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Just Court ADR

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Posts Tagged ‘#GetToKnowYouSeries’

Get to Know You Interview Series: Eric Slepak

Just Court ADR, 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.

Get to Know You Interview Series: Susan Yates

Just Court ADR, November 27th, 2017

Welcome to the second installment in our 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.

This month, I sat down with RSI’s Executive Director Susan M. Yates.

NW: What is your role at RSI?

SMY: Executive Director

NW: How did you first get involved in ADR?

SMY: Back in college, I studied labor relations at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. I was especially interested in the courses about mediation, arbitration and negotiation. The school was very divided between people coming from the labor perspective and those coming from the management perspective. That seemed pointless and wasteful to me.

When the school brought in someone from one of the very first community mediation organizations in the country to talk to the students about community mediation, it clicked for me. Why waste all that time and energy in divisiveness and angst when you can sit down and work out a plan that satisfies everyone?

NW: What is your favorite part about being a mediator?

SMY: The people. I love getting to know people and learning from them. People in conflict are often very open with mediators, and I am no exception. With that openness, I can generate rapport and help people construct a way out of a conflict that has been weighing them down. It is a pretty special service to be able to provide.

NW: How did RSI come to be?

SMY: That is a long story. As with many successful ventures, RSI started with a few smart, committed people who shared a vision. A judge, an academic and a funder saw the need for collecting and disseminating reliable data and guidance that courts could use to improve their management and delivery of ADR services. They formed the base for RSI and over the years we developed a remarkable Board of Directors, a fabulous staff and a wide array of services.

NW: With all the various types of ADR, how did RSI come to focus on court ADR specifically?

SMY: If we want to make systemic change in how people resolve their disputes, what better way than by working with courts? I have adapted the quote from the bank robber Willie Sutton who, when asked why he robbed banks, said, “Because that’s where the money is.” I say, “Why work with court ADR? That’s where the cases are.”

NW: What is a typical day like as Executive Director?

SMY: Ha! Typical day? There is no such thing!

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

SMY: Dispute system design. I love figuring out how ADR can meet the needs of people in dispute, as well as all the stakeholders. These days I am focused on online dispute resolution for families. A process like this will help smooth the way for parents as they go through separation or divorce, and we know less parental conflict is good for the children. It will help judges who are overwhelmed with parents who are trying to represent themselves. Plus, from the perspective of the ADR field, it will help keep the “A” in alternative dispute resolution.

NW: What role does RSI play in the ADR community and how do you see this role expanding in the future?

SMY: We are seen as the “go-to” source for everything related to court ADR. We accomplish a lot of this through our totally renovated website (AboutRSI.org) that we launched recently. The other critical piece is the expertise of our amazing staff. Over the years we have worked with all kinds of court, bar and other committees; trained mediators, judges and court staff; presented at conferences and via webinars; and written, written, written. With all these great resources – online and in person – I expect RSI will be able to meet the needs of people working in court ADR for years to come.

NW: During your time working in court ADR, what, if any, would you say has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced and how were you able to overcome this challenge?

SMY: Funding. I can’t say we have overcome this challenge, but I don’t know that any non-profit ever overcomes the challenge of bringing in the funds needed to provide services. I must say that RSI would not exist were it not for the generous support of the M.R. Bauer Foundation. They have supported us since the very beginning. Over the years, they have been joined by individuals, law firms, ADR providers, corporations and other foundations. We are also supported by government entities. For example, the Office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has supported our work in foreclosure mediation for more than four years. Also, courts around the country have contracted with RSI to provide services ranging from training to program evaluations.

There is still a lot of work to do. If anyone wants to donate, they can visit our page on Razoo, which processes our contributions!

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

SMY: I am dedicated to mediation as a method of improving access to justice. There are a lot of challenges, but I think there is enormous potential.

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

SMY: Foreclosure mediation is definitely a big favorite. This is the area where I say RSI got to “practice what we preach.” Thanks to the support of the Illinois Attorney General, we got to do it all: dispute system design with stakeholders, training mediators, administering programs, collecting monitoring data and conducting a statewide evaluation. We helped all the programs in the state improve by giving them actionable data. With foreclosure mediation, I think we showed we know what we are doing.

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

SMY: Anything related to my son! He is a Marine so I don’t get to see him often, but he is always my favorite person. (Pictured below.)

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

SMY:

Jesus.

My great-great-great grandmother. She was pregnant when she got on a ship to emigrate to the US and she gave birth on that ship. I would want to ask her what she was thinking.

Someone who wants to fully fund RSI in perpetuity!

 

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.