Remembering Alternative Dispute Resolution Pioneer:

Frank E.A. Sander 






Assistant Professor Dorcas Quek Anderson 
6 April 2018


I still remember the first time I walked into Prof. Sander’s office in Harvard Law School ten years ago. He was such a giant in the ADR field, known for creating the concept of the “multi-door courthouse” [1], being co-founder of the Harvard Program of Negotiation and above all, paving the way for the global growth of mediation. 


At 80 years old, Emeritus Prof. Sander was retired then. I did not know whether he would accept my request to be my supervisor. I planned to be a visiting researcher for a year after completing my Masters in Law, and he would be the ideal supervisor for my research on court-connected mediation programs. I was pleasantly surprised that Prof. Sander readily accepted my request even though he hardly knew me. I could see that he was not in the best of health. Yet he was interested in the research I wanted to do on ADR in Singapore and was very keen to help. I was even more surprised to find that Prof. Sander was such an unassuming and encouraging person. 


I imagined that most people would like to spend their retirement years on activities other than reading and critiquing students’ papers. I am grateful that Prof. Sander was still so active in mentoring and helping others at the age of 80. Ten years later, I myself am now in academia, writing and researching on dispute resolution. It was such sad news to hear that Prof. Sander passed away on 27 February this year.[2] 


Although I only had contact with him for a year, I know that he played an integral role in my decision to enter academia two years ago. He was willing to hear my amateurish musings on how ADR developed differently in the USA and Singapore, and my ideas on court-connected mediation. He encouraged me to submit a paper I wrote on mandatory mediation to a dispute resolution journal. When my paper was rejected by few top journals, he told me it was “their loss”, and then recommended a few other journals to try. One other journal eventually agreed to publish my article. Before I returned to Singapore, Prof. Sander encouraged me to make time to continue writing even when working in the Singapore courts.


And so I did continue my research and writing. In the past decade, I would regularly send my papers to Prof. Sander and update him on how ADR was developing in Singapore. I was very moved to find out from his daughter that she read my articles to her father after his health deteriorated, and he appreciated receiving them. It was probably not a sudden development when I decided to leave the Singapore Courts in 2016 and join academia. The year I had spent as visiting researcher was crucial in helping me discover my passion for mediation, research and writing.



I discovered that Prof. Sander touched so many other lives through his quiet way of helping and serving. As I read a 2012 Dispute Resolution Magazine issue “Appreciating Frank Sander”, I found many heartwarming stories about him. [3]  He mentored the ADR field’s first-generation academics, practitioners, judges and court administrators. ADR scholars such as Michael Moffitt, David Hoffman and Scott Peppet recalled how Prof. Sander mentored and also helped them in difficult career transitions. Moffitt even named his daughter Sander in honor of him. 


Prof. Sander provided feedback on numerous drafts of articles, standards and professional development efforts. He was a well-loved teacher who was also known in Harvard Law School for his restaurant guide “Sander’s Guide to Good Eats”. Not many remember how Prof. Sander’s efforts to make the dispute resolution field more inclusive, and how he launched a program allowing African-American college students to learn about law in Harvard Law School, which led to the creation of an organization seeking to expand opportunities for students of color or with low income. 


His three children have also written rather humorously about how their father practised dispute resolution within the Sander family, was always interested in people from all walks of life and was a greater lover of music and food. Most academics’ greatest dream is for their research to have global and far-reaching impact. 


Prof. Sander modestly acknowledged that his involvement in ADR was a result of being in the right place at the right time. [4]  However, Nancy Welsh, who spoke at an event organised by SMU School of Law last month, [5]  reminded us that Prof. Sander never stopped learning from others. 


While he was a law professor teaching tax law and family law, he penned some thoughts on alternative dispute resolution after observing during a sabbatical how the Swedish courts dealt with family matters. His memo was sent to some colleagues, and eventually received the attention of then Chief Justice Warren Burger, who invited him to give a speech at the 1976 Pound Conference addressing issues of dissatisfaction with the legal system. [6]


Moffitt also observed how Prof. Sander’s publications demonstrated a dedication to interdisciplinary exploration, a perspective considered foundational to modern dispute resolution. [7] Prof. Sander was certainly an exemplar of intellectual curiosity and the continual quest to learn from multiple disciplines. 


More significantly, Prof. Sander exemplified the spirit of peace-making not only in his scholarship and academic achievements, but also in his everyday living and how he treated others. It is evident from many accounts that it is the latter that has made a long-lasting impact on many and contributed to his legacy. 


I have been privileged to be one of the many to have been influenced positively by him, and to be inspired to infuse peace-making into every aspect of my life.

[1] Frank E. A. Sander, “Varieties of Dispute Processing,” in Levin and Wheller (eds), The Pound Conference: Perspectives on Justice in the Future” (1979), p 84. 

[2] Harvard Law Today, “In Memoriam: Frank E.A. Sander ’52, a pioneer in the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution (1927-2018)”, 27 February 2018. 

[3] American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution, “Appreciating Frank Sander” [pdf], Dispute Resolution Magazine (Fall 2012) Vol 19 No. 1. 

[4] Michael L. Moffitt, “Before the Big Bang: The Making of An ADR Pioneer” [pdf] (2006) Negotiation Journal 437, 440. 

[5] Singapore Management University, Centre for Cross-Border Commercial Law in Asia, “Expanding the Scope of Dispute Resolution and Access to Justice: The Use of Mediation Within the Courts”, 12-13 March 2018. 

[6] Michael L. Moffitt, “Before the Big Bang: The Making of An ADR Pioneer” [pdf] (2006) Negotiation Journal 437, 439 (quoting a fireside chat with Frank Sander, Proceedings of the International Academy of Mediators, 27 April 2006, Cambridge, MA); The Harvard Crimson, “Law Prof. Sander, Legal Pioneer and Lover of Food, Dies at 90” (5 March 2018). 

[7] Michael L. Moffitt, “Before the Big Bang: The Making of An ADR Pioneer” [pdf] (2006) Negotiation Journal 437, 441.



Editor's note:  Assistant Professor Dorcas Quek Anderson has been featured in SIMI's International Women's History Month Special: 2018 Women in Mediation. Read the interview with Dorcas here.