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Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

New Mediator Self-Reflection Tool

Susan M. Yates, January 9th, 2019

The Supreme Court of Virginia has developed a wonderful new self-reflection form for mediators. While the Court developed this tool for their certified mediators as part of their re-certification process, it is a valuable tool for any mediator (just ignore the instructions about continuing mediator education credits). There is a lot of content, so if you are using this on your own you will probably want to pick and choose among the questions. This new tool coordinates with Virginia’s excellent Mediator Self-Reflection Treasury.

Even though mediators work very closely with people when we mediate, typically no one else in the room shares our mediator perspective. There are exceptions, such as co-mediation or when we are observed by new mediators, but mediation can be an isolated activity (made especially so by the limits of confidentiality). This isolation makes self-reflection particularly important.

I can imagine many uses for these tools beyond self-reflection. A group of mediators could pick a few of the questions to discuss over lunch. For co-mediators, the tools could aid their debriefing. The forms might help a new court or community mediation program get clear about what they expect from mediators. The tools will probably spark other ideas when you read them.

Many thanks to the good people of the Supreme Court of Virginia for taking the time to produce and share these tools. They are a real gift to the mediation community.

My Favorite Resource Featuring Peter Salem

Nicole Wilmet, December 26th, 2018

Our series, My Favorite Resource, features interviews with our court ADR friends across the country to learn about their favorite resource. This month, Resource Center Director Nicole Wilmet spoke with Peter Salem, Executive Director of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts to learn about his favorite resource.

NW: What is your favorite ADR Resource?

PS: My favorite ADR resources are my phone and computer, because they contain the contacts for the network that I have developed over the last 30+ years. There are a lot of great blogs, websites, journals, and other print and electronic resources out there, but knowing who to ask often helps me uncover valuable nuggets that I would not have otherwise known about.

NW: How did you develop your network and what recommendations do you have for anyone looking to develop their own network? 

PS: My father preceded me in the field and introduced me to many of his colleagues, so I had a head start. But I also learned from him and expanded my circle. I attended conferences, asked questions, used the telephone instead of email (full disclosure: email did not exist when I started), developed project ideas, and asked for advice and help. I volunteered for everything; newsletters, committees, boards, and conference planning. After a while, I started teaching and training. That’s a lot of extra work on top of a full-time job, and a lot of the money came out of my pocket, but it gave me the opportunity to invite others to teach, write, or work on projects, and they typically said yes. Because I was often part of the planning group, I was invited to the small dinners, etc., when the rock star ADR people came to Wisconsin. I would later see them at national conferences and we would already have a connection, and everything flowed from there. I didn’t plan this, of course. I just took on interesting projects with people I liked. So I guess my recommendation for others looking to establish a network is get involved and do interesting things with interesting people. Start small and locally, and do an amazing job. People notice great work, mediocre work and especially work that is not completed.

NW: In what ways have you found that your network has been better able to serve your needs than a traditional print resource?

PS: I use my network to help solve problems and answer questions, and for me that is an iterative process. Websites and journal articles provide valuable information, but they are just a starting point, not something to be taken at face value. We are in a field that advises people to dig beneath the surface and look at underlying issues. Why wouldn’t I follow that advice when working on my own stuff?

NW: Can you share an example of when you turned to your network for support?

PS: As the executive director of a 5,300-member organization, I frequently get requests for information or referrals that I can’t answer myself. But I have access to a lot of experts and can easily put a handful of names in an email to people with the requisite expertise. People appreciate any answer and are even more excited to get a response from a leading ADR author, researcher or practitioner. Similarly, there are some great listservs out there that serve the same function, albeit in a less targeted fashion. For example, the Bestinterests-talk list is an independent list run by an AFCC member for people in family law/dispute resolution. There is an amazing exchange of information and ideas.

NW: What do you value most about the input you receive from your network? 

PS: The input from my network is always thoughtful, honest, and it comes from experienced professionals with a very high level of expertise. That is invaluable. But what I value even more is that my network exemplifies the incredible generosity of dispute resolution professionals. Throughout my career, leaders in the field have been willing to take the time and effort to help me learn and grow. And to paraphrase my good friend Susan Yates (a long-time member of my network), now that I am more senior in the field, I hope that I am following in their footsteps.

If you have a favorite resource you would like to share, please reach out to Resource Center Director and Court ADR Connection Editor, Nicole Wilmet at nwilmet@aboutrsi.org!

A Look Back on 2018

Nicole Wilmet, December 21st, 2018

What a wonderful year 2018 has been! From court program evaluations and trainings to celebrating Resolution Systems Institute Day, we have had an exciting year and continued to great make strides in serving communities with court alternative dispute resolution! As RSI’s Resource Center Director and Court ADR Connection Editor, I have had the pleasure to share each exciting moment with you this year. To culminate 2018, I am looking back on all of RSI’s monumental moments this year.

This was a hallmark year for AboutRSI.org with several new resources added to our Resource Center. March brought the launch of Mediation Efficacy Studies, the most comprehensive collection of resources on the subject of court alternative dispute resolution effectiveness. This summer, Director of Research Jennifer Shack published her evaluation of Washington, D.C.’s Child Protection Mediation Program, and we shared our Model Tools for Mediator Peer Review.

This fall, we released two new chapters to our Guide to Program Success, a step-by step guide from Executive Director Susan Yates and Jennifer Shack that discusses how to design, manage and evaluate a successful court ADR program. We also collaborated with the National Association for Community Mediation to share a Community Mediation Special Topic that explains the basics of community mediation, explores the relationship between courts and community mediation centers, delves into the important activities of data tracking and evaluation and compiles exemplary studies on the effectiveness of community mediation.

Finally, we rounded out our year of new resources with Jennifer Shack’s program evaluation of the eight foreclosure mediation programs funded by the Illinois Attorney General and developed a digital summary of the evaluation.

In 2018, we also launched our series My Favorite Resource that collects resources from our court ADR friends across the country. I would like to thank Heather Kulp, Debora Denny, Doug Van Epps, Missy Greathouse, Rebecca Price, Raeshann Canady, Kevin Malone, Catherine Geyer, Annalise Buth, Renee Salmon, and Peter Salem for participating in our inaugural year. I have truly enjoyed learning about each of your favorite ADR resources and network groups and I look forward to connecting with more friends this year!

This year was also a milestone year for our foreclosure mediation programs here in Illinois as our five-year grant from the Illinois Attorney General ended. Under the grant, RSI developed and administered foreclosure mediation programs in Illinois’ Lake, Kane, Winnebago, and Boone counties; trained mediators for all Attorney General-funded foreclosure mediation programs throughout the state; developed an online case management and monitoring system for those programs; and conducted two statewide evaluations of the programs. We are happy to report that all three of RSI’s foreclosure mediation programs will continue to operate thanks to the support of their local courts. RSI’s Kevin Malone and Olga Kordonskaya will continue to administer our programs in Kane County and Lake County, respectively, and moving forward, the court will administer the foreclosure mediation program in Winnebago & Boone counties. We consider the continuation of the programs as evidence of their success given that the courts value these programs enough to continue to provide funding for them. We are grateful to the Attorney General for supporting these programs, to the courts for their partnership and to the skilled mediators for conducting the mediations.

Last, but certainly not least, we also celebrated several important events this year. In April, we welcomed Grace Barter as our new Administrative Assistant. On July 11, 2018, Rockford, Illinois Mayor Thomas McNamara declared that day as Resolution Systems Institute Day in honor of RSI’s work on foreclosure mediation in the Rockford community. That same month, we celebrated Kent Lawrence, founder and steadfast supporter of RSI, for receiving the Decalogue Society of Lawyer’s Hon. Gerald C. Bender Humanitarian Award. The Hon. Gerald C. Bender Humanitarian Award is presented to individuals whose excellence and dedication demonstrate commitment to justice by serving the community.

In September, we celebrated our one-year anniversary of the new AboutRSI.org, and Eric Slepak-Cherney was named RSI’s new Associate Director. In November, Jennifer Shack was appointed to the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution Research Advisory Committee and this month, Olga Kordonskaya and Kevin Malone celebrated their five-year anniversary with RSI.

As December comes to a close, I know that each of us here at RSI is thankful for a wonderful 2018. We look forward to all that awaits in 2019!

The Research Year in Review

Jennifer Shack, December 20th, 2018

Over the past year, I presented you with new research (and a little old research) that covered three broad areas: evaluations of ADR programs, evaluation of the efficacy of particular ADR processes, and research about particular aspects of ADR that can inform our practice.

Program Evaluations

Shamelessly, I promoted evaluations I completed in Washington, DC and Illinois. In Washington, DC, I found that early mandatory child protection mediation led to a much greater probability that parents would agree to stipulate to the facts of the case, thus precluding the need for a trial. Parents were also likely to be more compliant with services (such as parenting class or addiction therapy) and visitation requirements. Parents who participated left with a greater understanding of their responsibilities in the case and the points of view of the others at the table. Most also felt mediation was helpful to them.

In Illinois, we learned that program design was an important factor in how much impact a foreclosure mediation program had on homeowners facing foreclosure. Those programs in which the homeowners were given a date and time to arrive for their first pre-mediation session led to higher participation rates and to a higher proportion of homeowners facing foreclosure saving their homes. Across all programs, homeowners left their first pre-mediation session with a better understanding of the foreclosure process and felt they were treated with the dignity that the courts were wanting for them.

I also told you about the results of a study of Michigan’s civil case evaluation and mediation programs. It found that, with the exception of tort cases, cases using case evaluation and mediation were more likely to result in settlement than those that went through the traditional court process. Nonetheless, judges and attorneys who were surveyed were less enthusiastic about case evaluation than those surveyed in 2011 had been, indicating that they had less faith in the effectiveness of the process. This was not the case with mediation, for which their high opinion remained steady.

Research on Processes

In 2018, we learned that research on teen courts needs to be improved if we are to learn if it is effective. We also learned that parenting coordination shows promise for reducing post-decree court activity.

A round-up of 35 studies on teen courts that started as an attempt to understand what program characteristics were most effective ended as a plea for more uniformity in how teen court programs are studied. They found that not only do differences among programs make it difficult to understand program effectiveness, but that the methodology and definitions used in the studies themselves make it impossible to draw conclusions.

A review of 13 studies of parenting coordination found that the process shows promise for reducing post-decree court activity for divorce cases involving high-conflict families. The authors, however, noted that the studies suffered from small samples, limited generalizability and weak methodologies. They pointed to the need for better research and the development of an underlying theory of parenting coordination in order to not only better understand the effect of the process, but also to standardize its practice.

Research on Aspects of ADR

Recent research looked at prejudice and bias in mediation, and what influences litigants’ decisions regarding what dispute resolution process to use.

Prejudice and bias were the subject of a 2017 issue of SMU Law Review. Nancy Welsh lamented the lack of self-determination in mediation and looked at social science research to question whether mediation really provides procedural justice in a world of inequality, bias and prejudice. Gilat J. Bachar and Deborah R. Hensler took a slightly different tack in their article. They looked at empirical research on ADR and determined that this research indicates that both women and minority men fare worse in mediation than white men.

Donna Shestowsky continued her research into how litigants end up using a particular process to resolve their disputes. This time, she let us know that litigants are most likely to rely on their attorney when deciding on which process to use. This has important implications for lawyers and litigants, as lawyers don’t always understand their clients’ interests.

I’m looking forward to sharing more research with you in 2019. Happy Holidays, everyone!

RSI December Staff Gathering

Nicole Wilmet, December 18th, 2018

This month, to celebrate 2018, our staff gathered in our Chicago office for our annual Staff Holiday Gathering! Our day started with an interesting and informative discussion with Director of Research Jennifer Shack as she reported on the findings from her evaluation of Washington, D.C.’s Child Protection Mediation Program. In the afternoon, we braced the cold Chicago weather to visit to the Christkindlmarket and tour the Chicago Design Museum’s “Keep Moving: Designing Chicago’s Bicycle Culture” exhibit.

Although some of us are based in our Chicago office, our RSI staff are also hard at work operating programs across Illinois and working remotely from Maine and Michigan. As such, our holiday gathering was a wonderful opportunity for us to come together and connect in one place. We are very much looking forward to the staff gatherings to come in 2019!