Without publicity there can be no public support, and without public support, every nation must decay.
All of the planning phases can take a lot of time and effort, so your planning committee may be tempted to just start referring cases to ADR without taking advantage of opportunities the program launch offers to inform stakeholders and the public. That would be a mistake. First, orienting all those who will deal with the program and conducting training for those with deeper responsibilities will enable your program to function more smoothly from the beginning. Second, the launch is the time to reach out directly to potential participants and engage them in the ADR process. And third, the launch provides an opportunity for stakeholders to gain some positive public recognition.
Everyone who will be involved with the program must be oriented to their role in the program and how the program functions. Who will be involved will depend on how your program is structured. The important thing is to think through all the individuals and entities who will encounter the program – from significant to minimal involvement – and decide what message you want to convey to them.
For many programs, the most critical training is of judges, especially those who will refer cases to the ADR program. If you have a small jurisdiction and the only judge who will be directly involved in the program has served on the planning committee, that judge will be more likely to conduct training than receive it, but for other programs, you will want to devise an orientation process for judges.
Orientation of All Judges Whose Cases Will Go to ADR
This orientation should cover how the program works (e.g., when during the life of a case it goes to ADR), what is expected of the participants (e.g., voluntary or mandatory participation), who the neutrals are (e.g., what training they have received, whether they’re paid by the parties or are volunteers), the goals of the program and expected benefits of ADR, and how the program is funded. You might want to do this at an informal lunch so the judges’ questions can be answered.
Another effective way to develop judges' knowledge of the program and their interest in ADR is to invite them to attend and/or participate in all or part of a training of neutrals, such as a mediator training. Neutral training often includes simulated ADR processes, so judges will have the opportunity to witness what ADR will be like for the parties who appear before them. You may want to offer judges an opportunity to participate as parties, lawyers or neutrals in the training, depending on how comfortable the trainees would be with that.
Training of Judges Who Will Refer Cases to ADR
Judges who will have gatekeeping responsibilities for the ADR program, i.e. the judges who will decide when and how cases are referred to ADR, will need a little more training.
Along with the orientation described above, these judges will need to know when in the life of a case to refer, how to address issues raised by lawyers or parties about ADR, the potential benefits of ADR and any potential costs of ADR. You may want to provide them with some studies of similar programs. The more knowledgeable and comfortable judges are with your program, the easier it will be for them to make appropriate referrals to it. If all referring judges are not available to attend training, additional sessions for judges would be needed.
Apply This Advice to Training Judges
Judges often learn best from other judges. This may mean finding a judge in another jurisdiction or even another state who has experienced success with the particular use of ADR your planning committee has developed or asking a judge who has served on your planning committee to lead training.
Another group that needs to be trained regarding the program is the lawyers who practice in the particular area of the law that will be served by your program. Educational programs for lawyers should start before the program launches and continue throughout its life. These programs should cover the court rules, as well as such topics as when cases might benefit from ADR, when lawyers have done enough discovery to be prepared for ADR (as compared to trial), and how to negotiate in ADR, as compared to other settings. One of the best ways to get lawyers interested in ADR is for them to have a positive experience in ADR. These programs can help get lawyers to accept the program, as well as help them develop skills in representing their clients in ADR.
Depending on the type of case, many lawyers also may be interested in being trained to act as neutrals in the court ADR programs. Participating in both the neutral and the counsel roles also can strengthen an individual's abilities in each of those roles. Additionally, in voluntary referral programs, if every lawyer-neutral on a court roster recommends ADR for a few of his or her own cases in the opening months of the ADR program, it can go a long way toward developing program momentum.
Apply This Advice to Training Lawyers
Partnering with your local bar association to offer continuing legal education about the ADR program may give you an opportunity to raise the profile of the ADR program and improve its odds of success (because the lawyers know more about how to work in the ADR setting).
Clerks and Other In-House Referral Services
Your planning committee probably will have worked with the clerk’s office on how the court will administer the program, and the clerk’s office will take care of training its staff on traditional clerk responsibilities related to the program. If the clerk’s staff will have any responsibility for explaining your program to parties, you may need to train the appropriate staff members.
Other Entities Around the Courthouse
Don’t forget to orient others who work in the courthouse and may encounter parties seeking or engaged in the ADR process. For example, court security, the office that schedules use of conference rooms and any information center will all need to be familiar with where and when your program operates. Your planning committee may have involved some of these entities. For example, if you anticipate handling cases in which parties may be particularly volatile, you probably will have already worked with court security.
Depending on how referrals to your program are structured, you may need to do quite a bit of outreach to entities outside the court in order to cultivate participation in your program. Generally, you will want to reach out to organizations that will refer parties to ADR. For example, you may want to reach out to local housing agencies when you are starting a landlord-tenant mediation program. Your planning committee may decide to also try to reach out directly to the parties, but the approach of working through organizations that they will turn to for assistance is generally more likely to reach the parties at the time when ADR is appropriate.
Apply This Advice to Foreclosure Cases
For foreclosure mediation programs in Illinois, RSI conducts outreach to develop close working relationships with the local housing counseling agencies. These program partners have responsibilities for working with homeowners to submit materials to their lenders requesting loan modifications prior to mediation, so it is important that they know how the program works. It is equally important for RSI to understand how the housing counseling agencies function and how their work relates to the mediation component of the programs.
Launching an ADR program is a great opportunity for your planning committee to encourage positive media coverage of all the stakeholders, starting with the courts. As compared to other times when courts may be covered in local media because of budget issues or controversial rulings, when courts launch an ADR program they are seen as doing something good for the community, such as improving the experience of litigants or saving homes.
This is true for your other stakeholders, too. Helping them get positive media coverage can be a good way to cement their interest in the ADR program.
Apply This Advice to Media Relationships
There may be particular reporters who cover the areas served by a new ADR program. For example, a reporter who covers women’s issues may be particularly interested in an ADR program that has a new way to address intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence.
Pitfall to Avoid When Timing Your Program Launch
Don’t let a rigid timetable force you into launching at the wrong time.
Be fearless about holding off on a launch date or even pulling the plug on a program if it is not going to be effective. Bad ADR is worse than no ADR. If, despite the planning process, the program is not going to address the community's needs or is going to be costly or time-consuming, hit the brakes. Don't publish the rules. Don't refer the first case. If people are forced into an ADR program that is just another hurdle in the litigation process, has poorly-skilled neutrals that exacerbate conflicts and never resolve any cases, or a significant stakeholder group has not bought into the program, it will kill the idea of ADR in the jurisdiction for years to come. The best way to establish an ADR program is for people to have a good experience in ADR. If it is going to be bad, it is better to wait until the environment is ripe for a healthy program. On the other hand, it is unwise to wait until everything is in a perfect position as this may mean unreasonable delays. At some point, a decision must be made to begin to refer cases. No program is perfect from the beginning, or even as it matures. The idea is to keep communicating, learning and teaching; keep stakeholders involved; keep taking the pulse through ongoing monitoring and regular evaluations; and keep adjusting the program to take account of shifts in the environment.
Your planning committee should put the same care that went into designing your court ADR program into launching it. Not only is this step important in terms of conducting a quality program, it is a great opportunity for the community to see the courts, lawyers and all the stakeholders doing something positive.