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Just Court ADR

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Posts Tagged ‘access to justice’

New Board Member Nancy Welsh Discusses Fairness, Self-Determination in ADR

Just Court ADR, May 10th, 2024

In February, Resolution Systems Institute welcomed two new Board of Directors members to their first RSI board meeting. Recently we wrote a blog introducing you to one of them, University of Denver Law Professor Oladeji M. Tiamiyu. For this edition, we spoke with the other, Texas A&M Law Professor Nancy A. Welsh

Nancy Welsh is a member of the Board of Directors of Resolution Systems Institute

Nancy Welsh is the Frank W. Elliott, Jr. University Professor, Professor of Law and Director of the Dispute Resolution Program at Texas A&M University School of Law. She is a leading scholar and teacher of dispute resolution and procedural law. Prof. Welsh examines negotiation, mediation, arbitration, judicial settlement and dispute resolution in US and international contexts, focusing on self-determination, procedural justice, due process and institutionalization dynamics. Read more about Prof. Welsh’s background and find links to her work in her RSI bio.

When/where were you first introduced to alternative dispute resolution?

I first learned about alternative dispute resolution when I was in law school. Frank Sander — one of the founders of the ADR movement (including the contemporary mediation movement) — was one of my law professors. He taught a course that I believe was called Alternatives to Litigation. That was where I first learned about mediation. I’m sure we also covered arbitration, but negotiation principles and mediation are what I remember best. I actually enjoyed the exam in that course — an unusual experience! — because we needed to think about what the parties wanted and what their underlying interests likely were. We also needed to think practically when different alternatives existed that might be responsive to their underlying interests. I found the problem-solving aspect of the course to be really exciting.

I also had the opportunity to take a mediation training when I was in law school and then to mediate in a small claims court.

What are some of the big questions related to ADR that interest you or that you are currently focusing on?

I’ve always been interested in the intersection between negotiation, mediation, arbitration and the courts, which, of course, is where RSI largely is located. I have been a big advocate of negotiation, mediation and arbitration when the parties have actually selected these processes, and when the processes have been managed in a manner that helps to ensure that people really have the opportunity to think and share what they care about, to think about what options might exist for resolution, to be fully informed, and to freely make their choices.

One thing that really excited me about negotiation and mediation was that it seemed as though — especially once you started asking about and looking at underlying interests — a whole new path to resolution opened up. I had gotten to a point where it seemed to me that when we were talking about the law, there was no path; there were only positions and legal arguments.

So when people are choosing negotiation or mediation, when they really have the opportunity to be informed and to explore what other options exist that can be responsive to their needs, I am entirely in favor of these processes.

When the mediation process is one in which mediators or lawyers decide that the parties are never going to be in direct contact with each other — putting them in separate rooms and with the mediator just shuttling back and forth — and when the focus of mediation is primarily on getting the parties to be more realistic in the way that the mediators and lawyers want them to be, I am less enthusiastic about the processes. Some reality-testing is almost inevitable, but the mediation process also should provide the opportunity for the parties to express what is really important to them, to be heard in a dignified setting, and to explore options that meet their needs. I care a lot about procedural justice and self-determination and have written extensively on both.

Importantly, we really don’t know what happens in most mediations. The courts don’t regularly collect or publish such data. Again, this is a world in which RSI operates; RSI has been involved in much more research and evaluation than a lot of organizations and encourages court-connected programs to evaluate and collect data. That is really important. How can you know what is going on if you don’t have any information?

Meanwhile, I know that a lot of the data we do have indicates that people are satisfied with the mediation process. So that’s important. I just think the process can be one that enables people to fully exercise self-determination consistent with the American ideal of democracy, that each of us is a thinking human being who can be educated and make good decisions. And then, of course, we also need data regarding the other dispute resolution processes.

What in your current academic work, if anything, relates to the work of RSI?

My academic work relates to RSI’s work because RSI does so much with data and evaluation, and a lot of my writing has been about mediation and court-connected processes, which are obviously core areas for RSI.

I wrote a series of articles (one of which is “But Is it Good: The Need to Measure, Assess, and Report on Court-Connected ADR”) that focus largely on the need for more data, for regular reporting by the courts regarding their use of dispute resolution processes. How many cases were eligible? How many cases actually went to these dispute resolution processes? Did they settle? On what terms? What were parties’ perceptions of the procedures and outcomes? And then I also have urged that courts have some responsibility to ensure substantive fairness in the aggregate, or at least some responsibility to ensure that there is not a systemic pattern of unfairness in outcomes.

What attracted you to/made you want to join the RSI board?

I have thought for a long time that RSI is a really wonderful organization and it’s doing important work. When I identify who is out there focusing on court-connected dispute resolution, helping to ensure that research is being done and that courts are getting the kind of assistance they need to provide good court-connected dispute resolution processes, RSI has been at the center of it. Jen Shack is a wonder. Susan Yates is a wonder.

What are you most looking forward to during your time on the RSI board?  

I think there are amazing people who are involved with RSI, so I’m looking forward to getting to know the staff and the board. I’m excited to be working with people on the board — some of whom I’ve known and respected for a long time, and others whom I’ve known by reputation but have never before met. It’s an honor to join them.

New Board Member Oladeji Tiamiyu Talks Tech, ADR and More

Just Court ADR, March 19th, 2024

Resolution Systems Institute (RSI) recently welcomed two new members to its Board of Directors! Texas A&M Law Professor Nancy A. Welsh and University of Denver Law Professor Oladeji M. Tiamiyu attended their first Board meeting in February, and RSI is so grateful for their service. We’d like to help you get to know them, beginning this month with a Q&A with Prof. Tiamiyu.  

Professor Oladeji Tiamiyu is an RSI board member

Oladeji Tiamiyu is an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Denver (DU) and an Expert Adviser to early-stage ventures at Harvard’s Innovation Lab. Before joining DU, he was a clinician at Harvard Law School’s Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. His research interests focus on the intersection of technology and dispute resolution. Read more about his background and find links to his work in his RSI bio.

When/where were you first introduced to alternative dispute resolution?

Before I went to law school, I had some degree of concern that the courts were not always the best place to resolve conflict. And I fondly remember being in my criminal law class, one of my favorite classes in law school with Professor Jeannie Suk Gersen, and thinking about alternatives to the carceral state. Shortly after then, I took a law school negotiations class that served as a gateway drug to this field. Now when I think about ADR, it is no longer about being an “alternative” in the strict sense of the word, but instead being a complement to litigation, so there’s been some personal evolution in how I think about the field.

I understand that you have a particular interest in the intersection of technology and dispute resolution. What drew you to this combination of topics?

Yes, well, I don’t know the extent my interest would have developed without Colin Rule. I had my first conversation with him in 2019, and I left essentially salivating for more ideas. From an intellectual and practical level, Colin has shaped me and hundreds of thousands of others in thinking about technology’s role with ADR.

And a few months after this conversation, there was dramatic upheaval in the legal profession. The legal tectonic plates were shifting dramatically. With the pandemic, courts were closed. Mediators and arbitrators were staying at home. It probably was the first time some of my highly social mediator friends didn’t want to meet anyone in person. And it was during this time that technology’s role became more than an esoteric idea, but instead necessary to keeping the courthouse open, albeit virtually.

Maybe we’ll talk about this later, but I found a way to work at RSI during this moment of change. So if Colin was the first to spark my interest, I am indebted to RSI, Susan Yates and Erik Slepak-Cherney for giving me space to explore technology’s role on a practical level.

What are some of the big questions related to tech and dispute resolution that interest you?

There are many. One lingering question from COVID is whether the pandemic led to a permanent change in how dispute resolution is practiced. Are mediators and arbitrators comfortable in incorporating online processes? Is there a critical mass of parties and disputes seeking out online processes? There’s some amount of data to suggest the answer to both is yes, but as we have greater psychological and temporal separation from the pandemic, there will be greater clarity.

I also share a sentiment with many other ODR scholars about whether online process increases access to justice. I’ll go a step further in inquiring whether the relationship between parties fundamentally changes when engaging in online process. That is, do parties communicate differently, problem-solve differently, trust differently and build consensus differently when in an online space?

There’s also the question of the role of artificial intelligence in these systems. Nvidia, ChatGPT, and Brazil’s VICTOR have all expanded our horizons for what could be possible with AI. I’m excited to see who will be the Jen-Hsun Huang of the dispute resolution field that develops an application with AI to fundamentally change what is possible in ADR. 

The exciting part is that RSI is at a unique position to bring clarity to these questions.

What attracted you to/made you want to join the RSI Board?

RSI as an organization. We have done such important research over the years. We have collaborated with innovative courts. I’ve also been on the other side as an employee, and I personally know the integrity of the employees.

I am particularly honored to be joining RSI at this specific time of change. Susan Yates is one of the foremost thought leaders in our field. Judges know it. Academics know it. The American Bar Association knows it. As she leaves RSI, I was intrigued at being a steward for this great organization to ensure that we continue to do the important work our organization has historically championed.

What are your ADR-related courses or other activities at the University of Denver law school?

From my lens, everything I teach has an ADR bend to it. So much of the modern-day legal profession depends on ADR skillsets. As Arthur Miller described many years ago, settlement and negotiations cannot be separated from being a lawyer. So I teach Contract Law, Family Law, and a survey of ADR course. Yet with Contract Law, my students get an introduction to simulations for negotiating contracts that advance their client’s interests, or simulations that prepare them to negotiate out-of-court settlements when there is a breach of contract.

In Family Law, my students do simulations in mediating and negotiating agreements for child custody and alimony. Much of what I try to impart in all of my classes is that ADR skillsets will help my students be better client-centered lawyers.

You were a Public Interest Law Initiative Fellow with RSI in the past. Is there something you learned or experienced in that role that will help you in your work on the RSI Board?

Yes, I have tremendous admiration for the PILI fellowship and gratitude for Sidley Austin LLP for their active engagement in public interest work in both Illinois and nationally. I hope more law graduates practicing in Illinois recognize how special of a state Illinois is for building the infrastructure for PILI. Overall, my PILI fellowship informed some of my hopes and aspirations for the ADR field. It was through PILI that I met some of the nation’s leading dispute resolution practitioners based in Chicago.

But the most valuable lesson I learned from being a PILI Fellow has less to do with ADR. Because RSI is such a collegial and accessible non-profit, my time as a PILI Fellow helped me to appreciate the impact that non-profits can have. Fulfilling lawyering can be in a non-profit office as much as in a law firm or in a courtroom.

What in your current academic work, if anything, relates to the work of RSI?

Much of my research touches on topics that are highly germane to RSI. My research shares a fundamental commitment to exploring how best to leverage dispute resolution to promote access to justice.

What are you most looking forward to during your time on the RSI Board?  

Chicago is fortunate to have RSI, but RSI can and historically has had an impact in different corners of the country. So I am excited to see how our organization grows, especially in a time when there is a fundamental change in the legal profession. There are few other organizations with as sizeable of a network with the judiciary, legal profession and dispute resolution field. I’m excited to see how we can use all of these assets to introduce greater innovation for dispute resolution.

Better Forms Can Help Reduce Fear and Confusion for Self-Represented Parties

Christina Wright, February 21st, 2024

In an eviction courtroom filled mostly with self-represented defendants, the confusion and fear can be palpable: fear over what the future holds, and confusion about the process and the parties’ options.

But some of this anxiety can be mitigated. Represented or not, parties should always have access to the information they need to understand what is happening in their court case. One way to help reduce the confusion and fear is to provide easily accessible court forms with instructions in plain language.

A small group of individuals is working toward precisely this goal, and recently I began volunteering with them.

Hands hold a pen and a nondescript form.

When forms are understood and completed correctly, the court process is smoother, time is used more efficiently, and there is less risk of legal errors that might compromise a case on behalf of self-represented litigants.

In 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court created the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice (Commission) to “promote, facilitate and enhance equal access to justice with an emphasis on access to the Illinois civil courts and administrative agencies for all people, particularly the poor and vulnerable.” The same year, the court adopted an administrative order spelling out how the Commission and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) would be tasked with developing, reviewing and approving standardized court forms for the entire state. 

The Forms Committee currently has 13 drafting subcommittees, which consist of judges, attorneys, clerks and other court stakeholders — such as RSI and me — who help create new forms when needed and update existing forms in an annual process, according to Lillie Schneyer, Forms Program Coordinator with the AOIC.

“Annual review is an important process to ensure that the forms are up to date with the latest court processes, are as user-friendly and effective as possible, and remain legally sufficient,” Schneyer explains.

Over the past few months, I have been working with the Eviction Subcommittee to revamp the forms provided to people involved in eviction cases. We are reviewing current documents, such as the Eviction Order, Appearance and Agreed Order forms, that have received comments and suggestions from members of the public or that members of the subcommittee have comments or questions about. (Draft forms are posted for public comment on this page of the Illinois courts site.)

We work together as a small group to adjust language, instructions, spacing, and any other minute detail that has been brought to our attention. Our overarching goal is to make the forms as simple and accessible as possible, with the hope that any self-represented party can maneuver them, while also ensuring that the language used is legally responsible and applicable.

We work together as a small group to adjust language, instructions, spacing, and any other minute detail that has been brought to our attention as in need of revamping. We analyze the law in reference to the language to be used on the forms and the implications of the changes we are making. Our overarching goal is to make the forms as simple and accessible as possible, with the hope that any self-represented party can maneuver them, while also ensuring that the language used is legally responsible and applicable.

The process can be tedious, but having seen eviction cases play out in my role with RSI, I recognize how important it is for all parties to fully grasp what they can expect from the court, what is expected of them, and the options in front of them so they can make informed choices. The forms guide and educate litigants in their options and legal responsibilities. When forms are understood and completed correctly, the court process is smoother, time is used more efficiently, and there is less risk of legal errors that might compromise a case on behalf of self-represented litigants. All in all, having accessible Supreme Court forms benefits both the self-represented litigants and the court itself.

When our work is complete, the revised forms will be published in the Court Forms Hub of the Illinois Courts website.

Most Give High Ratings for Mediator Fairness, Trust in Mediator in Recent Surveys of RSI’s Kane County Eviction Mediation Program

Jasmine Henry, January 10th, 2024

RSI administers an eviction mediation program in Kane County, Illinois. Every quarter, we provide a report to the court on the participants’ experience in mediation based on their responses to a post-mediation survey.

Between July 1, 2023, and September 30, 2023, 174 eviction mediations were held in the 16th Judicial Circuit of Illinois (Kane County). After every mediation, participants were invited via email or text to complete an online survey about their experience; not all of the participants completed surveys. In our latest survey report, we examined participant responses from those three months. Specifically, we focused on participant opinions regarding fairness, trust and satisfaction. In all, 21 tenants, one landlord and 11 attorneys responded. The participants responded to the questions according to a seven-point scale, which we consolidated into three categories: low (1–2), medium (3–5), and high (6–7). Participants were invited to add comments to some of their responses. Their responses are summarized below.

Trust in Mediator, Perceived Fairness

We asked respondents about their perception of the mediator. Specifically, we asked: “How fairly did the mediator treat you?” And, “How much did you trust the mediator?” Almost two-thirds of participants gave high ratings for mediator fairness and trust. However, respondents tended to rate mediator fairness higher than mediator trust. For example, fewer than 3% of respondents thought the mediator did not treat them fairly, while 15% of respondents had low trust in the mediator. There was a parallel, albeit smaller, difference observed in the positive ratings, with 63% of respondents rating the mediator as very fair, compared with 58% who had high trust in the mediator.

Turning more broadly to respondents’ perception of the mediation process as a whole, we asked: “Overall, how fair was the mediation process?” Most of the participants who responded felt that the mediation was fair overall, with 62% saying it was highly fair. Notably, this is very similar to the percentage of respondents who said the mediator was highly fair. Not all of the respondents were impressed with the process, and 10% of respondents rated the mediation a little fair or not at all fair.

Tenants who rated overall fairness as high focused on the clarity mediators provided them, describing mediators as “helping” and “kind.” An attorney who rated overall fairness high also emphasized the mediator’s “sympathetic demeanor.”

Comments of Tenants, Attorneys

We asked respondents to explain their overall fairness ratings. The landlord did not comment, but many tenants and some attorneys did. Tenants who rated overall fairness as high focused on the clarity mediators provided them, describing mediators as “helping” and “kind.” An attorney who rated overall fairness high also emphasized the mediator’s “sympathetic demeanor.” A quarter of the tenant comments mentioned court-based rental assistance, which tenants were often referred to by the program. Several tenants also saw the mediators as helping, saying, “They stood up for me … They didn’t let [the landlord] push me,” and “[We asked] for what we wanted and [the mediator] basically fought for us to get it.”

In contrast, tenants who gave medium and low ratings on overall fairness tended to focus their frustrated comments on the mediator’s relationship with the landlord. One tenant said the mediator “may have been more partial to the landlord” because they “were familiar with one another”; another tenant said plainly that “they are there to mostly help the landlord.” One tenant felt frustrated that the mediator did not seem to believe what the tenant said at mediation, saying, “The mediator seemed to take what I had to say about the situation with a grain of salt.” Attorneys who rated the overall fairness at a medium or low level focused on efficiency, with one saying, “I was disappointed that the mediator allowed the opposing side to spend valuable time on issues irrelevant to the case.”

Likelihood to Recommend Eviction Mediation

To further explore participant satisfaction, we asked participants: “If a friend or colleague had a dispute like yours, how likely are you to recommend eviction mediation?” Most of the participants who responded were likely to recommend mediation to a friend or colleague, with 67% saying they were highly likely to recommend it. One tenant commented, “I would recommend all mediation options; sometimes tenants are unaware of the resources available due to lack of communication or shame.” However, another tenant who was less satisfied with the process commented, “It doesn’t help the tenant. At all. It helps landlords.”

As was the case with the first question on participant satisfaction, the landlord did not comment on their responses to this question, but we did receive two attorney comments. One attorney who was highly satisfied with the mediation process commented, “We made the exact same settlement offer that was accepted at mediation to the landlord’s attorney months ago, and they never responded in any way despite multiple phone calls. I assume this was on their client’s instructions. Because of the mediation process, I believe they would have continued stonewalling us.” The attorney who was unlikely to recommend mediation to a colleague said: “The lengthy mediation process is not helpful in my view. Before this system was implemented, and still now (in other counties), I am often able to reach agreements with the tenants within 5–10 minutes in the hallway outside the Courtroom. There is no need for the mediator, in my opinion.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, the survey responses indicate that the program continues to provide a positive experience to most participants. Those who completed the survey generally had positive perceptions of the mediators and the program, with the majority giving high ratings on fairness, trust and satisfaction. However, some participants’ comments point to a perception among tenants that mediators are biased toward the other side and a perception among attorneys that the mediation process is not efficient.

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