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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.

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Photo courtesy Elembis (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With guidance from RSI Executive Director Susan Yates, I was able to pull some research from our forthcoming Design, Manage & Evaluate manual (be on the lookout!) to help address this specific query. Then, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a conversation with Susan and this court administrator as they discussed potential options and complications. The experience was incredibly informative, and one I hope to emulate with other court administrators who reach out to us with specific questions about their programs.

Because this topic is one that comes up often, I thought I’d share a summary of our discussion on the many interesting ways court ADR programs can be funded.

  • Court Allocation. This is the most straightforward (in terms of complexity, not ease of procurement) source of funding, wherein a court allocates a certain amount of its budget to ADR programs.
  • Filing Fees. State and local courts can be authorized via legislation or court rule to enact filing fees to support ADR services. For instance, the Illinois Not-for-Profit Dispute Resolution Center Act enables judicial circuits to add a filing fee of $1 (on top of any other preexisting filing fees) for all civil matters to help finance a portion of the budget for nonprofit dispute resolution centers. Another approach employed by some jurisdictions is to enact filing fees for specific types of claims, typically corresponding to the mediation program being funded.
  • Sliding Scale Fees for Mediators. A common model courts employ is to shift some of the financial burden from themselves to the participants. Participants compensate mediators based on their ability to pay, with indigent parties typically not required to pay anything.
  • Roster Eligibility. Another tactic courts employ to secure mediator services, often in conjunction with sliding scale structures, is to require mediators to offer a certain quantity of pro bono services in order to remain on the court’s approved roster. One approach is to require a mediator conduct a certain number of pro bono cases each year to appear on their approved list the following year. Another involves setting a calendar and assigning a certain number of days to each mediator where they must make themselves available for pro bono mediations.
  • Outside Funding. Like Blanche DuBois, court ADR programs have long relied on the kindness of strangers. External funders come in many flavors:
    • Government funds. Municipal, county and state legislatures can make allocations. For instance, the Cook County Board of Commissioners partially funds foreclosure mediation services in the Chicagoland area.
    • Grants. There are organizations, including state bar associations, which manage Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Funds, collecting the interest generated from nominal and short-term client funds and dispersing them as grants to fund services for indigent clients. State, as well as local, bar associations and foundations often have other types of grants for similar purposes. Another potential funding source includes professional organizations such as the National Association for Community Mediation, which, through a partnership with the JAMS Foundation, has made funding available to community mediation centers to assist veterans and their families in utilizing conflict resolution options.
    • Private Donations. Sometimes law firms, mediation services firms, and individual lawyers make donations to support mediation programs. Recently, a guardianship mediation program pilot in New York caught our attention by utilizing funds provided by a wealth management firm in conjunction with a county bar association.
  • Income Generating Activities. Putting on mediator trainings or Continuing Legal Education (CLE) events with registration fees is another way court ADR programs can fill their coffers. Additionally, some courts have charged a small fee for their mediations and pumped that money back into the program.
  • Get creative. Raffles, silent auctions and gala events can be tremendously effective, and can also raise awareness for the program in the process. These fundraising events are especially salient to those programs whose services are provided by free-standing nonprofit organizations, allowing them to leverage the connections and additional human capital afforded by these partnerships. Take a page from the Ku’ikahi Mediation Center’s partnership with the Hilo Orchid Society on the Big Island of Hawaii and do what comes naturally to you and your context!

Are any of these methods surprising to you? Have you had success, or a lack thereof, with these funding sources or others? Please leave your feedback in the comments below. Similarly, if you have any other questions about court ADR, I’d love to hear from you! Please send inquiries to info@aboutrsi.org.

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