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Just Court ADR

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Get to Know You Interview Series: Jennifer Shack

Just Court ADR, September 11th, 2017

Welcome to the launch of our new Get to Know You Interview Series! My name is Nicole Wilmet and I am RSI’s Resource Center Director. Each month, 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. To kick off our series I sat down with Jennifer Shack, RSI’s Director of Research.

NW: What is your role at RSI?

JS: Director of Research

NW: How long have you been at RSI?

JS: I have been at RSI for 18 years. It has gone by so fast! I started out as the Administrative Director at RSI and I was only planning on staying for a year and a half. But then I was offered a new position at RSI, Director of Research, and here I am.

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

JS: I don’t really have a typical day because I’m involved in so many different projects. What I do in general is conduct evaluations for court programs as well as develop evaluation systems for our own programs, other court programs, and non-court programs. This means I figure out what data programs need to collect and how to best collect it. An evaluation system includes the instruments for collecting data (surveys, forms, case management systems, etc.), as well as the platform and structure for using those instruments. I also keep up on the research that other court ADR folks are doing so that we can use that information to inform our own practice and to help other programs by disseminating the information through our Resource Center. Our goal in disseminating information is to help programs develop effective practices for their programs and their mediators.

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

JS: I really enjoy working with the people at RSI. RSI has been lucky to always have a great staff that is fun to work with. In terms of my actual work, I enjoy taking information whether it is data we are collecting or research that others are doing and pulling it together to figure out what it is all telling us. It’s fun synthesizing data and drawing conclusions from that because it tells us more than the individual pieces alone. For example, the foreclosure mediation programs around Illinois can be looked at individually, but when the data from them is combined, we can get a clearer picture of the factors that lead to greater participation in the programs. The same goes for research. If we can find patterns in the research results, we can make stronger arguments about the efficacy of mediation in particular situations.

NW: Based on your experience, do you feel like there is a common theme/item that people working in Court ADR want to learn more about?

JS: A common theme right now that people want to know is what works. We know that ADR, and in particular mediation, can be effective. Now we want to know, what works better? Are there things that can be done program-wise to make them more efficient? Are there things mediators can do to make mediation more successful, to lead to better outcomes for people who participate in them?

NW: Do you feel like you have an answer to any of these questions yet?

JS: I think we are getting close to being able to answer those questions. In the past, little research has been focused on those things. Studies that have looked at program characteristics or mediator techniques haven’t been uniform in their categorizations of the factors being examined and many haven’t been rigorous enough, so while we have some ideas of what works, we don’t have definitive answers. However, there has been a real push lately to get to those answers. I think we are getting there.

NW: During your time working in Court ADR, what, if any, would you identify as being one of the biggest challenges you have faced?

JS: One of the challenges I faced when I first started was that I had a huge ADR learning curve because I came from a background in international studies. I became interested in mediation when I first experienced it as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa and thought it should be made available in the US. When I came back home, I looked into it and discovered it was already a part of the legal landscape.

NW: How were you able to overcome that learning curve?

JS: I became a mediator myself. From that I had a better understanding of what I was reading about mediation because I had actual experience I could pull from. When I started maintaining RSI’s Resource Center, I also read everything about the theory of ADR and about issues that were popping up at the time. And of course, I learned a lot from Susan [RSI’s Executive Director], too.

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

JS: I am really interested in the ways in which ADR can open access to justice for people who don’t have the means to go through litigation process and how it can provide voice to those who don’t generally have one in the justice system. In terms of types of programs, I am very interested in the impact that child protection mediation can have on the parents involved.

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

JS: I have two favorite projects. The first was an evaluation of Cook County’s [Chicago] Child Protection Mediation Program. I loved it because I was actually able to see the impact of ADR on the participants. I observed 30 mediations and I was able to see how it could change their perspective in what was going on –particularly for the parents. It was enlightening to be able to watch the parents sit down and talk about what they needed and to talk with the people who decide what happens to their children. It was also rewarding for me to be able to talk to parents afterwards, to confirm that it was a positive experience for them and then put their perspective into a report with other quantitative and qualitative data that showed how important this type of mediation is and how beneficial it is overall.

My other favorite project was working on our foreclosure mediation programs. I enjoyed the intellectual process of being able to take, what is now, eight very different programs and figure out how to collect the same data from them while keeping costs down and administrative time to a minimum. I loved analyzing the data across the programs and being able to use the results of that analysis to identify what makes such programs successful. In the end, it was really rewarding to make recommendations based on my analysis and see programs make changes based on those recommendations and then see those changes lead to improvements in the effectiveness of the programs.

NW: You have written excellent resources on Court ADR, which resource would you say you are most proud of?

JS: Other than the two that I mentioned, it would be a combination of my Bibliographic Summary of Cost, Pace, and Satisfaction Studies of Court-Related Mediation Programs and the ABA Dispute Resolution magazine article that summarized it and said that and challenged the ADR field to improve studies of programs and the characteristics that make them more effective. I have found that people have used those two resources more than anything I else I have written, which I think means that they have been useful in the ADR field.

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

JS: Anything outdoors: hiking, biking, walking on the beach, or walking in the woods. As long as it is outdoors and in nature I am happy.

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

JS: I would have dinner with Mohammad, Jesus and Buddha because I would love to see what they would say to each other, how they would interact. Would they dwell on their similarities or their differences? I’d also want to ask how they feel their messages have been followed over time.

 

Designing Access Part Three: Transitions, Continuity and Communication

Hanna Kaufman, August 19th, 2016

Welcome to the final blog post in a series showcasing how RSI uses our expertise in dispute system design to improve access to justice in the three foreclosure mediation programs we administer. If you’re wondering how this series came to be, check out my introduction to the series, as well as the posts highlighting our work in the 19th and 17th Judicial Circuits of Illinois.

This last post will look a little bit different than I anticipated, in large part because it will also be my final post as RSI’s Director of ADR Programs before I take on a new position as Counsel for Innovation and Technology at the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois. In my upcoming role, I will continue to work to promote access to justice, this time focusing on using technology and process improvement in the legal aid context. As you might imagine, transitions and continuity have been on my mind quite a lot, especially because of how close RSI’s programs are to my heart and how passionately I feel about their ongoing success.

At RSI, we think carefully about transitions and work hard to promote continuity during times of change. Current Resource Center Director Eric Slepak will begin his tenure as Director of ADR Programs after I leave today, and the two of us have been working closely together over the past two months to minimize the impact of this transition on our programs. RSI is lucky to have Eric, and I know the programs at RSI will be in great hands.

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In Mediation, As On Broadway, It’s All About The Room Where It Happens

Eric Slepak, February 26th, 2016

If you caught the Grammys last week, I hope you got a glimpse of the live-from-Broadway performance of the opening number from the smash hit Hamilton. One of the show’s many highlights, “In the Room Where It Happens,” is a show-stopping ode to backroom negotiation and the art of compromise that focuses on New York Senator Aaron Burr’s desire to get to the table. Though Burr serves as the foil to protagonist Alexander Hamilton and (spoiler alert) the source of Hamilton’s ultimate defeat, he is not an unsympathetic character; there are many moments throughout where the audience empathizes with Burr’s dreams. Case in point, Burr’s goal of being part of the action mirrors a recurring theme we see parties deal with in ADR: who gets a say in the matter when there are lots of parties involved and/or many different interests at stake?  In other words, who gets to be in the room where it happens? (more…)

“The Big Short”: Meshing the Gears between Micro and Macro Forces that Drove the Housing Crisis

Susan M. Yates, January 15th, 2016

Call it a busman’s holiday, but I went to see “The Big Short” over the holidays. It’s a Hollywood movie about the housing market collapse. It is clever, entertaining, and perhaps most daring for a movie seeking to make money, it is informative.

The thing that struck me most about the movie was the connection of the macro level of economic activity with the micro level. (more…)

‘Tis the Season for Mediation

Susan M. Yates, December 9th, 2014

In what has become an annual tradition, here is RSI’s seasonal parody of the Twelve Day of Christmas. Enjoy!

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

For the third hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me three paraphrases

For the fourth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me four mirrored feelings

For the fifth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me five aspirin

For the sixth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me six tested realities

For the seventh hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me seven caucuses

For the eighth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me eight explored BATNAs

For the ninth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me nine fresh perspectives

For the tenth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me ten brainstorms

For the eleventh hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me eleven cookie breaks

For the twelfth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me twelve resolved issues

Everyone at Resolution Systems Institute wishes all our friends happy holidays and a happy, healthy 2015!