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Maryland and Illinois: A Tale of Two States

Jennifer Shack, May 15th, 2014

As someone working to develop and improve court ADR in Illinois, I have long been envious of the comparatively vast resources available to do this in Maryland. And I’ve also been very interested in what Maryland’s multi-year statewide evaluation of ADR will find.  Recently, the research team involved in the evaluation published its report on Maryland’s ADR landscape. To some extent, the report was eye opening. Despite a Supreme Court that is highly supportive and a statewide organization with ample funding, in some ways the landscape looks very much like Illinois’, where the Supreme Court has not taken a leadership role and funding has been limited and unreliable. 

In both Maryland and Illinois, the jurisdictions decide for themselves whether they want to implement ADR for most types of cases. (Both states mandate custody and visitation mediation.) In Maryland, however, there are funds available for program implementation that are absent in Illinois. The judiciary supports a statewide organization (MACRO, the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office) that in turn assists programs in program development and provides grants to some programs for implementation.  And yet in Maryland, as in Illinois, implementation isn’t universal. For example, just over half of the circuit courts in Maryland have civil case ADR and fewer than half have juvenile ADR programs. In Illinois, civil case mediation exists in just under half of the circuits, and juvenile programs are in place in about a third of the circuits.

Another similarity between the states is that courts in both states have adopted differing ADR program models rather than all programs being the same. In Illinois, courts select a model they’ve seen in other circuits that appeals to them, and when Resolution Systems Institute is involved, we encourage courts to adopt models that fit their needs. The same may be true of MACRO.

The other thing that struck me is the difficulty in getting even the most basic data – the number of cases that went through an ADR process. In both states, there are similar barriers to gathering the information, including court case management systems that were developed without the ability to track cases in ADR, as well as difficulty in obtaining reports from neutrals.   But most of all, I would gather that Maryland is similar to Illinois in that  courts are in general just beginning to understand the importance of tracking ADR program data.

So what does this all mean? First, there are various reasons that courts don’t adopt ADR programs. It’s not all about the money or the lack of information. Sometimes courts just don’t find the need for ADR. For example, if a circuit has one judge with a small claims call and that call is easily handled, the court is not likely to see a need to devote resources to a mediation program for those cases.

Second, courts like developing their own models for ADR service delivery, and they should. Courts have different demographics, different access to mediators, and different goals for their programs. They should therefore develop models that fit them.

Third, we need to work harder to implement monitoring systems that accurately track what is happening with cases in ADR. The barriers to gathering accurate data are large, but both states are taking steps to correct this. MACRO has developed a database and universal data collection tools for programs, and as I said above, the state is undertaking a massive multi-year evaluation of ADR. In Illinois, the AOIC has developed universal monitoring forms and reporting mechanism for family mediation. In addition, RSI has developed a statewide database for foreclosure mediation programs that uses uniform reports and surveys and will be conducting a statewide evaluation of those programs.

Just as a Tale of Two Cities concludes with, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known,” I might conclude this post in a similar vein. The monitoring and evaluation of court ADR is, indeed, far, far better than it has ever been. But unlike Dickens’ character, neither Maryland nor Illinois is going to rest.

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3 Responses to “Maryland and Illinois: A Tale of Two States”

  1. Maryland has long been fortunate to have progressive state court leadership and support for the use of ADR in connection with courts as well as throughout our communities. Such ongoing support has enabled MACRO to promote the use of ADR processes in appropriate court cases, in community conflicts, in business and government organizations, and in our schools. We expect that these initiatives not only contribute to a more just and peaceful society, but they also help keep disputes from entering the court system at all.

    As you noted, an Achilles heel that has limited the spread of ADR throughout the landscape has been the difficulty in collecting and evaluating data about the ADR activity underway. Like Illinois and other states, we are actively working to remedy the inconsistencies and gaps in data collection through our statewide ADR study, the implementation of standardized questions across all program surveys, and revisions to our case management system. We are implementing the Alternative Dispute Resolution Evaluation Support System (ADRESS), which provides longitudinal data collection, monitoring, and evaluation, to allow our ADR programs to continue to learn and evolve. (See http://www.courts.state.md.us/macro/adresssoftware.html for a more thorough description of ADRESS and a link to a rough draft of the code.) With better information, we will be able to 1) demonstrate the uses and benefits of ADR to those who might be considering it and 2) better identify successful efforts and initiatives that can be replicated across the state and around the nation.

    A long-standing culture of independence among our upper-level trial courts and the general sense that courts and participants are best served by voluntary engagement with ADR have contributed to a healthy variety of approaches to court-connected ADR programs. Maryland has chosen not to mandate a particular approach, preferring instead to honor the autonomy of local courts and to help make sure that programs we fund are responsive to local needs. Not only have courts been able to tailor their programs to meet specific jurisdictional requirements, they have been able to experiment with different systems and approaches, giving all courts in Maryland and elsewhere a rich pool of models to consider.

    Consistent definitions and counts, routine collection of data, and case management systems that incorporate ADR as a regular and expected part of the life of a case will all contribute to generating the information we need to continue to build high quality court ADR services in both states. Of course, numbers only tell part of the story, so in Maryland we will draw on the combination of the statewide ADR study, the data gathered through ADRESS, and our active involvement with court personnel, practitioners, and litigants to develop both breadth and depth of understanding.

    Maryland’s ADR landscape looks a lot different than it did 15 years ago, as I’m sure the Illinois ADR landscape does, too. Our statewide ADR landscape report shows the progress that has been made over the years and the opportunities that exist for continued growth and development. In both states, as Robert Frost might say, we have miles to go before we sleep.

    Julie Linkins
    Court ADR Resources Director for the Maryland Judiciary’s Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office

    • Jennifer Shack says:

      Thank you for your great comment, Julie. I hope that we can continue to exchange information and make some of those miles before we sleep a little easier.

  2. Bob Goldman says:

    Just take a week’s trip to Florida and all of your questions will be answered (ref. reporting). You need not go further than Tallahassee and visit the ADR wing of the Florida Supreme Court. Mediation is ingrained in the litigation system and all embrace it. Much different in Illinois when I moved from Illinois in ’95.

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