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Mediation Offers Lifeline for Communities Being Inundated by Flood of Evictions

Eric Slepak-Cherney, June 20th, 2022

More than two years since COVID-19 first broke out stateside, the U.S. housing sector remains in a state of flux. Various moratoria and relief funds at the federal, state, and local levels notwithstanding, courts throughout the country have been awash in eviction filings for some time now. For many communities, while there might be some ebb and flow from month to month, it’s increasingly looking like the new normal is a sustained level of increased activity. 

When we last saw a comparable crisis in the 2008 mortgage foreclosure crisis, inundated courts turned to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as a means to better triage and more expeditiously resolve cases. Many of these mediation programs were able to leverage pro bono legal assistance and housing counseling services to provide holistic support to parties and increase the odds of finding a resolution. Looking at courts across the country, we can see an analogous process unfolding in real time as a response to this present-day eviction crisis. A critical distinction is that where the typical judicial foreclosure process is one that operates in months and sometimes years, eviction is a process that can conclude within a few weeks—and sometimes less. 

That context underscores the urgency with which courts have had to address this issue. At Resolution Systems Institute (RSI), a nonprofit that has spent the last 25-plus years helping courts better utilize ADR, we have taken a two-prong approach to the eviction crisis. First, we have established a number of eviction mediation programs in northern Illinois to serve the communities there and to act as models that can be replicated by other jurisdictions. Second, we are studying these model programs and providing guidance to other courts looking to implement or improve their own eviction mediation efforts. 

On the Front Lines

Operating programs in three Illinois jurisdictions—which, combined, serve nearly a million residents across Kane, Kankakee, and Winnebago Counties—has provided RSI an opportunity to apply our evolving knowledge of best practices to better serve communities in distress. Lessons learned from other programs regarding housing disputes, the integrated role of support services in these cases, and how to administer all of these in an increasingly online world were all critical to us in finding our footing for this program. 

In most instances, services in our programs are accessed remotely. Court calls still take place over Zoom, though the courts do offer physical access at the courthouse for those parties who need or prefer it. Our staff and other program partners attend these court calls to educate parties about mediation at their first appearance and obtain contact information. Program staff then connects with them individually via email or telephone after court to give each party the time they require to feel heard and for our staff to properly collect all vital information. 

During intake, our staff assesses what services parties might benefit from, whether that entails legal assistance, information about rental relief funds, or help finding alternative housing, among others. Our mediation program refers people to appropriate service providers, scheduling mediation a few weeks later to provide time to take advantage of the other services. The goal is to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that parties are fully informed by the time they sit down to have their dispute mediated. Avoiding eviction is the top goal whenever possible, but sometimes that’s just not workable. What we can ensure, however, is that both parties experience a process in which their concerns were heard and they were treated fairly.

Participation in the program is mandatory for landlords if the tenant wishes to participate, and the judges may (and often do) order parties to participate. Judicial buy-in is key to almost any successful court ADR program, and eviction mediation is no exception. We cultivate that buy-in from the program’s outset, collaborating with eviction judges and court administration. We also include other program partners in the development of program procedures and local court rules. At the same time, we work to secure funding and staff up. Experience has taught us again and again that proper program management requires adequate resources to keep operations running effectively. 

Another component of successful administration is regular program partner meetings to provide updates on program processes and troubleshoot any potential issues. Such meetings are exceptionally critical in the cross-disciplinary context of evictions. The court and the mediation program are two big parts of the eviction process, but having housing counselors/advocates, legal aid, representatives for landlords and their attorneys, and sometimes municipal representatives speak to their perspectives has been instrumental to us in designing a process that works for all. 

We have been highly encouraged by the results of these efforts to date. Since Illinois lifted its moratorium on residential evictions on October 3, 2021, our programs have enrolled over 600 cases. Our programs have mediated 420 disputes, with 269 (64 percent) reaching partial or full agreement. These agreements span a wide array of outcomes, from allowing a tenant to keep his or her apartment, to negotiating a mutually agreeable move-out date, to working out payment plans for back rent owed. 

After each mediation session, parties are invited to complete a survey about their experience in mediation. Eighty-three percent of respondents believe mediation is a fair process; 78 percent of respondents strongly agree with the statement “I was able to express what was important to me.” One tenant commented that they were able to “leave [mediation] with some peace of mind.” An attorney representing a landlord commented, “Mediation has the ability to resolve the case with limited expense to the parties and resolve it more expeditiously.” In all, 70 percent of respondents would highly recommend mediation to a friend or colleague. (For those interested in reading further, we publish the stats on our surveys quarterly.)

Viewed together, the data about both the outcomes we achieve and the participant experience in mediation indicate we are on the right track, while also giving us some targeted data about where we have room for improvement. Resolution Systems Institute is grateful to the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation for funding that supports our mediation services in northern Illinois. 

Empowering Courts Nationwide

Our experience operating programs in Illinois, combined with years of experience monitoring and evaluating court ADR programs, has provided tremendous insight into how to successfully operate such programs. Now we are taking what we are learning and sharing it with others through our publications, website, blog, newsletter, and social media. RSI is grateful to the American Arbitration Association–International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation for underwriting our efforts to develop and share these resources with a nationwide audience. 

For example, our Eviction Mediation Special Topic was developed as a one-stop shop for courts seeking information on the subject. This Special Topic resource contains practical guidance about designing eviction mediation programs and setting up data collection systems. We have also provided sample court rules, forms, party surveys, and other materials. Individuals can also find a reading list of what we believe to be the best resources on eviction mediation.

With regard to evaluation, we recently published a program implementation report, Eviction Mediation Design and Implementation in Illinois’ 16th Judicial Circuit: Challenges and Keys to Success (Apr. 2022), that examined the design and development process in our Kane County program. This unique resource provides courts a detailed overview of how a real court ADR program was developed, including the steps and time frames involved. The report’s key findings identify five critical factors:

  • Court interest in the project
  • Judge support
  • Landlord/landlord attorney buy-in
  • Good communication among involved organizations
  • Good administration

These findings are supported by hours of interviews among key personnel involved in the program’s development. In future months, we will be publishing an implementation report concerning our other two programs, which will focus on the challenges and successes in developing a mediation program that is staffed fully by remote employees.

Conclusion

We hope that the resources RSI has provided thus far and those that are forthcoming can empower courts to design stronger alternatives to the traditional eviction process. Renters and landlords alike have navigated tremendous uncertainty over the last couple years. As evictions remain high, courts and communities can turn to RSI’s experience and guidance to assist in meeting the demand for fair, prompt services. We would also like to recognize the American Bar Association COVID-19 Task Force’s Eviction Committee and the ABA Dispute Resolution Section’s Task Force on Evictions for their work in addressing these issues. 

This article was originally published, under the title “Mediation Offers Lifeline for Communities Awash in Evictions,” in the American Bar Association Litigation Section Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee newsletter, Spring 2022 edition, Volume 26, Issue 3. Copyright © 2022, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Litigation Section, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).

Limited Participation Reduces Success of Otherwise Promising Texas Pilot ODR Program, Evaluation Finds

Just Court ADR, May 31st, 2022

A newly published study conducted by RSI Director of Research Jennifer Shack and University of California, Davis, Professor Donna Shestowsky highlights both the potential of online dispute resolution (ODR) and the importance of appropriate outreach and education on ODR to maximize participation and, thus, program impact.

Jen and Donna evaluated a pilot program in Collin County, Texas, that used a text-based ODR platform to resolve debt and small claims cases in a single court. By adopting ODR, the court sought to reduce the burden of a growing caseload while providing access to justice through a process that did not require the parties to travel or miss work to resolve their case.

The evaluation produced evidence that ODR can be an effective method of dispute resolution, especially for debt cases. In 73% of cases where both parties used the ODR platform, participants resolved their dispute and avoided trial. The rate is similar to that of cases that had the opportunity to use in-person mediation. Unfortunately, however, the program’s goals were not met, because both sides used ODR in only 24% of cases uploaded to the platform. Findings and recommendations related to these outcomes are discussed later in this summary.

The Pilot Program

The pilot ran from September 2019 through August 2020; thus it was concurrent with the COVID-19 pandemic from March to August 2020. Additionally, because ODR is a rather new practice in this context, some details of the program and the platform’s application were being worked out even as the evaluation took place.

The Modria ODR platform allowed parties to communicate by text one-on-one or with the help of a mediator. Parties were ostensibly required to use the platform before their first hearing. If parties reached agreement, their case was dismissed without a trial. During the 12-month pilot period, 1,874 debt and 274 small claims cases were filed, for a total of 2,148 cases.

When a defendant filed an answer, the civil clerk determined whether the case was eligible for ODR. It was ineligible if one side had multiple parties, if a party was not equipped to use ODR, or (until the second quarter of 2020) if the court did not have email addresses for both parties or their attorneys. If the case was eligible, the clerk uploaded it to the ODR platform, which in turn rejected any cases that contained errors, such as missing information, and sent an error report to the IT department so the errors could be fixed. When email addresses and phone numbers were available, the platform sent an automated email (and after April 2020, also a text) to the parties, instructing them to use ODR. The clerk also set the case for trial and mailed the parties, or their attorneys, a notice of their trial date and informed them they were required to use ODR prior to that date. The notice included a link to the platform.

Once a case was uploaded to ODR, participants had 45 days to negotiate one-on-one via the platform’s chat function. At any time during this window, either side could ask for a mediator. Mediation cost each party $40 and had to be completed within 30 days.

If participants reached agreement on the platform, they were given the opportunity to sign an online agreed judgment form, which was automatically sent to the case management system, and the trial was cancelled. If the participants did not reach agreement, the parties continued to trial unless they otherwise reached agreement before the trial date.

Key Findings

Below are some of Jen and Donna’s main findings and top recommendations from their evaluation. For more details and complete recommendations, read the full report here.

Litigant Use of ODR

  • 49% of cases with answers filed were uploaded to ODR. During the pilot period, answers were filed in 698 cases. These 698 cases form the subset that could potentially have been uploaded to ODR. Of these, 341 cases (49%) were eligible and did not contain errors that barred their upload. These were ultimately offered ODR. According to court staff, the most common reason that cases with answers filed were not uploaded to ODR appears to be that the court lacked email addresses for at least one side of the case.
  • One party completed at least one activity online in 50% of cases uploaded to ODR. In 170 of 341 cases (50%), at least one case participant performed at least one activity on the ODR platform, such as asserting a claim, uploading a file, or using the chat function to communicate with the other side.
  • Both sides completed at least one activity on the ODR platform in about one-fourth of eligible cases. In 81 cases (24%) uploaded to ODR, both sides used the platform. Parties in small claims cases were more likely to use ODR (76%) than parties in debt claim cases (45%).
  • Litigants appeared to be unaware of the ODR program. Litigant survey responses suggested that parties were generally not aware of the ODR program, despite participation being required. Only one survey respondent out of ten indicated having received information about the program. When asked what would make them more likely to use ODR for a similar case in the future, half said more information.
  • Litigants had limited access to information about the ODR program. According to court staff, the only ways litigants received information from the court about the ODR program was through the notice the court mailed to them (or their lawyers) about their court date and through an email or text from the platform when the court uploaded their case, if their side had an email address or cellphone number on file with the court. Both of these events occurred only after the defendant filed an answer.
  • Litigants appear open to online options. Among survey respondents, none of whom had participated in ODR, two out of three indicated that the option to use it in future similar cases was attractive. Similarly, when asked to consider using video mediation to resolve future similar cases, 60% responded favorably. 

Outcomes and Time to Disposition

  • 73% of cases in which both parties used ODR resolved before trial. The percentage of ODR cases that resolved before trial was similar to that of cases that did not use ODR, both before and during the ODR program.
  • Debt claim cases were significantly more likely than small claims cases to resolve before trial. Additionally, debt claim cases in which defendants were represented were significantly more likely to resolve before trial than debt claim cases in which defendants were unrepresented.
  • Time to resolution was, on average, 4.6 months for cases that used ODR. This figure includes cases delayed either because of the court’s closure amid the COVID-19 pandemic or because of an upload error on a court server.

Program Costs

It is important to note that workload and cost conclusions are derived from self-reports made during interviews and are inherently subjective.

  • Direct costs to the court to implement ODR were covered by a filing fee. Litigants covered the costs through an extra $5 filing fee the court instituted for all civil cases filed in Collin County except eviction and mental health cases.
  • There were significant indirect costs to the court. Court personnel indicated that they devoted a significant amount of time to ODR prior to its launch. The project manager estimated that the cost in staff time approached six figures and was largely due, in his opinion, to the numerous meetings that involved many court personnel as well as the high percentage of time that he and the responsible IT staff member spent on the project in this phase. Some of this effort laid the groundwork for an anticipated county-wide rollout of ODR.
  • Costs to administer ODR were minimal. After the program’s launch, the time that personnel spent on ODR appeared to drop considerably. No one interviewed reported spending more than a couple of hours per week on the project.
  • ODR did not appreciably change administrative workload. The court administrator and the civil clerk did not perceive an appreciable increase or decrease in their workload. However, it is hard to determine what their workload may have been in the absence of the COVID-19 pandemic, or how much it would have been had greater effort been expended on promoting litigants’ awareness of the program and otherwise attempting to increase ODR use.

Recommendations

Based on the findings of this evaluation, the following recommendations may be relevant for any court considering implementing ODR:

  • Expect to spend significant time and resources to get the program up and running.
  • Notify parties and lawyers about the ODR program early in the process.
  • Educate litigants and lawyers more fully about the program.
  • Conduct outreach to raise awareness of, and promote interest in, the ODR program.
  • Explore video mediation as a dispute resolution option.

Reintroducing Brian Roche, New President of the RSI Board of Directors

Just Court ADR, May 25th, 2022

Welcome to RSI’s Board Member Profile series! Each profile will feature a different member of RSI’s talented and dedicated Board of Directors. We begin this month with Board President Brian Roche, who was elected to the position in April to fill the unexpired term of Raven Moore. Raven stepped down amid increasing demands from her expanding role in the counsel’s office at McDonald’s Corporation, which will take her overseas. (Lucky for RSI, she is able to remain a Board member.)

Prior to being elected Board President, Brian Roche served as Board Vice President since 2015. He has been on the RSI Board since 2010. Brian is a partner in Reed Smith’s Litigation Department, focusing on intellectual property and technology disputes. We asked him to share a bit about how alternative dispute resolution fits into his practice, the importance of RSI’s work, and his goals as Board President.

RSI Board President Brian Roche

Can you tell us a bit about your law practice?

My practice is intellectual property litigation. I focus predominantly on patent, trade secret litigation, high-tech wireless communications, medical devices, electronic securities trading and software, database networking and telecommunications. I’ve been doing this work for about 25 years. It’s been an exciting area, especially as we’ve seen the technology breakthroughs in telecommunications in speed and bandwidth. What has come with that is a lot of disputes with patent holders over who owns the technology, who owns the rights. It has involved some of the largest companies in America trying to protect what they are developing. And people trying to preserve what they have developed against people who say, “Hey, I did it first; I got a patent.” 

How do you use alternative dispute resolution in your practice?

It’s a central part of (intellectual property) litigation in the US today. The courts favor having parties try to resolve the litigation through negotiation. Every court does it differently; some encourage mediation early on, some recognize that it’s not effective early on and encourage it after there’s been more evidence developed in the case before the trial. Others do it right before you go to trial. But these mediations sometimes last a couple days. The mediators tend to be active and retired judges, and retired litigators that used to do what I do now. I have actively been doing ADR since it began. It became a normal thing in the kind of work I do in the 1990s. Before then, it was really unusual.

What attracted you to/made you want to join the RSI board?

I didn’t have much contact with what RSI was doing until a colleague introduced me to the organization, and that was (RSI Board member) Hon. Morton Denlow. He was a federal magistrate at the time, and before that he was a partner with me at this law firm. He was recruiting to try to expand the board to get younger lawyers who were active in law firms. At that time RSI’s board was heavily focused on former and current judges. So he invited me, and I joined.

What’s your favorite thing about being on the board?

What I have really enjoyed is that the mediation RSI focuses on is not between big corporations that have the best law firms and best lawyers in the country working for them, and that can afford to hire the best private mediators. That’s not what RSI’s about.

RSI is about making the legal process that ordinary people occasionally run into better by having a way to have it resolved quickly. They get to participate immediately and don’t have to spend years litigating. That’s really what RSI is trying to do and has been able to do effectively in areas where people in these lawsuits are not regularly in the legal world. If there’s a problem with their mortgage, or a family dispute, such as divorce or child custody. And also small disputes, like with a contractor or a neighbor. Those are the kinds of disputes we believe can really be solved with mediation, if the courts are supporting and encouraging it.

So what’s been exciting about what we’ve done with RSI is we’ve partnered with the courts, predominantly in Illinois to advance mediation as an alternative to full-blown litigation. During the mortgage crisis that began in 2008, seeing what RSI was able to accomplish was remarkable: people who thought they were going to lose their homes found a way to keep their homes through mediation. 

Another of the things that excites me about taking on the role of Board President is working directly with our Executive Director, Susan Yates, who is a national leader in mediation in the courts and a national leader in innovative ways to move mediation online. I’m very excited about working closely with her.

In your RSI bio, you say that court ADR is often “a better and more efficient process” than litigation. What makes it that way?

I think that was referring to the context of what I do in these large cases, but applying it more to RSI, it can also be the best way for disputes to get resolved. People get hauled into court unexpectedly; they don’t have resources to hire a lawyer for a long fight. Really, all they want to do is tell their side of the story to the other side. They can hear the other side, and they get a neutral person to help resolve it, and most of the time, things get resolved that way. There’s recognition that litigation might go on for years, so for people who aren’t familiar with the court process, mediation can be a savior.  

Do you have any particular plans or things on your to-do list as Board President?

One focus is attracting younger people to the board who are excited about RSI’s mission, so there is confidence the organization will continue for years into the future; that it’s influenced by younger people who see different ways to resolve these kinds of problems, who have new ideas, new energy, new blood. Getting younger people from all different communities to join the board is a high priority.

The second priority is to see if we can expand services in the area of family disputes – in particular child protection cases in which children have been removed from their homes due to allegations of neglect or abuse. These are so difficult for families. Mediation has proved to be effective – it can be even more effective with online tools available today. And also just to be supportive of the courts in their own efforts to expand ADR in small claims, mortgage and rent disputes, among others.

Persistence in the Face of Resistance: Maintaining Landlord Participation in Mediation

Eric Slepak-Cherney, May 19th, 2022

This article is part of a series of perspectives on eviction mediation program development that is being supported by the American Arbitration Association-International Centre for Dispute Resolution Foundation. The AAA-ICDR’s grant is enabling RSI to expand our outreach to court ADR colleagues working in the fast-evolving eviction field, and we are tremendously grateful to the Foundation for their support.

Multiple court administrators I have spoken with over the past two years have encountered resistance from plaintiffs’ bar in eviction cases. Even if an eviction diversion program mandates the participation of landlords and tenants, your program will achieve better outcomes and run smoother when you continually cultivate buy-in from landlords and their attorneys. In this post, I will highlight some things that I have found to work.

An ideal first step is to include the voices of landlords and their attorneys during your dispute system design stage. In our Kane County, Illinois program, we included a locally renown attorney who often represented landlords in our program partner working group since its inception; this individual’s contributions at monthly meetings have given us invaluable insight that have helped us proactively address many landlord concerns. As in the mediation process itself, giving parties a voice at the program level is a critical step for them to feel engaged in the process. 

Even with representation in the program development process, unforeseen issues are bound to arise. As with any problem, research is critical. Why are landlords and their attorneys objecting to mediation in the first place? Many of the responses I hear come down to efficiency – these parties think mediation is a waste of time, that it adds an unnecessary burden to litigation, or that they can achieve the same outcomes through two-party negotiation with the tenant. Others believe mediation is an inherently pro-tenant process and therefore unfair to them and/or their clients.

In my role as a mediation program developer and administrator, it is my job to seek to understand these frustrations and address them when possible.  Landlords and their lawyers have a strong interest in administrative efficiency and resolving these cases expeditiously, and no one wants to participate in a process that they perceive to be unfair. 

Therefore, I think it’s important to review the data you have available, and try to assess the merits of these claims. With regards to efficiency concerns, you can look at your program’s resolution rate. If your program is resolving only a small percentage of cases, figure out why that is. (But beware that resolution rate can vary widely among programs and provides only a blunt measurement.) If you have information about the time to disposition, analyze whether cases that go through mediation are in fact slower. In terms of fairness, if you collect survey data regarding that metric, as we do for both parties and attorneys in our programs, your results should give you some insight at a macro level about the perception of fairness among all participants. This is all a good reminder that program procedures are not set in stone, and that you should regularly be monitoring your processes and outcomes to see where there is room for improvement.

Regardless of whether the data refutes these objections to the mediation process, or you do note some deficiencies (which, hopefully, you are able to correct), it is important to be transparent and proactive in communicating to landlords and their attorneys. In other programs we have operated, we have held forums for plaintiffs and their attorneys to openly discuss issues they have with the program. (This is something we hope to do with our eviction programs in the near future now that we have had time to get established.)

In addition to hearing from landlords and their lawyers, it is also important to highlight successes achieved in mediation as a way of inspiring confidence in the process. On a quarterly basis, we have been publishing evaluations of the surveys we collect in our programs, which usually feature some great quotes from landlords and their attorneys, as well as tenants. “We have had a good success rate using mediation. Plus, it diffuses the tendency for the parties to take cheap shots at one another and stay focused on the issues at hand,” wrote one landlord attorney.  Another noted that their “mediator did a good job of reality testing with a difficult tenant.” Publicizing these benefits of mediation is another strategy for making in-roads with resistant parties.

Ultimately, having successful mediation programs often comes down to having a dedicated champion in your corner. Just as having a judge who truly believes in ADR can be the difference between success and failure for a program as a whole, getting a landlord or attorney respected among their community on board can be a gamechanger. On a Zoom court call early on in one of our programs, a lawyer for one of the larger property management companies in that particular jurisdiction shared with the call their positive experience in a recent mediation. Though it is difficult to quantify the impact that event had, anecdotally, our program recognized that impromptu remark brought our program a tremendous amount of credibility among the landlords.

Finally, I wanted to provide a word of caution on the use of good faith clauses: these are not a panacea to participation issues, and may not even be an effective stick whatsoever. Asserting a party is in violation of a good faith clause based on their conduct during a mediation session will invite an inquiry into what took place at the mediation session. Such inquiry will quickly come up against the mediation’s confidentiality: how do you determine whether a party acted in good faith during mediation without knowing what was said or what happened? I strongly believe, and I think others would agree, that confidentiality is paramount to mediation being a forum that gives participants true voice.  As such, I would urge other program administrators to not rely too heavily on good faith clauses to get parties involved.

Instead, I hope the foregoing suggestions and anecdotes have given you some good food for thought about building real buy-in with landlords and their attorneys. Mediation is ultimately a process that needs real consent and good faith to thrive, and that is something that needs to be built and maintained over time. What strategies have you found to be successful? I’m always curious to learn about other’s experiences in operating these programs, so please drop me a line or leave a comment below.

Spring 2022: How RSI’s Work Has Expanded and Evolved During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Just Court ADR, May 18th, 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic has strained finances, families and the social fabric in general, the need for and potential of well-designed alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to stitch together solutions has become increasingly apparent. Throughout this challenging time, Resolution Systems Institute (RSI) has continued to monitor and evaluate new dispute resolution initiatives and developed new court mediation programs of our own. Below is a description of some of our work during the pandemic.

In 2020, as a potential pandemic-driven eviction wave loomed, RSI began to design our first eviction mediation program. In the course of about nine months, we developed the court rules, procedures and forms the program would need to operate. We also recruited a cadre of mediators and provided them with specialized eviction mediation training through our friends at the Center for Conflict Resolution. The Kane County (Illinois) Eviction Mediation Program launched in spring 2021. Later that fall, RSI launched similar programs in Illinois’ Kankakee and Winnebago counties. Overall, our programs operate in judicial districts that serve over 920,000 Illinois residents.

To learn more about RSI’s work over the last two years in the eviction arena, we recommend you check out our blog entries on the topic, as well as our Eviction Mediation Special Topics resource. RSI is now working with Kane and Winnebago counties to bolster their longstanding foreclosure mediation programs as homeowners now begin to feel the squeeze that renters started experiencing last year.

While RSI is spearheading these new program development and administration initiatives, evaluation remains the central pillar of upholding RSI’s mission of improving access to justice. RSI Director of Research Jennifer Shack recently published two reports evaluating the program development experience in Kane County: Eviction Mediation Design and Implementation in Illinois’ 16th Judicial Circuit: Challenges and Keys to Success and Participant Experience in Eviction Mediation: Summary Of Early Survey Responses in the 16th Judicial Circuit of Illinois’ Video Mediation Program.

In partnership with the University of California, Davis, RSI has also evaluated online dispute resolution (ODR) pilot programs in Texas and Michigan. The pandemic generated greater interest among courts for ADR processes that parties could access remotely. The evaluations, which will be released soon, will provide courts with a better understanding of what ODR adoption requires and what possible benefits it can provide.

The last two years have provided many of us, RSI included, with a complex mix of setbacks and new opportunities. RSI is committed to innovating and adapting to meet the challenges that courts, and the litigants they serve, encounter in this ever-changing world. We are grateful to our program partners, our funders and each of you who come to RSI in search of expertise and guidance. We hope you will continue to take this journey with us as we work towards our mission of expanding access to justice through court alternative dispute resolution.