were operating as mediators.
In 1997, having previously led a statewide collaboration to reduce family violence, Rachel authored a proposal for the Honorable Robert M. Bell, Maryland’s Chief Justice, asking him to lead a statewide multi-stakeholder dispute resolution commission. The purpose of this body would be to advance the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in Maryland courts, schools, communities, criminal and juvenile justice programs, government and businesses. Judge Bell agreed and hired Rachel to direct the process.
It took the forty-member ADR Commission: 18 months, six committees, four regional advisory boards, a national advisory board and six hundred people involved in consensus building across the state—to create an action plan. The Chief Justice then created the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO) in 2000 to implement the plan. Rachel served as MACRO’s executive director for 15 years, and today the organization employs eight staff and annually awards grants of approximately $2 million for dispute resolution efforts across the state—many of which have spurred national innovations in the field.
Since embracing mediation, Rachel has never looked back. She now works as a conflict specialist and mindfulness teacher, helping people address the root causes of their conflicts and work towards more collaborative and sustainable solutions. By combining her skills and passions, she is an extremely effective mediator and also an incredibly warm human being. She has a natural interest in people and in helping them express themselves in a safe space.
Rachel is also a great asset to MBBI. As well as being a founding member and serving on the board of directors for eight years, she is a core member of the Dialogue Process Project (DPP) —one of MBBI’s capacity building projects. Its seven members, various specialist associates, and three interns have been invited by mediators around the world to help them conduct dialogues and use ADR to resolve public and private conflicts. The DPP also specializes in helping others create community mediation programs to empower underserved and economically troubled and divided communities. DPP is currently working on projects in Greece, the Czech Republic and Cambodia—the latter of which Rachel leads.
Rachel is confident that DPP’s proactive capacity and consensus-building approach provides invaluable support to international groups wanting to advance peace and harmony in their communities. Within and outside of the courts, MBBI supports different actors to resolve conflicts by empowering people to develop their own conflict resolution skills. MBBI acts as an incubator, advising and supporting in-country teams to grow the practice and service of mediation to address conflict issues in their own contexts.
Rachel feels as passionate about the power of mediation now as she did when those first three cases were resolved. In a world where political elites are failing to address the concerns and conflicts of their constituents – creating significant political disenchantment and feeling of anger and neglect – community empowerment seems more important than ever.