In my courses, students learn that it pays to be creative, to see the other party as a partner rather than an adversary.”
Director of Alternative Dispute Resolution
As a boy, Sean Nolon divided his time between the Bronx, along the banks of the Hudson River, and his family's ranch in western Nebraska, "making hay, driving tractors, working with cows." He credits both places-and the personal relationships he developed moving through those landscapes-with spurring an interest in navigating cultures, bridging social divides, and finding commonality where, on the surface, little appeared.
After years of litigating environmental and land use cases, Nolon switched gears to take advantage of the skills he cultivated while moving between the Big Apple and the Great Plains. "While I respect the role of litigation and making good case law, I have seen it misapplied in inappropriate situations. At an early point in my career, I decided to focus on working with parties, empowering them to overcome differences and achieve mutual gains."
From that point forward, Nolon began working with a full range of parties-local officials, developers, and environmentalists-to improve their methods of communication and recognize their many common interests instead of their conflicting positions.
"Dispute resolution is not always about brokering high-profile agreements like the Camp David Peace Accords or the ending contentious strikes. It is also about giving attorneys the awareness and skills to more fully understand what their clients need and how to help them solve their problems and improve their situation."
Nolon joined the VLS faculty in 2008 as director of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), adding over a decade of experience in land use and environmental policy to the law school's 25 years of leadership in the field of dispute resolution. "I came to VLS because their commitment to experiential learning complemented my development as a professional."
Nolon earned an undergraduate degree in ecology from Cornell, where he learned about the importance of public policy and decision making on habitat. "I found myself wondering how local laws and policy protected the organisms and habitat I was studying in the lab." After college, Nolon taught biology and physics for two years at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx. He then entered law school, graduating cum laude from Pace University in 1997 with a certificate in Environmental Law.
As an associate in a Wall Street law firm, he coordinated litigation in environmental cases and class actions. Later he returned to Pace, where, in addition to teaching, he directed the Land Use Law Center.
In 2007, Nolon received the New York State Bar Association Environmental Law Section Honors Award in recognition of his work supporting consensus building and dispute resolution training programs for hundreds of local officials, environmentalists, and developers in New York State. This work led to similar programs in Connecticut, New Jersey, Utah, and Pennsylvania.
"Living in the New York area, it was hard to find intimate space to connect to the land," Nolon says. "In contrast, Vermont is rich with opportunities." Nolon enjoys biking, hiking, and canoeing and kayaking. He and his wife, Andrea, have two young sons. Says Nolon, "I'm having a blast watching my kids in nature, exploring on a level and at a pace that helps me notice and appreciate the smaller, ordinary things that I would normally pass over."
"A lawyer has the responsibility to protect the client and, in many cases, that may require counseling the client in processes alternative to litigation. Litigation is expensive and may not achieve the desired results. At Vermont Law School, students learn that it pays to be creative, to see the other party as a partner rather than an adversary, and how process choice can help you get a better result for your client. On one level, I am motivated to increase attorney satisfaction and improve the reputation of the bar. On another level, teaching dispute resolution helps make our society more humane and just."