Courts’ inherent responsibility to administer justice fairly is shared by the ADR programs to which the court sends cases. It is important, therefore, that the public have an experience that is welcoming, fair and accessible when they use the ADR program. One way a program may work to accomplish this is to offer diverse neutrals who reflect the parties who use the program.
Diversifying Rosters of Neutrals
Interested programs might start by examining the demographics of their current roster (including, for example, diversity with respect to age, race, gender and disability) and comparing it to the parties who use the ADR program. This can help the program identify any potential gaps. Two areas to consider when seeking to diversity a roster of neutrals are recruitment and qualifications.
To diversify their rosters, ADR programs can actively recruit neutrals who are diverse. In larger jurisdictions this recruitment could include working with specialized bar associations, such as those whose membership is composed of lawyers from particular racial groups and those who identify as LGBTQ or a particular ethnicity. Local law schools and recent graduates may be a source of more diversity, as the legal profession becomes more diverse. Current neutrals from diverse backgrounds might also be interested in assisting the ADR program in reaching out to organizations or to individuals that can help diversify the roster.
To diversify rosters in programs that rely on volunteer mediators, ADR programs might conduct outreach to community groups, houses of worship and other social service agencies. Providing opportunities for volunteers to mediate outside the usual workweek may open the program to more participants, too.
Courts seeking to increase neutral diversity might revisit their qualifications and consider adjusting the scope of their educational and work experience requirements for neutrals. For example, a law license is unlikely to be necessary to mediate small claims matters in most jurisdictions – although it might be required – and it is likely to limit the diversity of mediators. Similarly, adjusting the criteria for family mediators to include those with degrees in social work, psychology or other family-related areas of study, may help in diversifying a mediator roster.
In 2018, the American Bar Association’s Resolution 105 noted the lack of diversity among neutrals and made recommendations for change. The action steps included with the resolution may provide helpful tips for court ADR programs.
- Ten Ways to Increase Diversity and Inclusion in Court-Annexed ADR: Written by Robyn Weinstein, this article provides a list of ten suggestions court ADR programs can utilize to improve diversity and inclusion among their roster of neutrals.