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Sowing Seeds that Blossom into a Meaningful Life’s Work

Susan M. Yates, April 16th, 2024

On April 11, 2024, the American Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section honored me with its D’Alemberte Raven Award. The award is given “in recognition of development of new and innovative programs, demonstrated improvements in service, demonstrated improvements in efficiency, research and published writings, and development of continuing education programs.”

The following are the remarks I made at the award ceremony.

Susan M. Yates gives a speech after being presented with the D’Alamberte Raven Award at the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution 2024 Spring Conference.

Thank you.

I must say, when I first learned I was getting this award, I was stunned.

That was followed quickly by a surge of love for my friends who nominated me. Thank you, Peter, Jen, Jim, John, Kelly and Terry. I live in abject fear of leaving someone out when I publicly thank people, so I am going to stop naming names right there! But I will give a huge thank you to all my friends and colleagues, who I respect and love from the bottom of my heart.

An occasion like this was bound to lead me to reflect on my career. As I did, I thought about all the small, day-to-day actions that turned into something important for me. This evening I invite you to join me in reflecting on little things, and to keep doing those small acts because you just never know.

Here’s my first example:

It’s from the end of the ’70s. I was at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, studying mediation, arbitration, negotiation, etc. A representative from the Rochester (NY) Community Mediation Center (not their long-time executive director Andrew Thomas) came and spoke about community mediation. And that idea lodged in the back of my mind and deep in my heart.

So, when you are asked to speak to a class about mediation, conflict resolution, ADR, whatever … go! It is possible that when you do, you could plant a seed that will bloom for decades.

Another example:

ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Chair Ana Sambold, left, presented Susan Yates with the D’Alamberte Raven Award at the section’s spring conference. (Photo courtesy of ABA Section of Dispute Resolution)

A few years out of college, I was living in Chicago and found that there was a local community mediation center — what is now known as the Center for Conflict Resolution. I reached out; they were doing a mediator training the next two weekends and invited me to participate. That training, which came about because someone answered the phone and extended an invitation, formed the basis for the rest of my career!

So, as you are going about your day, answer the phone or an email, and make a simple offer. It might not be consequential for you, but it could be life changing for someone else.

Here’s an example from later in the ’80s,when I was executive director of that community mediation program in Chicago:

I went to a Chicago Bar Association reception and happened to meet in person a funder, Kent Lawrence, who was supporting our eviction mediation program via a third party. (Yes, eviction mediation was happening back in the ’80s.) From that chance meeting came a multiple-decade friendship and funding relationship that has enabled Resolution Systems Institute to grow into the organization it is today.

So, go to those gatherings and other events — whether in person or online. Meet new people and develop those personal and professional friendships.

Here’s another example from a few years later:

Jim Alfini — who many of you know and is the OG of the DR Section — invited me to grab coffee and talk about the ABA DR Section. He was about to chair the section and invited me to chair the Associates Committee. Well, that led to me serving on the Council for a number of years, being one of the ABA’s two representatives to the revision of the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators and many, many, MANY other involvements — budgeting, nominating, ethics, strategic planning, conference programming — in the Section. In the Section, I found my professional home.

So, take someone to coffee. Invite them to engage with the DR Section or another organization of your choice. Help your colleagues find their professional home.

And one final example from about the same time in the ’90s:

Susan Yates (right) with RSI Director of Research Jennifer Shack (center) and RSI Researcher Rachel Feinstein at the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Conference in April 2024.

I was executive director at Resolution Systems Institute — where I still am today — and looking to hire someone to be the second RSI staff person. One person I interviewed was right for the job, but could only promise to stay for 18 months. Well, that was the magnificent Jennifer Shack, RSI’s Director of Research, with whom we recently celebrated 25 years at RSI. Were it not for her, RSI would certainly not be the organization it is today, and I would likely not be standing here in front of you.

What does this tell us? Better to hire someone good for a short amount of time. You never know where it might lead. 

Each of these seemingly small actions had a huge impact on my life and ultimately led to me standing here this evening. So, I encourage us all to keep doing those small things. Speak to a class, respond to an email, meet people, invite someone to get involved, hire someone because they are good.

In closing, I will add another action: Nominate a colleague for an award. You will never know how much it means to the person who receives the award.

Thank you.

Support RSI’s Pet Projects

Susan M. Yates, July 11th, 2023

Every time my foster dog looks at me with those big eyes, wags her tail and rolls over for a belly rub, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling.

You know, like the feeling you get when you think about supporting RSI’s work.

Or is that just me?

“Bri” (short for “Brillo”), foster dog of RSI Executive Director Susan M. Yates.

As the second quarter of 2023 comes to a close, I’m so proud of RSI’s accomplishments studying and sharing the qualities of successful mediation; learning how online dispute resolution programs might help parties with low literacy make better use of ODR; and mediating eviction cases.

But as meaningful as our work is at RSI, I know that, for most people, RSI’s mission doesn’t have the instant emotional appeal of rescuing dogs and cats in need.

I get it. When you support RSI, you may have to go through a step or two to get to the warm, fuzzy feeling. But rest assured, you are supporting important work that improves real lives.

Maybe you see a fair, open justice system as a foundation for democracy – and so you value procedural justice in mediation.

Maybe you can imagine how scary eviction court would be – and so you value a mediation process that enables landlords and tenants to sit with a mediator and work out solutions together.

Maybe you are eager to learn how mediation really works – and so you value our project to explore mediator behaviors that engender party trust.

Whether it is instant or it takes a few steps, I hope you enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling of supporting RSI. Please click here to make a difference by donating to RSI.

The Twelve Hours of Conflict ⏰

Susan M. Yates, December 16th, 2020

In what has become a holiday tradition at RSI, here is my ADR-themed parody of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Happy holidays!

For the first hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me a round table with a great view

For the second hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the third hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the fourth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the fifth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me five as-pir-in
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the sixth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me six tested realities
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the seventh hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the eighth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the ninth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the tenth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me ten brainstorms
Nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the eleventh hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me eleven cookie breaks
Ten brainstorms
Nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

For the twelfth hour of conflict, my neutral gave to me twelve resolved issues
Eleven cookie breaks
Ten brainstorms
Nine fresh perspectives
Eight explored BATNAs
Seven caucuses
Six tested reality
Five aspirin
Four mirrored feelings
Three paraphrases
Two succinct summaries
And a round table with a great view

Have a great New Year!

A Look Back on 2019

Nicole Wilmet, December 18th, 2019

I cannot believe we are already in the last month of this decade! What a wonderful and full year 2019 has been here at RSI. From court program evaluations to trainings and conferences, we have had a very exciting year and continued to make great strides in serving communities with court alternative dispute resolution! As RSI’s Resource Center Director and Court ADR Connection Editor, I have had the pleasure of sharing each exciting moment with you this year. To culminate 2019, I am looking back on all of RSI’s monumental moments this year.

This year, our Resource Center continued to provide a wealth of court ADR information and we expanded our Research Library with a plethora of new resources, including:

We also celebrated growth and several important milestones this year. In February, Alyson Carrel, Clinical Associate Professor and Assistant Director of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Negotiation and Mediation, joined our Board of Directors. In March, Jennifer Shack celebrated 20 years at RSI! In May, RSI was honored with the Association of Family and Conciliation Court’s Irwin Cantor Innovative Program Award, which recognizes innovation in court-connected or court-related programs! In August, the Honorable Nancy Katz (ret.), who works with JAMS as a mediator and an arbitrator, joined our Board of Directors. Last, but not least, this month, our program coordinators Olga Ivari and Kevin Malone celebrated six years at RSI! Olga is the Program Coordinator for our Lake County Foreclosure Mediation Program and Kevin is the Program Manager for both our Kane County Foreclosure Mediation Program and Child Protection Mediation Program.

This year, our organization continued to explore ways to serve the court ADR community. Under a planning grant from the Family and Interpersonal Resilience and Safety Transformation (FIRST) Fund, we spent time this year studying the current landscape of intimate partner violence (IPV) screening tools. To support this research, in June, RSI convened a summit of experts in mediation, family law and intimate partner violence (IPV) to help us explore whether an online tool (such as a website or an app) could improve the frequency and quality of mediator screening for IPV prior to mediation. The result of our research and findings are summarized in our report, Considering an Online Pre-Mediation Tool to Screen for Intimate Partner Violence: Findings & Blueprint, which explores the gap between “best practices” and reality when it comes to mediators screening for IPV and discusses how technology may help address these deficits.

Executive Director Susan Yates and Director of Research Jen Shack also did a bit of traveling this year, attending and presenting at conferences and seminars across the U.S. In April, Susan and Jen headed to Minneapolis for the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution Annual Conference. While there, Jen presented on what her evaluations of child protection mediation programs in Chicago and Washington, D.C. can tell other courts about how to design programs that are effective, efficient and address the needs of all mediation participants. In October, Susan conducted a series of three seminars on “Building Your Court’s Civil ADR System” at New Mexico’s statewide ADR conference in Santa Fe. In November, Susan and Jen also attended the 2019 International Online Dispute Resolution Form. While there, Jen presented on what factors should be examined when evaluating litigants’ experience of online dispute resolution. If you are interested in learning about how RSI can work with your court program in 2020, send a message to our staff!

Phew! Who knew so much could happen in one year?! As December (and this decade!) nears its close, I know that each of us here at RSI are thankful for a wonderful 2019. We look forward to all that awaits in 2019!

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