ADR Gives More Power to the People
Crowded dockets, rising legal costs for both litigants and courts, decreased
access to courts for citizens with limited means; these are the current dilemmas.
Diplomats and arbitrators facilitating compromise between nations or companies;
this is an ancient strategy. Can it work for the legal system? Alternative
Dispute Resolution (ADR) is that strategy played out in the arena of modern
The Statement of Purpose for the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County describes
ADR as "the process of resolving matters in pending litigation through
a settlement conference, mediation, arbitration, neutral case evaluation, neutral
fact finding, other non-judicial resolution process, or combination of those
Another definition comes from the website of Maryland's Mediation And Conflict
Resolution Office (MACRO):
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is an umbrella term for processes
that resolve conflicts peacefully and promote creative win-win solutions.
ADR processes include: mediation, community conferencing, arbitration, settlement
conferences, early neutral case evaluation, and consensus building.
If this is true, what benefits do these ADR options bring to the legal process?
Courts experience a reduction in the number of motions, trials and recurring
litigation. Therefore, they benefit from lightened dockets and reduced costs.
Litigants immediately increase their available options while becoming active
participants in their own legal solution.
The resolutions achieved by using an ADR approach must be more than just
an opportunity for the courts to clear up some of the legal "log jam".
The results obtained through mediation must provide quality legal solutions,
otherwise the cases will wind up back in the judicial system. The training
is rigorous. The first requirement is a 40-hour basic mediation course.
Courses are offered routinely by MICPEL and private training organizations
around the state. It is also possible to take the training through a local
community mediation program. The mediator then serves as a volunteer through
The second requirement is on-the-job training. Community programs do not
differ greatly in the basic course work, but some of the service requirements
may vary from program to program. Also, mediators serving in the Circuit Court
are bound by the standards of conduct outlined in Title 17 of the Maryland
Rules of Professional Conduct.
It takes more than classroom knowledge to become skilled; it also takes practice
and mentoring. These skills are best acquired through observation and co-mediation
with an experienced mediator. Time, exposure and patience help practitioners
become seasoned mediators.
Having the option of being an active participant in one's legal outcome is
empowering, and for those with limited financial resources it may mean the
difference between having a seat at the table and being left out in the street.
Community mediation programs and volunteer mediators offer their services pro
bono, and private practitioners may be able to offer reduced or pro bono services
in certain circumstances.
Attorneys who want to give back to their community through pro bono service
benefit from the ADR process. Mediations generally do not extend beyond the
individual sessions or involve time in court. This allows volunteers to continue
to offer a critically-needed service that also fits into their busy schedule.
Mediation is not limited to any particular area of practice. On the MACRO
website, the poster series is an excellent illustration that the skills used
to successfully mediate conflicts between contractors and homeowners are the
same ones that work with parents and children or neighbors.
According to MACRO, "successful ADR programs in different fields
have many benefits, including:
- empowering people to resolve their own disputes
- promoting more reasonable and peaceful behavior in the community
- cutting costs
- saving money
- healing rifts between people and restoring relationships
- making courts more friendly
- reducing congested court dockets (italics added)
These are important benefits to consider. Mediators can bring about positive
results in people's lives and in their communities through the Alternative
Dispute Resolution process.
Jon Moseley is Volunteer Services Coordinator for
the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.