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Hundreds honour Roger Fisher

|Written By Helen Burnett

Hundreds of members of the Canadian legal community came together last month to pay tribute to Harvard Law School professor and world-renowned negotiator Roger Fisher, who was presented with a lifetime achievement award by 26 Canadian and international organizations.

Roger Fisher, left, is seen here with his granddaughter Allegra Fisher, a Harvard student who spoke about her grandfather at the Tribute, and Tribute chair Barry Leon of Torys LLP, who chaired the Tribute Committee. Allegra is holding the carving of an inuksuk that was presented to Roger. At the left of the photo is the commemorative certificate.

Fisher, currently the Samuel Williston Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School, has been involved as a negotiator in countless high-profile conflict situations worldwide. In addition to advising the Iranian and American governments in negotiations for the release of American hostages in 1981, he also designed the process for negotiations between Egypt and Israel, trained both parties prior to the constitutional talks that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa, and worked with the president of Ecuador to negotiate the end of a 50-year border dispute with Peru.

Fisher founded the Harvard Negotiation Project in 1979 and co-founded the non-profit Conflict Management Group in 1984.

A standing-room-only crowd of Fisher’s colleagues, admirers, family, and former students attended the event in Toronto on Sept. 27, organized by the ADR Institute of Canada, the Law Society of Upper Canada, The Advocates’ Society and the Ontario Bar Association.

The breadth of people that Fisher’s teachings have touched could be seen in the fact that there were young lawyers as well as senior counsel at the event, Barry Leon, a partner with Torys LLP and chair of the tribute committee, tells Law Times.

The Canadian-organized tribute exceeds any event held for Fisher before, he adds.

“Either directly or indirectly, negotiation and mediation in Canada, certainly in the legal community and probably in the business community, has been significantly affected by Roger Fisher and his colleagues’ approaches and training,” Leon says.

“So many major events in world history where he’s had some involvement and positive influence - it’s quite a catalogue.”

“It really has had a major influence on how Canadian lawyers approach and do their negotiation and their mediation,” he adds.

Toronto-based mediator, arbitrator, and negotiation consultant Allan Stitt, president of ADR Chambers and the Stitt Feld Handy Group, told those in attendance that, while attending Harvard Law School, a course taught by Fisher ultimately shaped what he wanted to do.

Speaking at the tribute, Landrum Bolling, director at large of Mercy Corps, who worked with Fisher in the Middle East, said that Fisher’s legacy is currently being imprinted into the midst of a conflict situation in Palestine, Israel, and Iraq.

“Roger is Mr. Audacity Unlimited for peace-building missions impossible,” he said.

Robert Ricigliano, a former student of Fisher’s and now director of the Institute of World Affairs and the peace studies program at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, told attendees of Fisher’s habit of advising both sides in a conflict, which he called “earth shattering.”

Following video presentations which showed Fisher’s involvement in negotiating various conflicts around the world as well as tributes from colleagues not in attendance, Fisher was presented with an inukshuk and a lifetime achievement award on behalf of 26 Canadian and international organizations.

The ADR Institute of Canada announced that it will be administering the new Roger Fisher Negotiation Training Scholarship, which will be awarded each year to a person who would not ordinarily be able to obtain training. The scholarship is sponsored by the Stitt Feld Handy Group, with the winner chosen by the four Canadian organizers of the event.

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