On July 11th, a meeting was held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The meeting – on expanding the use of mediation and other types of “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) in New York State – was led by Lisa Denig, Special Counsel for ADR Initiatives, Office of Deputy Chief Administrative Judge George Silver.
This meeting followed a May 14th press release from the New York State Unified Court system stating that:
- In a transformational move to advance the delivery and quality of civil justice in New York as part of the Chief Judge’s Excellence Initiative, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks today announced a systemwide initiative in which, aside from appropriate exceptions, parties in civil cases will be referred to mediation or some other form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as the first step in the case proceeding in court. Dubbed “presumptive ADR,” this model builds on prior successes of ADR in New York State and in other jurisdictions by referring cases routinely to mediation and other forms of ADR earlier in the life of a contested matter.
- A broad range of civil cases, from personal injury and matrimonial cases to estate matters and commercial disputes, will, at the onset of the case, be directed to ADR ̶ which comprises a variety of resolution approaches ̶with a focus on court-sponsored mediation.
Mediation – as the word is commonly used – may require the mediator to play a number of roles when working with parties engaged in a dispute. A mediator:
- acts as a neutral third party;
- helps the disputants to listen to and better understand each other;
- assists the parties in gathering and sharing information they need to consider;
- works with the parties so that ideally the parties themselves develop options that may allow them to move forward;
- helps the disputants to consider their options so that they can make the best decisions possible; and,
- engages the parties in ‘reality testing’ to ensure to the extent possible that their choices are feasible.
It is expected that the expanded use of ADR in the state will lower costs for parties, allow for faster resolution of matters, and “improv[e] case outcomes.”
What does this mean in practical terms? Taking matrimonial cases as an example, many spouses are likely to reach their divorce agreements in a matter of months, rather than years. They will often spend a few thousand dollars, rather than tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though the spouses may not part as friends, in many instances they will experience less stress and bitterness than if they were to litigate. Emotionally, parents and children will usually benefit as a result.
The press release notes that, “Court-sponsored ADR has a proven record of success, with high settlement rates and strong user satisfaction among litigants and lawyers.”
In September, administrative judges around the state are required to share information about how the expansion of ADR will proceed. (It should be noted that numerous ADR programs already exist in New York; however, they are considered to be “under-utilized.”) Rolling out the new programs will take time. Not everything will be ready all at once. But it appears that over the coming months and years, New York will join other states that encourage parties to resolve whatever issues they can without the adversity and expense that litigation so frequently incurs.
Mediation, and ADR more generally, is not a panacea. Not every case will be settled using these processes. But many will, and this is excellent news for the parties, an overwhelmed and backed up judiciary, and New York State.