Resources / Study / Innovation for Court ADR

Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Posts Tagged ‘Illinois’

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.

Foreclosure Mediation Still Going Strong in Illinois

Jennifer Shack, March 4th, 2016

In the last two years, the six programs currently funded by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General have helped 476 homeowners save their homes. Almost 100 more relinquished their homes voluntarily, allowing them to make a fresh start. Combined, this means that the programs helped about 1/3 of participating homeowners – and their communities – to avoid the negative consequences of foreclosure. (more…)

Charting Familiar Territory: Illinois Foreclosure Mediation Programs

Mary Rose Richter, August 7th, 2015

Since I began my internship at RSI, I have embraced the organization’s mission of enhancing court ADR systems through program development, research and access to resources. I have worked on a variety of projects regarding different aspects of the RSI mission and have learned that in order to create new resources, a great deal of time and effort must be put into careful analysis and in-depth research of reliable information.

Over the last month, I focused my time and effort into creating a new resource: a full chart of the Illinois foreclosure mediation programs. Foreclosure mediation, which helps homeowners effectively communicate with lenders about their homes, is one specific area of court ADR in which RSI is deeply involved. RSI has been providing research and resources on foreclosure mediation programs since the housing crisis started and has successfully developed and now administers three foreclosure mediation programs in northern Illinois.

Currently, Illinois has a total of eleven foreclosure mediation programs throughout the state (below, you will find individual charts, or “snapshots”, for each of these programs). (more…)

Monitoring Mediation Program Progress and Implementing Changes in Cook County

Jennifer Shack, July 21st, 2015

The foreclosure mediation program in Cook County, Illinois, which serves Chicago and many of its suburbs, has done what all ADR programs should do. It has tracked specific measures of success, identified areas for improvement, made changes to make the program work better, then looked at the data again to see the effect of those changes. The program’s latest report shows that the changes have indeed improved what was perhaps its biggest problem.

In its first two years – 2011 and 2012 – the program suffered from long delays in case progression, with cases taking well more than a year to complete the program. The program consists of three stages: housing counseling to explain the foreclosure process and to help homeowners gather the necessary documents for lender review, legal aid counseling to determine whether the homeowners have any defenses to foreclosure, and mediation to facilitate negotiation between the homeowner and lender. Initially, homeowners and lenders almost always negotiated in mediation. Homeowners without an attorney were (and continue to be) provided free representation by volunteer attorneys at the mediation. The major cause of the delays was the lack of legal aid attorneys to represent the homeowners.

To remedy this, the court hired case managers in 2013 – attorneys who attend court hearings and triage the cases in which the homeowner is self-represented. If the homeowner has been trying to come to an agreement with their lender, the case managers then work with the homeowner and lender to ensure that documents are exchanged, communication is maintained, and required steps are completed prior to the next status date. Case managers can facilitate agreement between the homeowner and lender as well. The program also encouraged housing counselors who were helping the homeowners to facilitate agreements with the homeowners’ lender. These changes appear to have had a dramatic effect. The time to complete the program has been reduced to 12 weeks. A drop in filings has likely been an important factor in this, but there has also been a large increase in pre-mediation agreements over the past two years. These agreements have reduced the need for legal aid attorneys to represent the homeowners, opening up a bottleneck in case progression.

At the same time, the percentage of completed cases that end in an agreement increased tremendously, while the percentage of agreements that were for home retention has declined. The reason for these trends is not addressed by the report. Did the increase in facilitating agreement prior to mediation have an effect on outcomes? Has it had an effect on whether the homeowners complete the program? These would be interesting areas for the court and program to explore.

In the meantime, though, the county, the court and the program should pat themselves on the back for identifying areas for improvement and then implementing changes. It is often too easy to either terminate a program that has less than stellar outcomes or to let such a program wither and die.

What “Mandatory” Really Means in Foreclosure Mediation

Susan M. Yates, July 13th, 2015

There is a lot to be learned by reading RSI’s evaluation of the foreclosure mediation programs that are supported by a grant from the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. The evaluation, which was conducted and written by RSI’s amazing Director of Research, Jen Shack, is comprehensive, well-reasoned and insightful.

One thing that struck me is how the various programs use the term “mandatory” to describe mediation services. When I think of mandatory participation in mediation, I think of the typical family mediation program for contested child-related issues in which parents must attempt mediation (barring certain disqualifying factors) or the court will not move forward with their case. In foreclosure mediation, some programs call themselves mandatory, but court rules impose no negative consequences if the homeowners do not try mediation. (more…)