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Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Archive for the ‘Program Design’ Category

Characteristics of Quality Court ADR Programs

Susan M. Yates, September 18th, 2019

What characteristics do you think are shared by quality court ADR programs? I took a swing at a list here. What would you add? Change?

1. Goals

There must be a shared understanding of the goals of the ADR program so that there can also be a shared understanding about whether it is succeeding.

  1. The court must be clear about its goals for the ADR program
  2. Those goals must be shared with stakeholders

 

2. Principles

The ADR program must operate on a common set of foundational principles, including ethics as appropriate for the ADR process being provided.

  1. Confidentiality (in mediation)
  2. Fairness of process
  3. Fairness of outcomes
  4. Procedural justice
  5. Accessibility
  6. Neutral quality
  7. Self-determination (in mediation)
  8. Timeliness

 

3. Accessibility

Everyone – including litigants and lawyers – must be able to readily access the ADR program.

  1. Parties who are unable to pay for ADR are afforded the opportunity to use ADR
  2. Parties who are representing themselves are able to participate fully in ADR
  3. Parties with disabilities are able to participate fully in ADR

 

4. Process Quality

Notwithstanding the importance of other characteristics, the true quality of a court ADR program boils down to what happens during each ADR session.

  1. Whichever ADR process is being used, it adheres to the foundational principles of that process
  2. Participants have an experience of procedural justice when engaging in the ADR process:
    1. They feel they had a voice in the process (e.g., had a chance to talk, felt they were heard)
    2. They feel they were respected in the process
    3. They feel the process was fair to them

 

5. Program Support

The ADR program will only succeed if it receives steady support from a number of sources.

1. Stakeholders understand and support the ADR program

  • Judges
  • Litigants
  • Court staff
  • Neutrals

2. The program has sufficient, stable financial support

 

6. Neutrals

Neutrals are the face of the program to litigants and lawyers, so they must provide quality services.

  1. Neutrals share a common understanding of the service they are to provide
  2. Neutrals provide services in the manner expected by the program and its stakeholders
  3. Neutrals operate in an ethical manner
  4. Neutrals have the necessary skills and knowledge
  5. Neutrals are selected for the roster fairly
  6. Neutrals are appointed to cases in a fair manner
  7. Neutrals receive appropriate initial and ongoing training
  8. Neutrals provide a sufficiently uniform version of the ADR process
  9. Parties have a way to lodge complaints about neutrals
  10. Neutrals are treated fairly when a complaint against them is made
  11. Neutrals are compensated fairly (which does not preclude volunteer mediators)
  12. Neutrals are assessed fairly
    1. Participant surveys
    2. Peer review

 

7. Lawyers

Lawyers must support, or at the very least accept, the ADR program.

  1. Lawyers are often repeat users of the ADR program, therefore their support is especially important
  2. This applies equally to those who typically represent one side or the other, e.g., landlords’ lawyers and tenants’ lawyers.
  3. Lawyers should:
    1. Find the program useful
    2. Be educated about the program
    3. Fulfill their responsibilities in the program

 

8. Program Safety

ADR processes must be safe, both literally and figuratively.

  1. Participants, neutrals and staff are all safe when participating in ADR and otherwise interacting with the ADR program
  2. Participants are screened prior to ADR, when appropriate, to identify intimate partner violence and other potential barriers to participation

 

9. Data Collection and Dissemination

Reliable data must be collected regularly and shared appropriately, or it won’t be available when it is time to sustain or improve the ADR program.

  1. Data is collected regularly and includes both quantitative and qualitative information (e.g., statistics and success stories)
  2. Changes in the program are tracked and acted on, e.g., changes in:
    1. The number of cases being sent to ADR
    2. The number of agreements being reached
    3. The number of mediators signing up to mediate
    4. The number of parties showing up for ADR sessions
  3. Data is turned into reports that can be readily digested
    1. Easy to read
    2. No use of insider language or acronyms
    3. Fitting use of charts and other visuals
  4. Reports are adapted to their particular audience and disseminated appropriately, typically as follows:
    1. Judges and court administrators with direct responsibility get the most detailed reports
    2. Those higher up in the court system get summaries with explanations
    3. Funders’ reports depend on what the funder requires. They may also get some anecdotes about how parties are experiencing the program.
  5. Reports include recommendations for action when appropriate
  6. The program is evaluated near the end of the first year, after a substantial period of time, or when there has been a major change in the program or the context in which the program operates

 

10. Program Promotion

Reminding stakeholders of the value of the ADR program will help maintain its support.

  1. Brochures are made available in courtrooms and other locations as needed
    1. Brochures are only produced if they will serve a particular purpose, such as giving parties the number they need to call to schedule a mediation
    2. If brochures are targeted to self-represented litigants, they must be in easy-to-understand language
  2. News about the program is publicized via:
    1. Local radio, TV, newspaper, news websites
    2. Court newsletter
    3. Bar association newsletter
  3. Program is featured on appropriate websites
    1. Information about the ADR program can be readily found on the court’s site
    2. If the program maintains its own site, instead of appearing as part of the court’s site, it must be easy to find and navigate and kept up to date
  4. As members of stakeholder groups change, the new individuals are familiarized with the program
    1. Judges are educated on how it works, ethical limitations, what to expect
    2. Lawyers, e.g., child protection attorneys, assigned to courtrooms are trained in how to use the program
    3. Staff at funders are educated about the program’s benefits and history
    4. Court staff are educated about the program’s benefits and how it fits into court processes

 

11. Program Administration

Someone wakes up every morning with the feeling that it is their job to do everything on this list to ensure the quality and continuity of the ADR program.

  1. Individuals with power over the program, e.g., funding or case referrals, are kept informed about the program
  2. The ADR program operates in accordance with applicable laws, court procedures and rules
  3. The program functions efficiently and effectively, e.g.:
    1. Cases are referred to ADR in a consistent manner
    2. Cases are scheduled promptly
    3. Reports are provided to court on time
    4. The benefits provided by the ADR program are reasonable in relationship to the costs of the program
    5. Changes in the program are tracked and potential responses suggested when needed

 

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.

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.

Special Masters in the News

Susan M. Yates, April 16th, 2018

It’s not every morning that a court ADR mechanism is mentioned in a top news story, but there it was this morning. The idea of a special master was raised in a discussion of options for the court when it comes to deciding what is inside and outside the bounds of attorney-client privilege in the case of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer, whose home, office and hotel room were the subject of a recent search warrant.

The intricacies of “clean teams” and “dirty teams” are far outside my knowledge base, but “special master” is something I understand. RSI defines it in our Court ADR Basics,  “… special masters, are appointed by the court, not the parties, to ensure that a court order is being followed.” For more in-depth information about how the federal court operates in terms of special masters, you might want to check out the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 53, Masters, which includes extensive notes on the 2003 amendments to Rule 53.

Whether or not the court decides to name a special master in this situation, as a self-professed court ADR nerd, the fact that it is part of the public discussion was a cool way to start the week.

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…)