Frank E.A. Sander ’52, 1927-2018: A Pioneer in the Field of Alternative Dispute Resolution

Credit: Tanit Sakakini Frank Sander joined the HLS faculty in 1959.

Frank E.A. Sander ’52, a pioneer in the field of alternative dispute resolution and a longtime Harvard Law professor, died Feb. 25, 2018. He was 90.

On the HLS faculty from 1959 to 2006, Sander first taught taxation and later family law and welfare law, and he served as associate dean from 1987 to 2000. He also co-founded Harvard Law’s Program on Negotiation, which has advanced teaching and scholarship in the field of alternative dispute resolution.

“Frank played a pre-eminent role in shaping that important discipline, which has transformed our legal system,” said Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’85. “He was a beloved teacher and mentor to our students, a wise and selfless administrator of our school, and a cherished colleague and friend to faculty and staff. He will also be remembered for his exceptional kindness, his unerring generosity and his ability always to bring out the best in people.”

In the 1970s, when courts were increasingly jammed by backlogs and protracted litigation, Sander was struck by the contrast between litigation and labor arbitrations, in which disputes were resolved quickly, inexpensively, and effectively outside the courts. He began advocating for the use of alternatives to litigation, and his ideas gained significant traction after Chief Justice Warren Burger invited him to deliver a paper at the Pound Conference on the causes of popular dissatisfaction with the court system.

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His “multi-door courthouse” idea became a reality in cities around the world.


Sander’s key proposal was a “multi-door courthouse” where a court official would assess the nature of each new dispute during intake and decide on an optimal dispute resolution process (such as litigation, mediation, arbitration, conciliation, etc.) for that kind of dispute. The proposal caught the attention of Griffin Bell, a federal judge who later became President Carter’s attorney general. With Bell’s leadership, multi-door courthouses were established in many cities around the world.

Sander co-wrote the first legal textbook on dispute resolution, which is still widely used in law schools. He inspired the American Bar Association to set up its Committee on Dispute Resolution (now with 20,000 lawyers as members). Through his teaching of students and lawyers, Sander mentored many of the first generation of leading ADR scholars and practitioners.

“He was unfailingly generous with his time and advice,” said Harvard Law School Lecturer on Law David Hoffman ’84, founding member of Boston Law Collaborative.

Sander was one of the leaders of the movement to bring more students of color to Harvard Law School. In 1966, he helped launch a Rockefeller Foundation-funded program that brought 40 African-American college juniors to Harvard Law School for an introductory summer session. The program became a model for the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, which has helped thousands of students of color graduate from American law schools.

The author of 14 books, including one of the first legal textbooks to incorporate social science, Sander wrote about subjects including tax law, family law, dispute resolution and welfare law. His teaching of a tax workshop in the 1970s was notable for using the flipped classroom (where students read text at night and worked through problems in small groups in class during the day) decades before this practice became widespread.

Born in Stuttgart in 1927 to a family of secular Jews, he escaped Nazi Germany in 1938 at age 11 on a Kindertransport to England. He came to Boston via New York on one of the last passenger ships to leave England during World War II.

After law school he clerked for Chief Judge Calvert Magruder LL.B. 1916, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Felix Frankfurter LL.B. 1906, during the term when the Court decided Brown v. Board of Education. Sander leaves a daughter, Alison J.D./M.B.A. ’86; sons, Tom ’87 and Ernest; and four grandchildren.