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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.

RSI Executive Director Susan M. Yates to Receive ABA’s D’Alemberte Raven Award

Just Court ADR, March 11th, 2024

RSI is thrilled to share the news that the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution (ABA DR Section) has chosen our own Susan M. Yates to receive its prestigious D’Alemberte Raven Award this year!

Resolution Systems Institute Executive Director Susan M. Yates

The ABA DR Section will present the award at its 2024 Dispute Resolution Spring Conference, taking place April 10–13 in San Diego.

The D’Alemberte Raven Award is the premier award in the field of alternative dispute resolution. It is presented to an individual or organization that has contributed significantly to the dispute resolution field through the development of new or innovative programs, improvements in service, improvements in efficiency, research and/or published writings, and/or development of continuing education programs.

As you may know, Susan has been Executive Director of RSI since 1997, when she was instrumental in its founding. She is responsible for implementing RSI’s mission of strengthening access to justice by enhancing court ADR systems.

“Susan’s astute, dedicated stewardship has made RSI the nationally respected ADR thought leader it is today,” said longtime member of the RSI Board of Directors Terry Moritz. “Because of her leadership, RSI has continued to develop landmark research and is enabling the ADR field to maintain high standards of both efficiency and ethics. Susan’s recognition by the Dispute Resolution Section of the ABA is certainly well deserved.”

Please join us in congratulating Susan on this wonderful achievement!

The True Flowers of Life

Susan M. Yates, February 12th, 2024

At my first job, working at a Dairy Queen, I learned a lesson that has been proven time and again during my career. The people you work with make or break any job.

Photo by David Bartus, via Pexels

Applying that lesson to being executive director at RSI, it is easy to see why this has been the job of a lifetime. The people who work at and with RSI are amazing. They are smart, hardworking and dedicated to using ADR to make the civil court system work better for people with the least resources.

That’s one big reason it is bittersweet to leave RSI after 27 years.

But I’m also excited about my next phase. I am going to work in my two favorite areas – conflict resolution and non-profits – providing coaching, consulting, training, etc. And I’m hoping to maintain those wonderful relationships with the people who have made this job so much fun.

If you know someone who might be a good fit for the RSI CEO position, please encourage them to apply here.

I’m proud of what we have accomplished together at RSI. Board members and staff, mediators, judges, lawyers, researchers, funders, mental health professionals, professors and so many others have worked together to develop RSI from an idea to a nationally respected organization. We work hard every day to accomplish RSI’s mission of improving access to justice by enhancing court ADR.

In reflecting on these years, and thinking ahead to the coming transition, I remember a quote from comedian Lord Buckley that was on a poster in my childhood home. “The flowers, the gorgeous, mystic multi-colored flowers are not the flowers of life, but people, yes people are the true flowers of life, and it has been a most precious pleasure to have temporarily strolled in your garden.”

Olga Ivari and Kevin Malone Celebrate 7 Years at RSI!

Just Court ADR, December 14th, 2020

Congratulations to Olga Ivari and Kevin Malone who celebrated seven years with RSI in November! Olga and Kevin manage RSI’s mediation programs in Illinois. Olga is the Program Coordinator for RSI’s Lake County Foreclosure Mediation Program and Kevin is the Program Manager for RSI’s Kane County Foreclosure Mediation Program and Child Protection Mediation Program.

Please join us in congratulating Olga and Kevin for all of their hard work!

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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