Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2006

Previous | Next

 PRO BONO Profile:  

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 jurisprudence.

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 processes."

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 that program.

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.

Previous previous

next Next

Publications : Bar Bulletin: May 2006

Back to top