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A Look Back on 2018

Nicole Wilmet, December 21st, 2018

What a wonderful year 2018 has been! From court program evaluations and trainings to celebrating Resolution Systems Institute Day, we have had an exciting year and continued to great make strides in serving communities with court alternative dispute resolution! As RSI’s Resource Center Director and Court ADR Connection Editor, I have had the pleasure to share each exciting moment with you this year. To culminate 2018, I am looking back on all of RSI’s monumental moments this year.

This was a hallmark year for AboutRSI.org with several new resources added to our Resource Center. March brought the launch of Mediation Efficacy Studies, the most comprehensive collection of resources on the subject of court alternative dispute resolution effectiveness. This summer, Director of Research Jennifer Shack published her evaluation of Washington, D.C.’s Child Protection Mediation Program, and we shared our Model Tools for Mediator Peer Review.

This fall, we released two new chapters to our Guide to Program Success, a step-by step guide from Executive Director Susan Yates and Jennifer Shack that discusses how to design, manage and evaluate a successful court ADR program. We also collaborated with the National Association for Community Mediation to share a Community Mediation Special Topic that explains the basics of community mediation, explores the relationship between courts and community mediation centers, delves into the important activities of data tracking and evaluation and compiles exemplary studies on the effectiveness of community mediation.

Finally, we rounded out our year of new resources with Jennifer Shack’s program evaluation of the eight foreclosure mediation programs funded by the Illinois Attorney General and developed a digital summary of the evaluation.

In 2018, we also launched our series My Favorite Resource that collects resources from our court ADR friends across the country. I would like to thank Heather Kulp, Debora Denny, Doug Van Epps, Missy Greathouse, Rebecca Price, Raeshann Canady, Kevin Malone, Catherine Geyer, Annalise Buth, Renee Salmon, and Peter Salem for participating in our inaugural year. I have truly enjoyed learning about each of your favorite ADR resources and network groups and I look forward to connecting with more friends this year!

This year was also a milestone year for our foreclosure mediation programs here in Illinois as our five-year grant from the Illinois Attorney General ended. Under the grant, RSI developed and administered foreclosure mediation programs in Illinois’ Lake, Kane, Winnebago, and Boone counties; trained mediators for all Attorney General-funded foreclosure mediation programs throughout the state; developed an online case management and monitoring system for those programs; and conducted two statewide evaluations of the programs. We are happy to report that all three of RSI’s foreclosure mediation programs will continue to operate thanks to the support of their local courts. RSI’s Kevin Malone and Olga Kordonskaya will continue to administer our programs in Kane County and Lake County, respectively, and moving forward, the court will administer the foreclosure mediation program in Winnebago & Boone counties. We consider the continuation of the programs as evidence of their success given that the courts value these programs enough to continue to provide funding for them. We are grateful to the Attorney General for supporting these programs, to the courts for their partnership and to the skilled mediators for conducting the mediations.

Last, but certainly not least, we also celebrated several important events this year. In April, we welcomed Grace Barter as our new Administrative Assistant. On July 11, 2018, Rockford, Illinois Mayor Thomas McNamara declared that day as Resolution Systems Institute Day in honor of RSI’s work on foreclosure mediation in the Rockford community. That same month, we celebrated Kent Lawrence, founder and steadfast supporter of RSI, for receiving the Decalogue Society of Lawyer’s Hon. Gerald C. Bender Humanitarian Award. The Hon. Gerald C. Bender Humanitarian Award is presented to individuals whose excellence and dedication demonstrate commitment to justice by serving the community.

In September, we celebrated our one-year anniversary of the new AboutRSI.org, and Eric Slepak-Cherney was named RSI’s new Associate Director. In November, Jennifer Shack was appointed to the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution Research Advisory Committee and this month, Olga Kordonskaya and Kevin Malone celebrated their five-year anniversary with RSI.

As December comes to a close, I know that each of us here at RSI is thankful for a wonderful 2018. We look forward to all that awaits in 2019!

RSI December Staff Gathering

Nicole Wilmet, December 18th, 2018

This month, to celebrate 2018, our staff gathered in our Chicago office for our annual Staff Holiday Gathering! Our day started with an interesting and informative discussion with Director of Research Jennifer Shack as she reported on the findings from her evaluation of Washington, D.C.’s Child Protection Mediation Program. In the afternoon, we braced the cold Chicago weather to visit to the Christkindlmarket and tour the Chicago Design Museum’s “Keep Moving: Designing Chicago’s Bicycle Culture” exhibit.

Although some of us are based in our Chicago office, our RSI staff are also hard at work operating programs across Illinois and working remotely from Maine and Michigan. As such, our holiday gathering was a wonderful opportunity for us to come together and connect in one place. We are very much looking forward to the staff gatherings to come in 2019!

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!

My Favorite Resource Featuring Renee Salmon

Nicole Wilmet, December 4th, 2018

Our series, My Favorite Resource, features interviews with our court ADR friends across the country to learn about their favorite resource. This month, Resource Center Director Nicole Wilmet spoke with Renee Salmon, Legal Assistant for the Minnesota Judicial Branch Alternative Dispute Resolution Program to learn about her favorite resource.

NW: What is one of your favorite ADR resources?

RS: My favorite resource is the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts website www.afccnet.org.

NW: Why do you value this particular resource?

RS:  I value this resource for three reasons:

  1. The links are almost always up-to-date and relevant. The resources contained on this site involve primarily family law ADR. It is a centralized place to go for guidelines, best practices, news and updates in ADR nationwide.
  2. You do not have to be a member in order to access the links and resources on this site.
  3. The resources on this website are applicable and relevant for both the public and ADR professionals.

NW: How did you first learn about resource?

RS: I can’t remember exactly. I believe I stumbled upon it while researching ADR online. I was already familiar with the association, but was not aware of the vast amounts of helpful resources and articles posted on its site.

NW: For those unfamiliar with this resource, what is one part of this resource that you wouldn’t want someone to miss?

RS: The tab on the top of the site called “Resource Center”. You will find relevant and up-to-date practice guidelines and standards and resources for both ADR professionals and families in one spot. I have this site in my favorites to refer to when gaining understanding all the flavors of ADR processes used in family law nationwide.

If you have a favorite resource you would like to share, please reach out to our Resource Center Director and Court ADR Connection Editor, Nicole Wilmet at nwilmet@aboutrsi.org!

Get to Know You Interview Series: Eric Slepak

Nicole Wilmet, April 10th, 2018

Welcome to the third installment in our Get to Know You Interview series! My name is Nicole Wilmet and I am RSI’s Resource Center Director. In this series, I will be sitting down with members of the RSI staff to learn more about them and what they do in their role at RSI.

This month, I sat down with RSI’s Director of ADR Programs Eric Slepak!

NW: What is your role at RSI?

ES: Director of ADR Programs. I oversee our four programs: the three foreclosure mediation programs we run in Illinois’ 16th, 17th and 19th judicial circuits, and our child protection mediation program in the 16th. This includes supervising staff, writing grant reports and securing funding. Additionally, my role involves seeking out and develop new programmatic opportunities for RSI, and sharing lessons learned from running our programs with the court ADR community.

NW: How long have you been at RSI?

ES: I’ve been at RSI since July 2015. I started as Director of ADR Programs in August 2016. Before that, I was in your old job as RSI’s Resource Center Director!

NW: How did you first get involved in ADR?

ES: Pure serendipity! At the end of my 1L year at Cardozo, I was offered a spot on the school’s Journal of Conflict Resolution. I knew nothing of ADR, other than it appealed to the peace-keeping, problem-solving part of me that the rest of my law school curriculum didn’t really address. I was incredibly fortunate to thereafter have access to some of the leading ADR scholars and practitioners through the Journal and the school’s Kukin Program for Conflict Resolution.

NW: What aspect of ADR are you most interested in? Why?

ES: I love the potential ADR has as a component of Access to Justice. For a large segment of the population, the hurdles to getting their “day in court” are significant. Representation is a luxury. Due process gets compromised by bureaucracy and other undue burdens. Delays are the norm. Seeing a court case through is a full-time, multi-year project. The result is you have a lot of people making concessions for the sake of expediency without ever really feeling heard.

ADR, in its myriad forms, presents some practical solutions to many of these issues. ADR processes can be designed to even the playing field, and a competent neutral can assist the parties in better understanding the nature of the conflict in front of them. Judges who are ADR-savvy can refer the sticky cases, where relationships and other extenuating factors really control the conflict, freeing them to focus on those cases that hinge on the law, where their expertise is really needed. This is a win-win all around: cases get resolved more efficiently while parties feel heard (there’s a good bit of data to back up the premise that ADR creates procedural satisfaction).

Compared to some of the more sweeping reforms that Access to Justice advocates have proposed (necessary as they are), I think increased adoption of ADR is relatively low-hanging fruit that would ameliorate many issues.

NW: What is a typical day like as the Director of ADR Programs?

ES: Ha, good one! To the extent there is a typical day in this role, it will usually start with going through my inbox and figuring out what my priorities are for any given day. That can range from helping the Program Coordinators in our mediation programs solve sticky issues, working with program stakeholders to address concerns they may have, or reaching out to folks in other programs throughout Illinois or across the country to share our experiences and give them some ideas about how to improve their programs.

Right now, we’re in the midst of a fairly big transition as an organization. At the end of August, our grant funding from the Office of the Illinois Attorney General to administer foreclosure mediation programs will come to an end. We are figuring out how these programs will continue after this funding ends, which necessarily requires some changes to their operations. This requires a lot of hypothetical thinking and advanced planning, but will hopefully serve our ultimate goal of continuing to offer this essential service to Illinois homeowners and their lenders with as few disruptions as possible.

I’ve also been spending some time thinking how we can best leverage the experience we’ve had in running these programs. If you saw my recent post about online dispute resolution, that’s come out of some noodling on what it would be like to build technology into the infrastructure of a court ADR program, understanding that that technology will only succeed if it’s thoughtfully implemented in a way that actually addresses disputants’ needs.

NW: What is your favorite part of your job? Why?

ES: In this role, I get to explore the big picture, and think about what’s the next big thing. I’m able to take our successes in running programs – on which I am greatly indebted to our fantastic program coordinators Olga, Sarah and Kevin, who ensure our programs work so smoothly day in and day out – and think, “Okay, how do we do this even better?” I’m constantly researching, learning and growing. All of this makes the job feel really freeing and rewarding.

NW: What, if any, would you say are some of the biggest challenges facing ADR programs and how are we working to overcome these challenge in our ADR programs?

ES: While a lot of focus is paid, and rightly so, on what goes on in the mediation room, there’s a lot of unsung work that happens outside of it.

People, by and large, dread having to go to court. The sheer presence of program staff who can explain options to people and give them some information, especially when legal services are hard to access, can be a huge relief. Factor in the correspondence with parties, scheduling, filing notices and motions with the court, reporting to the court after the case, monitoring program trends – all of this is vital work that program administrators do that courts and other stakeholders don’t necessarily always value accordingly.

We’ve often shared data that backs up this model of dispute system design with court administrators, who can then go to their bosses (and often the municipalities or state governments that control their purse strings) and convince them they should invest in these systems, we are helping to overcome this challenge.

NW: What would say have been some of the greatest successes of our ADR programs?

ES: Our child protection mediation program is still in a nascent state, and I’ll be excited to share the outcomes when we have more cases. For now, I think the enthusiasm it is generating among the stakeholders, including the court, state’s attorney’s office, Court Appointed Special Advocates and DCFS is the most rewarding result we’ve seen thus far.

Our foreclosure mediation programs have served over 2,300 people. In over 500 of those cases, homeowners were given at least a temporary loan modification that allowed them to stay in their home. In many cases, that was an outcome they were unlikely to get in court, having less to do with the merits of their case and more to do with a legal process that failed to accord proper safeguards to the vulnerable populations we saw at the heart of the foreclosure crisis. That’s probably a big reason we see procedural satisfaction rates well upwards of 90%, because people finally feel like they are heard. It’s worth noting that also includes responses on the lenders’ side, which lets us know that we’ve designed a fair system.

NW: What are some of your favorite projects that you have worked on while at RSI? Why?

ES: My favorite project has been launching the Child Protection Mediation program. Along with Susan & Kevin (RSI’s Kane County Program Coordinator), I’ve gotten to help shape what the program looks like, with the goal of making it a productive forum for families, case workers and the children (vis a vis the CASA guardian ad litems) to work towards a safe and sustainable permanency. We’ve done this in a number of ways, from designing program procedures and policies that prioritize the safety of the children and developing trust and cooperation among parties, to developing a training curriculum and continuing education courses to ensure our mediators have the tools they need to tackle these tough cases. My hope is that the program we’ve created can become a blueprint for others who want to introduce mediation into their abuse & neglect courtrooms, because I’ve gotten to see firsthand the value mediation provides for these families.

NW: What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?

ES: My job involves me thinking a lot about how rules and procedures shape systems, as well as the needs, interests and relationships that guide interaction between people. So is it all that surprising that my biggest hobby outside of work is playing board games?

I’ve channeled that particular passion into organizing a bimonthly board game & craft beer meetup, so if you ever want to discuss how Settlers of Catan stands in as a proxy for complex, multi-party negotiation, you know where to find me.

NW: If you could have dinner with any three people (living or dead) who would they be and why?

ES:

  1. Francisco de Miranda – I recently revisited the fantastic series on the revolutions of Latin America put together by Mike Duncan for his Revolutions podcast, and was reminded of this fascinating figure. Miranda, known as “The Precursor”, would pave the way for future Venezuelan revolution. A world traveler, he hobnobbed with the Founding Fathers, participated in the French Revolution, and hung out with Catharine the Great of Russia. He probably has more firsthand experience with all of the interesting seismic events that took place during the late 18th/early 19th centuries, and judging by all the friends he made along the way, would probably be full of lively conversation.
  2. Harriet Tubman – In thinking about a more a just world, it’s one thing to identify injustice and propose a solution. It’s a wholly different matter to possess the bravery to speak out and act against that injustice. I don’t know whether there’s any surefire way to cultivate that bravery, but I have to think hearing stories of courage from the bravest person I can think of wouldn’t hurt.
  3. My partner, Shannon – I could pick one more of any number of incredible living or historical figures, but that invitation would be one of diminishing returns compared to my partner and best friend. She’s got an incredibly curious mind that would prompt some great questions and conversation. And it’d be way more fun to try and process that fascinating dinner we just had together.

Eric, his wife Shannon, and their dog Yeti.