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Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Ensuring Safety in Family Cases: Screening for Intimate Partner Violence

Jennifer Shack, August 28th, 2015

While the debate continues as to whether cases in which a party has alleged intimate partner violence (IPV) should be mediated, new research adds to the evidence that current screening may not be identifying all family cases in which violence has occurred in the relationship. As discussed in, “Detection of Intimate Partner Violence and Recommendation for Joint Family Mediation: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Two Screening Measures” (21 Psychol. Pub. Pol’y & L. 239) [subscription required], the researchers found that when ADR program staff used a common type of screening procedure, reports of IPV were lower than when using a screen that asked more specific questions about what occurred in the relationship. Read the rest of this entry »

Courting Funds: How to Finance an ADR Program

Eric Slepak, August 20th, 2015

Recently, an administrator from a southern US state reached out to RSI with questions concerning financial support for court ADR programs. After having a substantially well-funded program for many years, the state was hit hard by the recession and had to cut many services. Hoping to rebuild the robustness of her state’s ADR offerings, she reached out to RSI about developing a proposal for a new pilot program, asking specifically how to finance such an undertaking. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting to Know You

Eric Slepak, August 19th, 2015

Prior to becoming the new Resource Center Director for Resolution Systems Institute last month, I was informed (warned?) that this role was one that required versatility. As with most undertakings in life, there was no way to truly comprehend what that disclaimer meant until I had plunged full speed into this role. Just over a month in, my CV can now include drafting press releases to help promote RSI’s Attorney General-funded Illinois Foreclosure Mediation Programs, proposing long-term strategies for the growth of our CourtADR.org Resource Center and researching avenues of development and fundraising to continue RSI’s efforts in administering court ADR programs. Had you tasked Franz Kafka to write my job description, he would have resigned in protest, claiming, “It’s too abstract!” Read the rest of this entry »

Charting Familiar Territory: Illinois Foreclosure Mediation Programs

Mary Rose Richter, August 7th, 2015

Since I began my internship at RSI, I have embraced the organization’s mission of enhancing court ADR systems through program development, research and access to resources. I have worked on a variety of projects regarding different aspects of the RSI mission and have learned that in order to create new resources, a great deal of time and effort must be put into careful analysis and in-depth research of reliable information.

Over the last month, I focused my time and effort into creating a new resource: a full chart of the Illinois foreclosure mediation programs. Foreclosure mediation, which helps homeowners effectively communicate with lenders about their homes, is one specific area of court ADR in which RSI is deeply involved. RSI has been providing research and resources on foreclosure mediation programs since the housing crisis started and has successfully developed and now administers three foreclosure mediation programs in northern Illinois.

Currently, Illinois has a total of eleven foreclosure mediation programs throughout the state (below, you will find individual charts, or “snapshots”, for each of these programs). Read the rest of this entry »

Monitoring Mediation Program Progress and Implementing Changes in Cook County

Jennifer Shack, July 21st, 2015

The foreclosure mediation program in Cook County, Illinois, which serves Chicago and many of its suburbs, has done what all ADR programs should do. It has tracked specific measures of success, identified areas for improvement, made changes to make the program work better, then looked at the data again to see the effect of those changes. The program’s latest report shows that the changes have indeed improved what was perhaps its biggest problem.

In its first two years – 2011 and 2012 – the program suffered from long delays in case progression, with cases taking well more than a year to complete the program. The program consists of three stages: housing counseling to explain the foreclosure process and to help homeowners gather the necessary documents for lender review, legal aid counseling to determine whether the homeowners have any defenses to foreclosure, and mediation to facilitate negotiation between the homeowner and lender. Initially, homeowners and lenders almost always negotiated in mediation. Homeowners without an attorney were (and continue to be) provided free representation by volunteer attorneys at the mediation. The major cause of the delays was the lack of legal aid attorneys to represent the homeowners.

To remedy this, the court hired case managers in 2013 – attorneys who attend court hearings and triage the cases in which the homeowner is self-represented. If the homeowner has been trying to come to an agreement with their lender, the case managers then work with the homeowner and lender to ensure that documents are exchanged, communication is maintained, and required steps are completed prior to the next status date. Case managers can facilitate agreement between the homeowner and lender as well. The program also encouraged housing counselors who were helping the homeowners to facilitate agreements with the homeowners’ lender. These changes appear to have had a dramatic effect. The time to complete the program has been reduced to 12 weeks. A drop in filings has likely been an important factor in this, but there has also been a large increase in pre-mediation agreements over the past two years. These agreements have reduced the need for legal aid attorneys to represent the homeowners, opening up a bottleneck in case progression.

At the same time, the percentage of completed cases that end in an agreement increased tremendously, while the percentage of agreements that were for home retention has declined. The reason for these trends is not addressed by the report. Did the increase in facilitating agreement prior to mediation have an effect on outcomes? Has it had an effect on whether the homeowners complete the program? These would be interesting areas for the court and program to explore.

In the meantime, though, the county, the court and the program should pat themselves on the back for identifying areas for improvement and then implementing changes. It is often too easy to either terminate a program that has less than stellar outcomes or to let such a program wither and die.