Mediation Is Now Mainstream, Say Panelists at ABA Mediation Week Program
Leaders from every sector of the mediation field — private, government, community and the courts — came together today for an American Bar Association Mediation Week program to celebrate the power of resolution through mediation.
Inga Watkins, co-chair of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution’s Mediation Committee, opened the panel discussion held yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., by acknowledging that this is the third year that there has been a national effort to increase awareness of mediation.
“We are celebrating from Nashville, Tennessee, to Missoula, Montana; from Kingston, Jamaica, to Rome, Italy,” Watkins said. “We started out with 10 celebrations and now we have more than 50.”
Watkins said, “Mediation is no longer an alternative process, but it is one of many appropriate processes to settle disputes.”
Referencing budgetary cuts that are taking place in the federal government, Joanna Jacobs, director and senior counsel for the Office of Dispute Resolution with the U.S. Department of Justice, said, “The trend, as we feel the budget crunch, shifts costs back to the parties and to mediation.”
Jacobs said there are fewer DOJ cases—less than 2 percent—that are going to trial, and that percentage continues to decline due to alternative dispute resolution efforts. Jacobs noted that her agency tracks when alternative dispute resolution processes within the agency are conducted across the country.
She said the DOJ spent more than $1 million funding its portion of mediation expenses that totaled more than $4 million for 2012. She said the agency saved nearly $13 million on discovery expenses, thanks to a settlement through ADR; expenses would have included trial testimony, depositions and witness-related costs. She said the number of days of attorney and staff time that would have gone into litigation was the equivalent to 38 full-time positions.
“As we face budgets cuts, these statistics are important,” Jacobs emphasized. She said the DOJ avoided 1,500 months of litigation involving cases that would still be on the court’s docket if it were not resolved through ADR. “An open case is a costly case,” she said.
Amy Wind, chief circuit mediator for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, mentioned that D.C. has one of the more developed mediation programs. The appellate mediation program is in its 25th year. She said that judges do not see mediation as a docket control issue anymore. “They get it,” Wind said. “Our judges value mediation.”
John Bickerman, a private mediator and arbitrator with Bickerman Dispute Resolution, PLLC, said the most rewarding mediation cases are those that have the transforming ability to reconnect people.
“The cases I find most rewarding is where you make a major change in relationships,” Bickerman emphasized.
“You’ll be amazed by the amount of disharmony that exists,” Grande Lum, director, Community Relations Service for the U.S. Department of Justice, shared in referencing a mediation dispute he helped resolve in San Diego earlier in his career. “It’s striking to see how people didn’t want to sit at the same table.”
Lum said that mediators have the power to change the dynamic in the room, “no matter what.”
At the beginning of the program, Richard Miles, chair of the D.C. Mediation Week event, welcomed attendees and thanked staff and volunteers for their efforts during Mediation Week.
The Mediation Week panel discussion and luncheon in Washington, D.C., is the culmination of several activities planned around the country to focus attention on the week’s theme, “Mediation in the Mainstream: From the Courthouse to the Conference Room.” A toolkit of resources about mediation is available here.
The ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and JAMS launched the public service announcement “Play Nice” to shine the spotlight on mediation’s benefits. View the PSA here. A broadcast-quality version of the PSA is available upon request.
Mediation Week, Oct. 14-20, is sponsored by the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution.