How Litigants View the ADR Options in Courts

By Alice Albl

At the Sept. 17 online CPR Institute Mediation Committee meeting, University of California, Davis, School of Law School Prof. Donna Shestowsky presented her research about the role courts play in encouraging alternative dispute resolution over a trial.

The study revealed that litigants seem to be unaware of ADR options when going to court, although knowing about some of these options—specifically, mediation–improve litigants’ opinions of the court itself.

This lack of awareness stayed relatively consistent among demographics, even among those with legal representation.  

“Repeat player” litigants were less likely than first timers to report uncertainty or confusion whether ADR options were available.

Shestowsky’s research observed the experiences of more than 350 litigants spread among the court systems of three different states.

The first system, in California, allowed litigants to choose between a trial, or opting into mediation or arbitration.

The second system, in Utah, assigned mediation as the default option but allowed litigants to convert their cases into an arbitration or trial.

The third system, in Oregon, statutorily required nonbinding arbitration for cases involving amounts in controversy less than $50,000. Litigants could opt-out by filing a “Motion for Exemption from Arbitration,” or by agreeing with their opposition to enter mediation.

All three court systems posted information online about available ADR programs and kept a list of approved neutrals on file. None required attorneys to educate their clients about the available ADR options.

Litigants in the study took a survey before and after their journey through the courts. The questions sought to gauge litigants’ awareness about relevant court-sponsored ADR programs, whether legal representation affected their awareness, and how awareness of court-sponsored ADR affected litigants’ opinions of the court offering the options.

The data Shestowsky reaped from these surveys revealed some unexpected findings. While roughly half of the litigants were unsure whether mediation and arbitration were available to them, another 20% wrongly stated these options were unavailable.

Without knowledge of the court systems’ sponsorship for mediation or arbitration, litigants most often considered negotiation as a means for dispute resolution, even before the prospect of a trial.  

While about a third of litigants considered mediation, knowing that the method was a court-sponsored option generally improved their opinion of the sponsoring court system.

Arbitration was only considered by about one quarter of the litigants, and knowledge of court sponsorship did little to affect litigants’ opinions of sponsoring courts. Shestowsky attributed this to the possibility that litigants had low opinions of arbitration as an option for their court-filed cases, which aligned with findings from her past research.

Having a lawyer did not make litigants more aware of ADR options, even when those options were offered, or even mandated, by the court system.

Shestowsky pointed out this universally low awareness rate of ADR options as an issue to address among courts, especially given how awareness seemed to improve court favorability.

One possible solution would be rules that require attorneys to properly educate clients about ADR options before engaging the courts, which could be enforced using penalty fees or an affidavit.

Shestowsky also suggested that courts implement “direct education.” This could involve bolstered advertisement of ADR options, a dedicated ADR helpdesk, and periodic information sessions. The professor, who serves as UC Davis School of Law’s Director of the Lawyering Skills Education Program, even envisioned an artificial intelligence-powered digital aide that could recommend options based on litigants’ specific needs.

While Shestowsky cautioned that her research focusing on three court systems may not perfectly reflect the general state of ADR awareness, the consistency of data among the diverse systems could point to a greater trend. To gauge this, the professor recommended that courts across the nation buck the trend of measuring success for ADR programs by their usage rates, and first look to their awareness rates by surveying those who do not use their ADR programs.

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Donna Shestowsky previously discussed her research at “New Research Sheds Light on How Litigants Evaluate the Characteristics of Legal Procedures,” 34 Alternatives 145 (November 2016) (available at https://bit.ly/2ScA71w), which adapted and updated material from Donna Shestowsky, “How Litigants Evaluate the Characteristics of Legal Procedures: A Multi-Court Empirical Study,” 49 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 3 (2016) (available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2729893).

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

Committee Q&A: A Conversation with Mediation Committee Co-Chair, Marjorie Berman 

marjorieberman

As part of our continuing “Committee Q&A” series, we sat down recently with Mediation Committee Co-Chair, Marjorie Berman of Krantz & Berman (pictured), to learn more about what this committee has been up to and has planned for the future.

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The Mediation Committee consists of CPR members throughout the world and aims to enhance the quality and effectiveness of corporate mediation practice, both domestically and internationally.  The Mediation Committee recently released Mediation Best Practices Guide for In-House Counsel: Make Mediation Work for You, a CPR members-only guide with insider tips from in-house counsel on how to navigate every step of the mediation process (digital copies available to CPR members at no cost).  The Mediation Committee meets quarterly to collaborate and share best practices and put on programs of interest.   In addition, the Committee works to identify qualified neutrals to serve on CPR’s Panels of Distinguished Neutrals. You may find online, CPR’s Mediation ProcedureFast Track Rules for Mediation, and International Mediation Procedure (2017), as well as other industry-specific protocols.

Q. What are some of the specific issues that the Mediation Committee has focused on recently, and how?

A. I am a relatively new add to the committee but, looking back at just the past two meetings we’ve held, the first was on the Singapore Convention. We worked to fashion a program that would be meaningful – and useful – to people at all levels, including some who may not be as familiar with international law.  And at our most recent meeting, we focused on the very timely topic of confidentiality in mediation.

There has been a recent vintage of challenges to the confidentiality of mediation in the courts. Eugene Farber and Professor Nancy Rogers of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law spoke, and the meeting was super lively and chock full of information. The event also inspired a very strong dialogue among the participants with respect to both knowledge and practice tips on anticipating that such issues could arise.

Q. Can you give us a preview of some of the important issues the Mediation Committee will be focusing on in the coming year?  

A. One long-term focus of the committee is an even closer look at this issue of confidentiality in mediation. Because candor between a mediator and parties is essential, mediation depends upon the privileges and confidentiality that protect those communications. The law protecting mediation communications is a patchwork of federal and individual case statutes, case law and rules of conduct that vary across jurisdictions.

This project will inform practitioners of the law and rules governing mediation confidentiality by jurisdiction so they can prepare themselves in the event they need to mediate in an unfamiliar locale. In fact, as people are reading this, and they have personal experiences with challenges to confidentiality and being put in the spotlight in a litigation – not where mediators wish to be! – I encourage them to share those stories with the committee.  

Q. What have you personally gotten out of participating in CPR’s committee structure, and what would you say to busy CPR members about why they should become more involved?

A. Even in the short term in which I’ve been intensely involved, participation in the committee has given me exposure to a wide variety of mediators working in many different contexts, and to a breadth of mediation practices. We can all so easily develop a narrow focus in our work, so it is especially valuable to get perspective from all angles – including from inside and outside litigators using mediation, mediators doing mediation, mediators working both in the US and around the world and academics studying mediation.

Q. Why would you encourage people to join CPR’s Mediation Committee in particular?

A. To some degree mediators tend to be in a bit of a closed world. They mediate cases and its often just them, in a room as a mediator. Being a part of such a dynamic and interactive group expands your view and allows you to process and grow both your perspective and your practice. This is valuable whether you’re a mediator trying to develop your own practice, or a litigator from a corporation or a law firm who is involved as a participant, trying to get a perspective of where mediators are coming from – because you can’t have that kind of conversation with your own mediator.

Committee participation also provides the broader opportunity to act as a thought leader, helping to improve the effectiveness of mediation and to shape best practices. Mediation is a very dynamic area where small changes can produce big results in terms of outcomes, and this committee offers an opportunity to become a meaningful part of that.

Marjorie Berman of Krantz & Berman LLP represents civil litigants in business disputes, employers and employees in employment conflicts, and individuals in white-collar criminal matters.

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CPR committees are always looking to increase membership and participation, and there are no extra fees or costs associated with joining. Learn more about CPR’s other industry and subject matter committees here. To become a committee member, log in and join the committee(s) of your choice or email a note of interest to Richard Murphy at rmurphy@cpradr.org.

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