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The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

Courts as Ecosystems

Susan M. Yates, November 17th, 2010

Earlier this week at a gathering in Baltimore where administrators, program evaluators and researchers provided input on Maryland’s plan for a comprehensive study of court ADR in the state, Heather Anderson commented that the court system resembles an ecosystem. (Heather is a brilliant staffer for the Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts, and an incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable worker in the court ADR field.)

This idea of the court system as an ecosystem makes good sense. A quick definition of ecosystems from Encarta lends itself to courts: “a localized group of interdependent organisms together with the environment that they inhabit and depend on.” Heather also pointed out that individual courts can be seen as microecosystems. Ever-trusty Wikipedia says microecosystems “can exist in locations which are precisely defined by critical environmental factors within small or tiny spaces.”

Why is this metaphor so meaningful? Because it reminds those of us who work to develop and improve court ADR systems that nothing works in isolation. There is interdependence of entities within the courts – lawyers, judges, neutrals, administrators – and external environmental factors – politics, economy, society – that have a significant impact on how court ADR programs are established and refined. All of these factors need to be taken into consideration when working with courts to develop or improve their ADR programs.

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