Resources / Study / Innovation for Court ADR

Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Archive for the ‘RSI’s Resource Center’ Category

Resources for Courts Considering and Developing ODR Programs

Jennifer Shack, March 19th, 2020

With the COVID-19 epidemic leading courts to cease in-person activities, courts may be feeling a greater urgency to start down the path of online dispute resolution programs. I thought I’d share some resources that may help courts to make decisions regarding whether and how to implement such programs.

Considerations and Concerns in ODR Program Design

Online Dispute Resolution Special Topic

Resolution Systems Institute

RSI has written a guide for courts who are considering, have started developing or already have ODR programs. It discusses important considerations for ODR implementation, from goal setting to costs to ethical concerns. 

Read RSI’s advice about ODR on our website.

Considerations in Implementing Court ODR Systems

Doug Van Epps and Michelle Hilliker. Michigan Supreme Court State Court Administrators Office of Dispute Resolution. Jan. 6, 2020

Van Epps and Hilliker share their insights and the knowledge gained from their development and implementation of ODR in the Michigan courts in this guide. Based on both the issues they encountered and their discussions with others involved in implementing ODR systems, their considerations are meant to assist courts to determine how to design, implement and evaluate an online dispute resolution (ODR) system. 

The considerations span a variety of topics including leadership and court staff; prospective users and stakeholders; goals; implementing authority and legal implications administration; platform attributes and functions; mediators; non-court dispute resolution service staff; costs, fees and funding sources; confidentiality; protections; vendor selection; data collection and evaluation; and marketing plans. The guide also includes a list of recent ODR publications and resources.

Access the Considerations document on Michigan’s Supreme Court State Court Administrator’s Office website.

Case Studies in ODR for Courts

Joint Technology Committee, 2020

This paper presents seven case studies of ODR implementation in the courts. The case studies are short, but include key takeaways about what worked and what didn’t. The ODR programs include two outside the US, and deal with small claims, family, tax and traffic cases.

Read the case studies.

Online Dispute Resolution: A Digital Door to Justice or Pandora’s Box? Parts I and II

Doug McQuiston and Sharon Sturges, Colorado Lawyer, February and March, 2020.

McQuiston and Sturges are in the midst of publishing a three-part series on ODR in the courts that examines the use of videoconferenced mediation. They note that videoconferencing may be appropriate for family cases and those involving intimate partner violence. The main obstacle to providing this service is limited or poor internet connectivity. 

Part II focuses on the use of artificial intelligence in ODR. McQuiston and Sturges cite the many benefits of AI-assisted ODR for small claims and family cases, such as the ability to negotiate asynchronously, which eliminates the need to coordinate schedules. Self-represented litigants who may be reluctant to attend mediation without an attorney may be more inclined to use this technology. Further, they can save money by using this technology. McQuiston and Sturges note some drawbacks, however. These include AI’s inability to understand and address human emotions and its tendency to deviate to the mean, without reference to shades of gray in disputes or situational fairness. To help readers understand how AI in ODR would work, they end by describing systems already in place around the world. 

Read Part I and Part II of the series. Part III is forthcoming in April.

Designing and Implementing a State Court ODR System: From Disappointment to Celebration

David Allen Larson, Journal of Dispute Resolution, Vol. 2019, No. 2, Jun. 5, 2019

This article chronicles the author’s work to develop an online dispute resolution (ODR) system to handle credit card debt collection in New York State courts. The author worked with the New York State Unified Court system for a little over two years to design and implement their ODR platform. The article discusses the issues related to dispute system design in this setting, explains how the project was derailed and ends with lessons learned. The four lessons discussed are (1) anticipate conflicts and resistance (2) obtain support from judges and court staff at the beginning (3) figure out the technology while also ensuring a fair vendor bidding process and (4) pick your case type carefully.

The article also touches on some issues specific to ODR such as how ODR relates to a court system that is not fully digitized and how long to retain records of online communications. It also offers general advice, such as recommending that ODR processes should “balance efficiencies, neutrality and self-determination.”

Read the full article on SSRN.

Pouring a Little Psychological Cold Water on ODR

Jean Sternlight, Journal of Dispute Resolution, 2020

This article explores online dispute resolution (ODR) from a psychological lens to examine the strengths and weakness of ODR. The article examines the psychology of dispute resolution by focusing on four different areas: the psychology of perception and memory, the psychology of human wants, the psychology of communication, and judgment and decision making. Sternlight’s article suggests that ODR may not be the best tool to assist individuals in creatively working things out with a fellow disputant and may be better employed for small and predictable disputes, like small online purchases. The article also posits that computers may not be the best forum for communication and argues that human mediators, lawyers or friends are more effective than computers in helping humans deal with their emotions and other judgement and decision-making issues. Sternlight ends by calling for empirical research for both online and in-person dispute resolution.

Read the full article on SSRN.

Studies of Online Dispute Resolution Programs

So far, there have been few published studies of online dispute resolution programs in the courts. Below are two conducted a while back. 

Getting Divorced Online: Procedural and Outcome Justice in Online Divorce Mediation

Martin Gramatikov and Laura Klaming, Journal of Law & Family Studies, Jan. 1, 2012

This study of a Dutch experiment with ODR for divorcing couples found that the participants perceived the process to be fair, with procedural fairness, interpersonal justice and informational justice all given high marks. On a scale of 1 to 5, they had averages of 4.27, 4.5 and 4.19, respectively. The participants’ perception of the outcome was also positive, though to a lesser extent than for the procedure. They gave an average of 3.91 for distributive justice, 3.37 for restorative justice, 3.18 for functionality and 3.0 for transparency. The ratings were similar for both men and women. Other findings included men reporting higher out of pocket costs and time spent in mediation than women, and women reporting higher levels of frustration and anger than men.

The participants were referred to ODR, which was provided free of charge, if both parties had an email account and the issues were not complex. Once referred, the parties completed an intake questionnaire to provide the mediator with some details about the dispute. The parties could communicate with the mediator and each other via text message or email. The mediator moderated all communications. Each party was required to respond to the other within 48 hours as a condition of the agreement to mediate. Once all issues in dispute were finalized, the parties completed an evaluation of the procedure before the agreement could be finalized.

Read the complete abstract and access the full study in RSI’s Research Library. 

Evaluation of the Small Claims Online Dispute Resolution Pilot

Marc Mason, Avrom Sherr. Sep. 1, 2008

Two courts in England tested online mediation to resolve 25 small claims cases. Those parties who were willing to try mediation were given the option of mediating face-to-face, by telephone, or online. Two mediators were responsible for all online mediations, which were conducted using TheMediationRoom.com.

The online mediations resulted in settlement in 48% of the cases, which was similar to the settlement rate for the face-to-face and telephone mediations, but lower than other small claims mediation programs have reported. Mediators and parties were surveyed post-mediation about their experiences with the process. Mediators reported using more than one method of communication outside TheMediationRoom.com platform – generally email or telephone – to complete the mediation in most cases, and as many settlements were completed outside the platform as within it. The mediators attributed this to difficulties in getting responses from the defendants, as well as to technical difficulties. Because of this and because they lacked the ability to judge non-verbal cues, the mediators said they would have preferred using telephone or email in all but four cases.

The 18 parties who responded to the questionnaire were less frustrated with their experience than the mediators. They expressed fewer issues with the technology, with 47% saying the technology was easy to use. However, they were not overwhelmingly satisfied with the process or the fairness of the outcome. Only 53% were satisfied with their experience and only 23% felt the outcome was fair. Responses to both satisfaction and fairness of outcome were more positive for those who settled their case. The small number of responses limits the reliability of these findings.

Read the full study on SSRN.

Studies Regarding Particular Issues Related to ODR

Shuttle and Online Mediation: A Review of Available Research and Implications for Separating Couples Reporting Intimate Partner Violence or Abuse

Fernanda S. Rossi, Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, Amy G. Applegate, Connie J. Beck, Jeannie M. Adams, Darrell F. Hale. Family Court Review (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts), Aug. 17, 2017

This article examines the published research on shuttle mediation, online audio-visual mediation, and online text-based mediation to discuss the applicability of these mediation methods to family law cases with a history of intimate partner violence and/or abuse (IPV/A). It first presents potential advantages and disadvantages of each mediation method in cases with IPV/A history. The authors suggest that mediators on IPV/A cases must carefully consider a variety of potential issues including the parties’ suspicion of mediator bias, confidentiality concerns and victim-perpetrator power dynamics. The authors also note the need for more empirical research comparing different effects of various mediation methods.

This article is behind a paywall on the Wiley Online Library.

Building Trust Online: The Realities of Telepresence for Mediators Engaged in Online Dispute Resolution, 

Susan Nauss Exon and Soomi Lee. Stetson Law Review, Vol 49, No. 1, 2019

Exon and Lee found that trust in an experienced mediator is the same whether a mediation participant interacts with that mediator via video or face-to-face. In their experiment, a single experienced mediator conducted 31 simulated mediations with one party in the room with him and the other interacting via telepresence. Telepresence is sophisticated video conferencing, in which sensitive microphones and special cameras that pan and zoom are used to help participants follow the flow of the conversation. 

During the experiment, the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire before the mediation began that measured their level of interpersonal trust. They then completed a second questionnaire after mediation that asked them about their interactions with the mediator and their perceptions of him in order to determine how much they trusted him and found him to be trustworthy. In all, 59 participants provided usable data. 

Nauss Exon and Lee found that although the participants’ questionnaire responses before mediation indicated they were on average more likely to distrust others than trust them, all participants agreed mildly or strongly that they could trust the mediator and that the mediator was trustworthy. Further, they found no difference in the level of response (mild or strong) between those who were in the same room as the mediator and those who participated via telepresence, with one exception. They found that those who had a lower predisposition to trust were more likely to see the mediator as trustworthy.

Read the full study on SSRN.

Studies Regarding Topics Related to ODR

ADR Empirical Research Studies

James Coben and Donna Steinstra. Mitchell Hamline Dispute Resolution Institute, Jun. 1, 2018

This compilation of abstracted studies includes a number on topics that are related to the use of ODR. These include: 

  • A study of compliance with emailed requests
  • Team decision-making in a virtual environment
  • A qualitative analysis of email negotiation
  • Honesty in face-to-face communication as compared to through an intermediary

Find the abstracted studies on the Mitchell Hamline website.

Two New Chapters of RSI’s Guide to Program Success now Available!

Nicole Wilmet, November 27th, 2019

We are thrilled to announce that two new chapters of our Guide to Program Success are now available! RSI’s Guide to Program Success combines the expertise of Executive Director Susan Yates and Director of Research Jennifer Shack and discusses how to effectively design, manage and evaluate successful court ADR programs.

Newly released Chapter 12: Create Your Program Forms addresses how to create forms for court programs and includes a set of exemplary sample forms from courts around the United States. Chapter 13: Launch Your Program, focuses on the successful launch of a court program takes a look at things that court sometimes don’t think about when starting a program.

We hope you find these resources valuable in your work!

RSI Publishes Report on Improving Pre-Mediation Screening for Intimate Partner Violence through Proposed Online Tool

Eric Slepak-Cherney, October 29th, 2019

Over the past year, RSI has been working on a project researching and exploring whether and how an online tool could improve the frequency and competency with which mediators screen for intimate partner violence (IPV) prior to mediation. Under a planning grant from the Family and Interpersonal Resilience and Safety Transformation (FIRST) Fund, RSI has been able to study the current landscape of screening tools, survey experts in IPV dynamics (as well as lawyers, judges and mediators) about the divergence between best and actual practices, and convene those experts to explore how to close that gap. As a result of that work, we have  published this extensive report, which outlines the features of RSI’s proposed solution and the steps needed to actualize it.

Among the many findings in the report, we note that it is critical to develop a tool geared towards new mediators and those who mediate on an infrequent schedule. These are the mediators who our research found would be most receptive to an online screening tool. Also, because adequate screening is essential to ensuring parties will be safe and able to exercise self-determination throughout the mediation process, the use of such a tool by new and intermittent mediators would greatly improve the mediation services their parties receive. Accordingly, we advocate for developing a tool that has low barriers to use (e.g. does not required significant specialized training) and is provided free of cost to mediators to encourage its wide adoption.

We recognize that there a number of existing protocols, such as SAFeR and MASIC (both of whose creators provided valuable input to our research), which serve as high-quality screening tools. However, no existing solution we found provided mediators a free, easy-to-use, guided process to screen parties for IPV. The reality, confirmed by our survey of the field, is that screening does not happen at the level and with the expertise that  the seriousness of IPV demands. One of the next steps will be to determine if there are funders who are enthusiastic about developing this tool.

Thank you to the FIRST Fund and all the expert voices who assisted RSI in the development of this report.

Two New Chapters of RSI’s Guide to Program Success and a Special Topic for Program Administrators Now Available!

Nicole Wilmet, September 30th, 2019

We are thrilled to announce that two new chapters of our Guide to Program Success are now available! RSI’s Guide to Program Success combines the expertise of Executive Director Susan Yates and Director of Research Jennifer Shack and discusses how to effectively design, manage and evaluate successful court ADR programs. Newly released Chapter 10: Write Your Court Rules focus on writing and revising court rules and includes a Guide to Exemplary Rules, which highlights exemplary rules courts can turn to for guidance when developing or updating their court rules. Chapter 11: Design a System to Track Your Program discusses how courts can design a system to collect useful data so they know how their program is doing.

Additionally, we are pleased to introduce a new Special Topic for Program Administrators which corresponds with our Guide to Program Success to answer questions that program administrators may have about developing a new court ADR program and running or improving an existing one. Examples of some of the questions answered and included in the new Special Topic include: why should courts start an ADR program, who should be involved in the program development or improvement process, what does the planning team need to know before writing court rules and designing program processes, and when and how should courts be tracking program progress or evaluating the program?

We hope you find these resources valuable in your work!

Recent Additions to RSI Database of Mediation Studies

Jennifer Shack, September 27th, 2019

I’ve slowly been adding to RSI’s database of mediation efficacy studies – those studies of court ADR that look at mediation outcomes, participant experience and the effect of mediation on cost and time. The database contains almost 100 studies and can be filtered by case type, variables examined, state and whether it compares mediated cases to those that weren’t mediated. The entire database can be downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet as well.

The following is a list of the latest studies I have added to the database.

Impact of Mediation on Criminal Misdemeanor Cases

In this study of criminal misdemeanor cases in Maryland, mediated cases in one county were compared to non-mediated cases in a similar county. The study of 206 cases examined the impact of mediation on later judicial actions in the case, as well as whether the parties returned to court within a 12-month period. The study also included interviews with the parties at the outset of mediation and three months after the case concluded in order to find out their perceptions on whether the issues involved in the case were resolved and to determine whether they experienced attitude changes regarding the conflict or the other party as a result of their experience with mediation or court.

The study found that mediation reduced later court activity in the case, as well as the probability that the parties would return to court. Parties who mediated were also more likely to believe that the issues were resolved and to be satisfied with the process. There was no difference in attitude changes.

Impact of Alternative Dispute Resolution on Responsibility, Empowerment, Resolution, and Satisfaction with the Judiciary: Comparison of Short- and Long-Term Outcomes in District Court Civil Cases

For this study of the effect of mediation on party attitudes and post-disposition activity, small claims cases were randomly offered the option to mediate on the day of trial. Parties in both the mediation group and the traditional group were interviewed before and after their process, and then again 3-6 months later.  The study found that those who went through mediation were more likely to feel they were able to express themselves and to feel the issues were resolved. In the long term, they were more likely to believe the outcome was working, to be satisfied with the outcome and to be satisfied with the judicial system. Those who reached agreement in mediation were less likely to return to court for an enforcement action in the 12 months after their case was closed than those who didn’t reach agreement in mediation (including those who reached agreement on their own and those who went to trial).

The Mediation Center of the Pacific Economic Impact and Social Return on Investment Analysis for the Fiscal Year 2016

This study uses social impact return on investment (SROI) to determine the overall economic impact of a statewide network of community mediation centers in Hawaii during the 2016 fiscal year. The SROI analyzes the economic impact of the centers’ services on two factors: the short-term (within a one year period) direct economic impact based on the fair market value of services delivered along with any immediate cash awards or amounts avoided as a result of the mediation centers’ services, and the longer-term economic impacts in the areas of community health costs, social support costs, law enforcement costs, taxation revenues, property valuation effects, and other community cost changes. The analysis found that for every $1 spent to provide services, the community receives $8.76 in immediate and long-term financial benefits.

Saving Homes, Building Understanding: An Evaluation of the Eight Foreclosure Mediation Programs Funded by the Illinois Attorney General (Note: this evaluation was published by RSI.)

This final evaluation of eight foreclosure mediation programs with very different service delivery models follows up the initial evaluation published in 2015. The programs were assessed on participation rate, the percentage of eligible and participating homeowners who were able to retain their homes, completion rates, the amount of time cases spent in the program, and the experience of participating homeowners at each stage of the process. Each program was evaluated individually and all eight were compared on these measures.

The findings from this evaluation supported those from the first evaluation. It, too, found that participation is greater in programs in which the homeowners are told to appear for their initial session and given a date and time to do so, as well as in programs in which the homeowners learn one-on-one how the program can help them. Homeowners with attorneys are more likely to complete the program, but they do not have a greater probability of saving their home. Homeowners also benefit from a second opportunity to participate. Among other findings are that the programs are providing a just process and are viewed positively by most participants.

Case Evaluation and Mediation in Michigan Circuit Courts: Follow-up Study

In 2011, an evaluation of Michigan’s court-connected case evaluation and mediation programs found that both case evaluation and mediation increased the probability of settlement, but that case evaluation significantly increased time to disposition. This follow-up study came to the same conclusion.  The study looked at a random sample of 358 cases (221 torts cases, 137 other civil cases) from three jurisdictions to determine what ADR process was used, the means by which the cases were resolved, and the time to disposition for each case. It found that for tort cases, there was no statistically significant difference in the type of disposition among the different options: no ADR, case evaluation only, mediation only, or both case evaluation and mediation. For other civil cases, both case evaluation and mediation (and both together) had higher rates of settlement than those cases that did not use ADR. For both torts cases and other civil cases, time to disposition was considerably longer when case evaluation was used than when either mediation or no ADR was used.

Child Protection Mediation in Michigan 2019

This study examines child protection mediation (CPM) at five centers in Michigan (Gaylord, Jackson, Marquette, Petoskey, and Traverse City). The study focuses on descriptive statistics, participant and stakeholder perspectives, and time to permanency.  For participants, data was collected through statewide surveys that asked participants going through the traditional process and those going through CPM how satisfied they were with their experience. Additionally, researchers also interviewed ten stakeholders for the report. Overall, the findings indicate that CPM participants had a positive experience in the process and also gave slightly higher satisfaction ratings in case resolution, staff courtesy and courtesy of the judge than participants going through the traditional process. Moreover, the information gathered by stakeholders indicated that stakeholders were largely supportive of the process. Finally, the study results also indicate that CPM reduces time to permanency.

Process Evaluation of Nevada’s Statewide Dependency Mediation Program

In this study of child protection mediation in seven Nevada counties, the evaluators examined post-mediation surveys to determine not only the participants’ level of satisfaction, sense of fairness and experience of procedural justice, but also whether any variables were associated with more positive responses. They found that most participants had a positive experience. This was correlated with whether the parties reached agreement in the mediation. The evaluators also found that when participants believed others in the mediation had “really listened” to what they had to say, they were more likely to express satisfaction with the mediation regardless of whether an agreement was reached.

Improving an Effective Program: A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Child Protection Mediation Program (Note: this evaluation was published by RSI.)

In Washington, D.C., child protection mediation is mandatory at the outset of a case. Natural parents, their attorneys, a government attorney, the children’s attorney and the social worker meet with the goals of making progress on the legal issues in the case, services for the parents and children, and visitation. This evaluation looks at outcomes of mediation, the larger impact of participating in mediation on the case, and the program process.

The results of the evaluation show that parents who participated in mediation in 2013-2014 were twice as likely to stipulate to the facts of the case before trial as those who did not mediate. Further, it is likely that they were more compliant with services, although limitations to the data make it impossible to state this with certainty. Limitations to the data also made it difficult to draw conclusions about mediation’s effect on time to permanency. The evidence, however, points to mediation not having an effect on the time it takes for a child to have a permanent home.

More than three-quarters of the parents were satisfied with the mediation and 83% believed it was helpful to them. Both parents and professionals believed they had an opportunity to talk about what was most important to them and that they were understood. Most parents believed the mediator and, more importantly, the professionals, treated them fairly and with respect. All professionals believed that the mediator treated them fairly and with respect.