Stephanie Bell didn’t have her heart set on becoming a practicing attorney when she graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in the spring of 1996.
“I thought maybe I’d become a mediator,” she said. “Maybe a screenwriter.”
The now 43-year-old decided to take some time off and studied Yoga in India for four month before she returned to Seattle to begin a stint with the city’s federal public defender where she worked as a research attorney on appeals for death penalty and misdemeanor cases.
“I always wanted to get into mediation,” Bell said. “The acceptance pool for the mediation clinic at the University of Washington was very small. I didn’t make it. But I did get into the criminal clinic and just worked toward gaining as much outside experience in mediation as possible. I found training anywhere that I could.”
That training led Bell to a position with the Dispute Resolution Center of King County where she managed neighborhood mediation programs and court mediation. She also supervised mediators going through small claims mediation. From there, Bell took on a position as assistant manager of the King County Alternative Dispute Resolution Program, again focusing primarily on labor management programs.
Bell was then offered a position with the City of Seattle, designing and implementing an employment mediation and labor management program. All the while she was strengthening her resume, gradually climbing up the ladder in the field. Her experience led to adjunct teaching positions with the Seattle University School of Law School, and with the University of Washington’s graduate program in public administration. She began spending her summers teaching at Pepperdine’s Straus Institute.
“I starting calling teaching my habit,” she said. “I have a passion for it.”
This fall, Bell joins the Straus Institute on a full-time basis, serving as assistant director and assistant professor of law. The role was previously held by Jack McCrory, who began his tenure at Pepperdine in 2000 after retiring from the Vermont Law School. Though he is leaving the Straus Institute for a second retirement. McCrory will continue to serve as a member of the adjunct faculty.
Bell is eager to pick up where McCrory left off.
“My goal is to give students hands on experience in mediation,” she said. “I want them to get a sense of what it really feels like. I want to bring excitement to combine with the rigor of the field. I want to inspire students. Mediation used to be known as a retirement field. There has been discouragement in being able to find success in a career in mediation. But I want students to know they can make a career out of it. And in the end the best part of it all is having the chance to watch people in the moment of being their best selves – in resolving conflict.”