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Former Gov. Richardson talks 40 years of global negotiations at ASU Law: 'Find ways to connect'

A grey-haired man in a navy suit speaks at a brown wooden podium.

Gov. Bill Richardson speaks at the Beus Center for Law and Society on March 14 during the annual Bruce E. Meyerson Lecture on Dispute Resolution. Photo by Tabbs Mosier/Arizona State University

April 04, 2023

When it came time to pick a speaker for the annual Bruce E. Meyerson Lecture on Dispute Resolution, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was a natural choice. 

Richardson spoke to students and community members at the sixth annual lecture held March 14 at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. The annual lecture is endowed by retired Judge Bruce E. Meyerson and his wife, Mary Ellen Simonson, both graduates of ASU Law. 

In her opening remarks, Willard H. Pedrick Dean and Regents Professor of Law Stacy Leeds talked about the importance of dispute resolution to add variety to legal education.

“When you think about legal education as a model, law schools focus on trials and the appellate, but many cases don’t go to trial,” she said. “The rest get settled through other means.”

The lecture series brings to Phoenix leading practitioners and scholars in the field of dispute resolution.

“Gov. Richardson’s remarks show that he is a true dealmaker,” said Art Hinshaw, clinical professor of law and founding director of the Lodestar Dispute Resolution Center. “Without emphasizing it, he made it clear that his secret sauce is preparation, and deeply knowing and understanding both the landscape and the issues.”

Richardson has spent over 30 years in public service, including as a U.S. congressman (1982–96), U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (1997–98), U.S. secretary of energy under President Bill Clinton (1998–2000) and governor of New Mexico (2003–11). He has also assisted in getting dozens of American hostages out of detainment around the world. He was most recently part of the team that brought basketball player Brittney Griner home to Arizona through the Richardson Center. 

Richardson said the key to his success is that he’ll talk to anyone, whether they’re an ally or a dictator. He’s negotiated with the likes of Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein and two generations of the Kim family in North Korea. 

“Sometimes in dealing with people, you’ve got to find ways to deal personally with bad people,” he said. “You can’t sit on the sideline.”

Richardson spoke for about 45 minutes, telling stories about his time with Arizona politicians Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barry Goldwater and discussed his accomplishments and failures as an international mediator. 

“You’ve got to know where you want to end up,” he said of negotiations. “Be patient. Show cultural respect. Some of my most successful negotiations were done speaking Spanish. You have to have respect for the other country’s laws. Find ways to connect — I use humor a lot.”

He followed up his talk with a lively Q&A session with the packed audience. Questions spanned the Israeli and Palestinian conflict to the best person he had the chance to work with; Richardson said that honor went to the late Nelson Mandela. 

“We can’t thank Judge Meyerson and Mary Ellen Simonson enough for making it possible for us to bring people like Gov. Richardson to the ASU Law community to discuss negotiation and dispute resolution,” said Hinshaw. 

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