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Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Mediation Shouldn’t Be More of a Barrier Than a Boon

Susan M. Yates, March 17th, 2017

When it comes to defining mediation, I am not a strict constructionist. As long as a mediation program operates within the ethical boundaries, such as confidentiality, neutrality and voluntariness, which are articulated in the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, I can agree with a wide variety of approaches.

Unfortunately, sometimes certain entities (e.g., courts, governments, schools, corporations) seem to use the word “mediation” as cover to make a process that is not really mediation appear more palatable. It is worse yet when the purpose of the program appears to be to create a set of hurdles. One of my core principles in mediation system design is that a mediation program should ease the path to resolution, not erect barriers to it.

A program being developed by the City of Concord, California, to address rising rental rates is looks like the latest example of breaking this principle. Read the rest of this entry »

Reflecting on RSI Focus Groups in Washington, DC

Susan M. Yates, March 1st, 2017

Last week I had the honor of accompanying Jennifer Shack, RSI’s remarkable Director of Research, to Washington, DC. Jen is the principal investigator on an RSI evaluation of the child protection mediation program[1] in the DC Courts. I came along to facilitate the focus groups that are part of the evaluation. Each of the focus groups brought together a distinct group of lawyers who participate in mediation regularly: Guardians ad litem, lawyers for parents and prosecutors. The focus groups provided insight into how differing interests shape how mediation is perceived.

I found that my mediation skills, honed over many years, made it easy to shift into the role of focus group facilitator. Asking open-ended questions, encouraging everyone to participate and keeping the conversation moving were all familiar. Unlike mediation, the group didn’t have a goal of reaching agreement and I found that to be kind of liberating! What was more surprising to me was that it was difficult to remove my trainer/teacher “hat.” When a participant made a comment based on a misunderstanding of mediation, I had to resist the urge to engage in a conversation to educate the participant about mediation.

The groups of lawyers came from very different perspectives and often had different goals for mediation. Read the rest of this entry »

Takeaways from a Child Protection Mediator Training

Eric Slepak, February 6th, 2017

On January 20-21, RSI put on an advanced two-day training for the mediators in our new Child Protection Mediation Program operating out of Geneva, IL. This training was the culmination of our efforts to put in place a dynamic and collaborative new forum to address child abuse and neglect cases in Illinois’ 16th Judicial Circuit Court. Based on the outcome of the training, I feel confident that our new program will be a huge boon to Kane County, the jurisdiction which the program serves. I also am glad to have taken away some ideas about how to create a better mediator training event, which I get to share with all of you. Read the rest of this entry »

Mediation: A Tool for Self-Reflection?

Ashlee Patterson, December 23rd, 2016

Recently, I attended a panel discussion about ADR and police brutality, which was presented as part of a regular ADR brown bag series sponsored by the Cook County Circuit Court. At a time when police brutality and race relations have been all over the news, this panel discussion was pertinent to me. Not only because of its presence in the news, but also because of its personal significance to me as a member of the African-American community. So I went to the panel, armed with my notebook and pen, ready to take copious notes. My goal: end police brutality with ADR techniques. Spoiler alert: I did not walk away with the key to end police brutality.

Read the rest of this entry »

Considering the Role of Ongoing Relationships in Mediation

Susan M. Yates, November 18th, 2016

“Mediation is especially good for parties with an ongoing relationship.” This is axiomatic when it comes to mediation, right?

This weekend, I had an experience that shed new light on this old idea. I was at a sale of building materials. Although it was advertised as an auction, there were few attendees and so potential buyers simply haggled with the seller’s agent over the price of anything they wanted to purchase. While digging through boxes of tile, I had a front-row seat to the negotiations between the agent and a potential buyer over some marble.

The feints and parries were familiar to anyone who has mediated many cases.

“Well, I don’t know what these would cost,” said the buyer, trying to downplay her expertise and develop sympathy in the agent. But the agent responded, “Don’t try that dumb girl thing on me! I’ve dealt with you before. You are smart and you know what these would cost.”

“Look, I have other buyers who will give me what I am asking,” said the agent, trying to assert a BATNA. But the buyer responded, “Where? I don’t see any other buyers here!”

The agent also tried to make herself seem sympathetic, even powerless, with the plea, “The seller would have my head if I sold them for so little.” But the buyer replied, “You can do whatever you want!”

The potential buyer tried to make a small move look more attractive by changing the format of the offer to a total price, rather than a per piece price. But the agent turned the math back into price per piece.

They went back and forth on numbers with plenty of dramatic gestures and raised voices. Their eventual prices were $240 and $260.

And they both walked away from the deal over a $20 difference!

Why did these two experienced negotiators walk away from the deal? Read the rest of this entry »