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RSI Hosts Child Protection Mediator Training for Kane County Program

Eric Slepak-Cherney, October 31st, 2018

About eighteen months ago, we trained our first cohort of volunteer neutrals to co-mediate child protection cases in our newest court program. That training was the culmination of nearly two years of program development, in which we developed court rules and program procedures, and brought together stakeholders all in service of a shared vision to offer stability to vulnerable children. Since then, the program has assisted in over two dozen cases, providing a forum for over 150 family members, social workers, GALs and others to work out the roadblocks facing them.

On September 29-30, we trained our second cohort. Though a smaller group than the original, we are astounded at the depth of experiences they bring to the Kane County, Illinois Child Protection Mediation Program. Their backgrounds include running law, mediation and coaching practices, as well as serving in the State’s Attorney’s office. Given these cases often come loaded with emotional firepower and complex interpersonal dynamics, it is a real boon to have such accomplished neutrals with a real diversity of experience.

When we did our last training, I wrote up my takeaways, and thankfully, those lessons held up well! One other lesson we learned from surveys administered following the last training was that people left feeling apprehensive about how prepared they were to mediate these cases. Some part of that apprehension in unavoidable – we were asking our volunteers to step into a brand new program to mediate emotionally fraught, multi-party cases that few neutrals ever have the opportunity to mediate! To the extent we were able to, this time around, we as the trainers addressed that fear more directly: naming it, validating it, sharing stories about times we failed and how we rebounded.

I think we in the ADR field have an archetype of the ideal neutral as someone who confidently controls the room and the process. There’s good reason to hold that standard up, but we also have to remember it takes time, experience and at least some failure to reach that level. If our most recent training reassured our mediators of that so they can more confidently go forward and serve these families, I’m content to call it a success.

A huge thank you to our trainers Stephanie Senuta, Kevin Malone and Susan Yates. We are grateful to the Court Improvement Program and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts for providing the funding to put on this training*,  and to the 16th Judicial Circuit Court of Kane County, Illinois and Flavors of North America International for furnishing the space for this training.

*In September 2015, the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation awarded Resolution Systems Institute $40,000 to develop the pilot Child Protection Mediation Program in conjunction with the 16th Judicial Circuit Court of Illinois in Kane County. That funding was supplemented in July 2016, when the Illinois Bar Foundation awarded RSI $5,000 to support the program’s mediators. Most recently, for the 2018 fiscal year, RSI has been awarded $40,000 from the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts’ State Court Improvement Program. Overall, $40,000 of the Kane County Child Protection Mediation Program’s.

Trainer Stephanie Senuta and Kane County Mediation Programs Manager Kevin Malone leading a session during the September training.

New Tools for Mediator Peer Review

Eric Slepak-Cherney, July 20th, 2018

I’m excited to share with you all a new resource RSI put together for court ADR programs. Curiosity and self-reflection tend to be self-selecting criterion for successful mediators, so it’s not surprising that mediators often crave feedback about their performance and how they can improve. Fortunately for courts, that’s a great instinct, and one that should be nurtured through the use of a structured process whenever possible. To these ends, we at RSI put together some tools for program administrators to utilize in developing a peer-based review support system.

Peer review is a great way for mediators to develop new skills: as long as proper oversight exists to make sure bad habits aren’t proliferating, mediators can learn a tremendous amount from one another. Implementing a peer review system also has the added benefit of galvanizing a community of mediators. Perhaps most beneficially, peer review can function as quality assurance to ensure that the services people receive aren’t a form of second-class justice. Programs that serve self-represented, indigent and other underserved populations may be particularly keen to ensure quality services. (more…)

Foreclosure Mediation Saves 1,000 Homes in Illinois

Eric Slepak-Cherney, June 1st, 2018

In compiling the latest statistical report for the eight foreclosure mediation programs funded by the Illinois Attorney General, RSI discovered that, as of last year, the programs helped over 1,000 Illinois homeowners stay in their homes. That’s a tremendous accomplishment and much is owed to the talented program staff that administer these programs, the neutrals who mediate these cases, the housing counselors and legal aid attorneys who advise the homeowners, and the Office of the Attorney General whose belief in the power of mediation made this all possible.

About a quarter of the cases, and 5% of the total foreclosure filings, end in retention. While that might not sound like much, it’s worth bearing in mind that in many instances, there is a significant power imbalance between the homeowner and their lender. That fact makes it quite possible that without the guidance provided by the housing counselors and attorneys, and the channels of dialogue between borrower and lender opened by the program staff and mediators, these homeowners would have very little chance of prevailing in the traditional judicial foreclosure process. Therefore, a retention rate of that magnitude is a tremendous victory. (more…)

A Glitch In The Matrix: The Challenges of ODR

Eric Slepak-Cherney, April 19th, 2018

In my previous entry, I shared the features of online dispute resolution, or ODR, that had me excited about the myriad ways technology is shaping the way we approach dispute resolution. But as is so often the case with technology, the flip side of new opportunities is the potential for abuse (as the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony before Congress demonstrates). Here are my three biggest concerns I’ve identified in researching ODR and talking with courts about it.

ODR is Not a Crock-Pot
In an age where Amazon can reliably create our shopping lists for us and the timeline for self-driving cars to rule the road is being projected in years, not decades, it is tempting to think that the computerization of dispute resolution will be a fully automated process that will free our courts to just ‘set it and forget it.’ This canard, which has also plagued non-digital ADR as well in a slightly different format, presupposes that there is no need for regular human intervention.

In reality, implementing ODR into our courts will not only require a watchful eye, but probably several sets of them. The recent requirement to e-file cases in my home state of Illinois provides a good example. Circuit Court clerks across the state geared up for nearly two years to launch this change, and many are still working through a transition period where they are still utilizing paper filings as a redundancy and staffing personnel to help answer litigant questions.

Beware the Crock-Pot. Image: NBC

Similar precautions, and then some, would be needed to introduce ODR into a court ecosystem. There would need to be rigorous education and outreach offering, both prior to and coinciding with program launch. Staff would need to be available to address technical issues and procedural questions. Ongoing monitoring to assess the program’s success, making necessary adjustments to the program, and reporting back to judges and court administration are all aspects that require human intervention. While that involvement may decrease over time, ODR is not a crock-pot: you can’t just throw everything together, hit start and expect things to work out.

(more…)

Do Android Mediators Dream of Electric Agreements?

Eric Slepak-Cherney, January 30th, 2018

With the new year being still fresh enough that some of us, and hopefully not just me, continue to write 2017 on their checks, the future is at the forefront of many of our minds. Whether we’re setting ambitious goals for the year to come, or just looking forward to putting the previous year behind us, I think it’s pretty natural for us to spend this time of year fixated on the road ahead. For me, this has translated into thinking a lot about the cutting edge of the ADR field: Online Dispute Resolution, or ODR. (more…)