It is without a doubt an understatement to say that the coronavirus (COVID-19) global health crisis is drastically impacting communities worldwide. News about COVID-19 is changing at a rapid pace (and has likely changed drastically since this piece was written). Words like “lockdown” and “social distancing” are becoming commonplace as states across the country are taking new measures to limit social interactions and keep communities and individuals safe. Here in the United States, this epidemic continues to raise all sorts of questions about what should remain open, what should be closed, and when?
Courts across the country are also grappling with these types of questions. Here in Illinois, courts are considering these concerns and are currently taking a variety of different approaches at this time with some courts postponing certain types of cases and non-essential meetings or choosing to remain open but promoting remote access services. In Georgia, the chief justice has issued an order declaring a statewide judicial emergency and is ordering courts and clerk’s offices to suspend all non-essential court functions and “to the extent court proceedings are held, they should be done in a manner to limit the risk of exposure, such as by videoconferencing, where possible.” In Michigan, the state Supreme Court has released an administrative order detailing emergency procedures in court facilities and some courts have closed business operations via local administrative orders.
As a hub for court ADR, here are the issues we have been hearing at our organization that court ADR programs are encountering as they address the coronavirus:
- Responses to COVID-19 by court ADR programs are shaped by what their courts decide to do.
- ADR program administrators are concerned for the health of their neutrals, the health of the parties, and their own health.
- ADR program administrators are concerned they will not have sufficient neutrals available due to actual illness or a neutral’s need to protect themselves by quarantining.
- This might be a good time for courts to use online platforms (such as Zoom) or telephonic conference options to conduct ADR sessions. However, online dispute resolution options also have their own set of considerations like:
- The free Zoom account has a limit of 40 minutes for group meetings and courts may need to pay for a premium account that would allow them to access certain features to conduct their meetings.
- Courts are unlikely to have sufficient neutrals who are trained in how to conduct ADR processes online and there may be a learning curve to conduct sessions telephonically or online.
- Parties may not have the resources to be able to access online ADR options at this time.
- Online platforms, like Zoom, will likely become overly burdened as an entire workforce and education systems transition to these platforms.
With information surrounding the coronavirus changing so quickly, for the latest information on how your court program is responding to COVID-19, I recommend visiting your court’s website or calling your local court directly. If your state has a state court ADR office (which you can find by searching your state on RSI’s Court ADR Across the U.S. resource), that office may have more information about how court ADR programs are moving forward in your state. If your state does not have a court ADR office, visit your local bar association’s website, which may have more information. In the meantime, I hope you are all staying well!