Master's in Dispute Resolution Programs in 2020

Whether you have a desire to bring justice to vulnerable populations in your community or help large corporations to save time and money when it comes to resolving disputes, there are advanced degree programs that can gear you up to achieve your goals. Most commonly known as a Master’s in Dispute Resolution or Master’s in Negotiation and Conflict Management, this educational qualification teaches you how to analyze conflicts, understand their root cause, and gives you the expertise to negotiate and resolve conflicts through reasoned interventions.

Multiple studies, surveys, and reports have been conducted over the years to highlight the importance of dispute resolution in the fields of commerce, law, healthcare, education and beyond. One notable report was compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017, Use and Benefits of Dispute Resolution by the Department of Justice. The report reveals that 75% of voluntary dispute resolution or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures in 2017 were resolved, compared to 55% of court-ordered proceedings. This data is based on detailed case reports submitted by the lead trial counsel in all cases in which a private neutral conducted the ADR process in Department litigation across the country. The report also details the amount of money saved and months of litigation avoided from carrying out ADR proceedings in 2017, as well as years before that.

What is Dispute Resolution?

Conflicts of varying degrees can come up in just about every professional setting. Dispute resolution is one way to resolve those conflicts. Dispute resolution may involve a number of carefully mediated processes, often taking place outside of court. These processes call for a unique skill set that comprises of soft skills and skills acquired from educational training.

Effective communication and building productive working relationships is key to resolving conflicts. Addressing underlying tensions before they turn into full-blown conflicts is a daily part of the job for someone who leads or engages in dispute resolution proceedings.

The cost of workplace conflicts is high, resulting in lost productivity, lost high-value employees, and lost revenue. This is true today and dates back decades. In its 2008 Human Capital Report (PDF, 791KB), CPP Global found that U.S. employees spend 2.8 hours per week engaged in conflicts, resulting in over $300 billion lost in paid hours per year.

Dispute Resolution Degrees

Earning a degree in dispute resolution can help you to have far-reaching impact in your community and the larger society. A dispute resolution degree or conflict studies and resolution degree may come in the form of a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. While a bachelor’s degree in dispute resolution may lay the groundwork for a master’s in dispute resolution, most schools will consider prospective students with an undergraduate degree in a related field or even another discipline.

When you choose to pursue a master’s in dispute resolution, you can expect to earn an interdisciplinary degree that will provide the basis in theory around conflict problem-solving in diverse settings, including organizations, communities, and political systems.

Curriculum and Courses Outcomes

Typical dispute resolution undergraduate courses cover topics areas such as conflict resolution values and ethics, conflict resolution psychology, and intercultural conflict resolution. Master’s programs in dispute resolution on the other hand, tend to emphasize leadership skills, and higher-level strategies and processes to effect change in organizations and institutions. Typical dispute resolution graduate courses might include the following and more:

  • Research methods in conflict resolution
  • Foundations in conflict resolution
  • Psychology of Peace and Conflict
  • Thesis writing

Program Length

A bachelor’s degree program in dispute resolution takes four years to complete with full-time study as is the case with most bachelor-level programs. A master’s degree program in dispute resolution generally takes two years to complete full time – requiring around 30-48 credits. Some schools also offer a conflict resolution graduate certificate for working professionals, which takes a year to complete. The credits acquired from the graduate certificate program can then be used toward a master’s degree, if a student wants to continue his or her studies. Other schools offer an accelerated master’s program, in which students earn up to 12 graduate credits in their final undergraduate year.

Types of Masters in Dispute Resolution

There are three common master’s types available to those hoping to kickstart a career in dispute resolution – a Master of Law (LL.M.), designed for people with legal specializations; a Master’s in Dispute Resolution, for anyone pursuing a career as a mediator or negotiator; and a Master of Legal Studies (MLS) for professionals looking for additional skills in resolving conflicts. Students pursuing any one of these degrees may find that they’ll take similar courses, but there are some differences among the three degree offerings.

LL.M. in Dispute Resolution

Designed with lawyers in mind, the Master of Law (LL.M.) in Dispute Resolution can help you to develop skills in negotiation, mediation, arbitration and conflict resolution. A Master of Law in Dispute Resolution typically requires an existing law degree. But some schools will consider applicants without a law degree but substantial experience in alternative dispute resolution. Programs can be completed on campus or online and typically take 2 years to complete.

Master of Dispute Resolution

A Master’s in Dispute Resolution is a degree that can be used to pursue a negotiator, facilitator, or mediator role in a number of fields including policy, health care, law, human resources, and education. This program typically takes two years, with on-campus, online, and hybrid options available. A practicum or capstone project is often required.

MLS in Dispute Resolution Concentration

The Master of Legal Studies (MLS) in Dispute Resolution equips professionals in a variety of fields with knowledge of legal principles and analytical skills to solve problems and resolve conflicts. There are flexible options – both on campus and online MLS in dispute resolution programs – and certain programs even offer special focuses such as divorce and family mediation.

Online Masters in Dispute Resolution

From law schools to state universities, there are a number of online master’s in dispute resolution programs available to you. Online degrees can be an attractive option for working professionals looking to advance their skills in negotiation, mediation, and facilitation across a broad spectrum of industries, while sticking to their full-time work schedule.

These online programs will often offer the same courses as programs on campus and may include a capstone project or practicum involving simulated dispute scenarios. The online degree is typically completed in two years but that might not be the case for you if you are enrolled in a program on a part-time basis.

Accreditation for Dispute Resolution Degrees

Accredited master’s degrees or certificates from accredited institutions is arguable one way to boost your marketability among employers, industry professionals, and academic institutions should you decide to pursue a doctoral degree. Look for online degree programs in dispute resolution that have been accredited by the Department of Education, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the Higher Learning Commission, or their regional accreditor. When seeking out a Master of Law or Master of Legal Studies (MLS) dispute resolution program, look for programs offered by a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). While the ABA does not provide accreditation for any programs or degrees offered by a law school beyond the J.D., a law school must seek the approval of the ABA to offer the additional degrees such as an MLS, and that accreditation lets you know that it is a school and program in good standing with the accrediting body.

How to Choose a Masters in Dispute Resolution Program

While accreditation plays a major role in selecting a program, there are other factors to consider. Know what your career goals are, know what your desired program is offering, and ask yourself how the two align – this is one tactic to help you make your choice.

If you are a working professional looking to sharpen your skills in mediation and conflict resolution, you may be best served by a graduate certificate in dispute resolution. You’ll learn skills useful in a range of business or professional settings such as negotiation, team-building, and problem-solving.

As a lawyer or legal professional, you’ll develop these same skills, presented in a legal framework, through a Master of Law in Dispute Resolution program. Non-lawyers can approach conflict resolution from a legal perspective through a Master of Legal Studies Dispute Resolution program. If you have your eyes set on a leadership role in mediation and negotiation in healthcare, global and social policy, a nonprofit, education or government agency, any one of these degrees could be a fit for you.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dispute Resolution

Below is a list of frequently asked questions related to degrees in dispute resolution.

Why do I need a masters in dispute resolution?

A masters in dispute resolution can provide a grounding in the theory and practice of conflict resolution, as well as exposure to practice trends and current practitioners who can provide insights into specialized career paths within the field.

What background do I need to enroll in a master’s in dispute resolution program?

A master’s in dispute resolution program typically requires an undergraduate degree from an accredited school, with a minimum 2.5-3.0 cumulative GPA, as well as official transcripts, a current resume, two or more letters of reference, and a personal statement.

Who should consider a masters in dispute resolution degree?

A master’s in dispute resolution can be used for career advancement, career specialization, or career transition. It can be used to sharpen mediation skills for use in a professional setting, including legal, health, education, or political arenas, and to provide exposure to higher level thinking and leadership positions in global companies and nonprofit organizations. If any of these points resonate with you, a master’s in dispute resolution might be for you.

Is dispute resolution a good career option?

Prospects for people in dispute resolution careers – including arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators – are fairly strong. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these conflict resolution careers are predicted to grow 8%, between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than the national average for all occupations. Dispute resolution salaries and conflict resolution salaries are also above national averages. The median income for arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators was $62,270 in 2018, with the highest 10% earning more than $124,480.