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Just Court ADR

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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.

Holidays. Gratitude. Hoping. Giving.

Susan M. Yates, December 12th, 2018

Popular American culture portrays the year-end holiday season as a special time for friends and family to gather. Over the years I have also seen that this time of year can bring a mixed bag of feelings. That certainly is the case at RSI! Here is some of what we are feeling as the year comes to a close.

EXCITED

RSI is dreaming big. We are developing an online dispute resolution process that will help parents work out how they will co-parent after they split up. We are encouraging more courts to tap into our deep well of research and evaluation expertise to improve their ADR programs. And we are working to increase the use of mediation when children who have been neglected are removed from their homes.

PROUD

One thing we are especially proud of is the work we have done and continue to do on foreclosure mediation. Our programs have helped to save more than 750 homes, we have completed the two most comprehensive evaluations of foreclosure ever conducted and all three of our programs are continuing with support from their courts after funding from the Illinois Attorney General ended August 31, 2018.

ANXIOUS

The end of that five-year grant from the Attorney General has added a certain sense of anxiety to our holiday cheer! We are facing the challenge of finding new financial support to continue working on our mission of strengthening access to justice through quality court ADR.

HOPEFUL

As we look forward to 2019, I am hopeful. Maybe that is because hopefulness is a job requirement for any non-profit executive director! But more than that, I see opportunities to make real differences in the lives of people who turn to the courts for civil justice.

GRATEFUL

I am personally so grateful to everyone who is part of RSI’s work. We have a dedicated Board and an amazing staff. We appreciate and are appreciated by the courts with whom we work. We know we can rely on skilled mediators and they, in turn, are appreciated by the parties they serve. We are supported financially by generous individuals, corporations, law firms, bar associations, courts and foundations. For all this, I am extremely grateful.

Whatever you are feeling during this holiday season, I hope that you share RSI’s desire to make justice more accessible through ADR. With your support, we can give voice to people when they need it most.

Please consider making a contribution to RSI, online at https://www.mightycause.com/organization/Resolution-Systems-Institute or by sending your check to RSI at 11 East Adams St., Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60603. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so your contribution can be tax-deductible.

Thank you for supporting RSI’s mission to improve access to justice by enhancing court ADR.

The Twelve Hours of Conflict

Susan M. Yates, December 10th, 2018

In what has become a holiday tradition here at RSI, here is our annual posting of the The Twelve Hours of Conflict. Happy holidays!

For the first hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me a round table with a great view

For the second hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the third hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the fourth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the fifth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me five as-pir-in
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the sixth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me six tested realities
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the seventh hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the eighth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the ninth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the tenth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me ten brainstorms
Nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the eleventh hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me eleven cookie breaks
Ten brainstorms
Nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the twelfth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me twelve resolved issues
Eleven cookie breaks
Ten brainstorms
Nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

Have a great New Year!

Eric Slepak-Cherney Named RSI Associate Director

Susan M. Yates, September 4th, 2018

I am pleased to announce the promotion of Eric Slepak-Cherney to the newly-created position of RSI Associate Director. In this position, Eric focuses on how to sustain and grow RSI in our mission to improve access to justice through court alternative dispute resolution. He has been with RSI since 2015 and with this promotion is now assisting with setting the strategic vision for RSI, coordinating the development and administration of the organization’s programs, and managing our fundraising activities.

Please join me in congratulating Eric and wishing him well in this new position!

Sincerely,

Susan M. Yates

End of One Era, Beginning of Another

Susan M. Yates, August 31st, 2018

August 31, 2018, will mark the end of an era at RSI. Our five-year foreclosure mediation grant from the Office of the Illinois Attorney General will come to an end.

This grant, which we received 15 years into our operation, was our opportunity to prove that when given sufficient resources, RSI could deliver the kind of quality court mediation program that we had been recommending to others all those years. I used terms like “practice what we preach,” “proof is in the pudding” and even, “put up or shut up!”

At that time, we promised to:

  • Work with courts and other stakeholders to design and operate three foreclosure mediation programs in three judicial circuits in northern Illinois
  • Develop and conduct training for mediators in our programs and those operated by our partner organizations farther downstate
  • Develop an online system to collect data about the programs enabling us to produce regular statistical reports and two comprehensive evaluations

I am happy to report that we delivered!

In the process, we confirmed some maxims about how to do quality court ADR and added a few corollaries.

  1. Study first

Before we start working with a court on their ADR program, we update our knowledge of the particular area in which we will be working. In this situation we researched what was happening across the country with foreclosure and how courts were using alternative approaches.

Corollary: Sometimes you have to build the plane while flying it. In the midst of a national foreclosure crisis, courts across the country were scrambling to keep up. While it was helpful to see what others were doing, we needed to figure out how to do foreclosure mediation in a way that worked in Illinois courts with their particular needs and resources.

  1. Work with stakeholders

We know that it is critical to bring together all the stakeholders while developing a court ADR system so that their various needs can be considered. In foreclosure mediation, the usual stakeholders – judges, court administrators, mediators and lawyers for both lenders and borrowers – were joined by a new addition: housing counselors, who were critical to the success of many of the programs.

Corollary: As important as it is to have all the voices heard, in the end, judges often have to make decisions about exactly how court ADR programs will work, and these decisions may not satisfy everyone. Fortunately, RSI doesn’t “have a dog in the fight,” so we can offer unbiased, expert advice about pros and cons of various approaches.

  1. Value the people who do the work

Never underestimate the importance of visible, capable staff. These programs are being continued because of dedicated program coordinators, who kept the cases moving and kept the courts informed of program progress, and because of skilled mediators who worked with intelligence and compassion in the midst of foreclosure – which is a crisis for each homeowner, even once the nation’s crisis has abated.

Corollary: These programs are not easy to administer. Juggling spinning plates is an apt metaphor for the challenge of administering programs with sometimes complex court rules that apply to everyone from sophisticated lawyers to overwhelmed homeowners.

  1. Collect and use reliable data

Turning data into meaningful information means different things to different stakeholders at different times. In the foreclosure mediation programs, we produced everything from monthly statistical reports for judges about numbers of cases in their programs and how they were being resolved to a mega-evaluation of all the programs that compared strengths of the various approaches and made recommendations about how each might improve.

Corollary: In a situation like this one in which every program was different, finding ways to make “apples to apples” comparisons was critical. Doing that successfully allowed RSI to make recommendations for improvement from a place of knowledge, not opinion.

Success and a New Era

September 1st will mark the beginning of a new era, as all three of our foreclosure mediation programs continue to operate thanks to the support of their local courts! We take this as the surest sign of success, that the courts value these programs enough to find a way to continue them when outside funding ends. We are grateful to the Attorney General for supporting these programs, to courts for their partnership and to the skilled mediators for conducting the mediations. We are pleased to continue to provide services to homeowners and their lenders when foreclosure looms.