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New Report Shows US Federal Courts Embrace ADR

Just Court ADR, June 26th, 2012

The US Courts’ news service posted last week about a preliminary report by Donna Stienstra at the Federal Judicial Center that shows the extent to which federal courts use ADR. Thirty years after a handful of courts first began experimenting with ADR, every federal district court now authorizes some form of ADR, and a third of courts authorize multiple ADR processes. During the year ending June 30, 2011, more than 28,000 cases were referred to ADR in 49 district courts (out of 94 total district courts; statistics weren’t available for the remaining courts).

Even with the limited data, it’s clear that mediation is the most popular process used by the courts. Sixty-three of the 94 district courts authorize its use, and nearly 18,000 (63%) of the reported referrals were made to mediation. Beyond mediation and arbitration, other authorized ADR processes include settlement conference, early neutral evaluation, summary jury trial and case evaluation. This graph shows a breakdown of all the referrals made (the Northern District of California’s Multi-Option ADR program gets its own line because they do not break down their referrals by ADR process type):

In addition to these statistics and descriptions of program characteristics, the report highlights a trend in recent years toward designing ADR programs to meet the needs of pro se litigants. A 2010 survey identified 21 district courts that have established such programs, but little is known about how the programs are administered or who they are serving.

It should be noted that the information in the report was gathered from local rules and orders, court websites, and other existing documents. It has not been reviewed by the courts, and some details are missing. The news service’s article suggests that more research will be forthcoming, answering questions about how many cases are disposed of by ADR and what effect ADR has on court workloads. In the report, Ms. Stienstra talks of a larger ADR database that the FJC is working on and plans to post on its website. These are sure to be valuable and insightful resources on how federal courts use ADR. I’m looking forward to them.

What are your thoughts on the federal courts’ embrace of ADR? The trend toward offering programs for pro se litigants? Please share!

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3 Responses to “New Report Shows US Federal Courts Embrace ADR”

  1. Kent Lawrence says:

    Isn’t it amazing how extensive it is — and that they don’t have extensive record keeping and evaluation of the programs?

  2. That’s a good point – it is unfortunate that there aren’t ADR reporting requirements for the federal courts. However, it sounds like the FJC is planning to shed some light on how ADR is actually used in the courts. The final product is sure to be enlightening, and maybe it will encourage the courts to keep a closer eye on their programs.

  3. In my experience, trial courts often do not have the resources to develop and implement effective data trapping mechanisms. Efforts to add reports about ADR to existing mandated reports is expensive. I have every confidence that Ms. Stienstra and her staff will produce a comprehensive and informative report.

    Mediation of civil cases involving pro se litigants is an excellent use of court resources. Those referrals make up more than 50% of the referrals from our judges (in a limited jurisdiction state court.) I recently mediated a federal court case involving a pro se defendant and it was a very productive session for both sides.

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