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Spotlight on Pro Bono: Pro Bono Programs in Alternative Dispute Resolution in Illinois

By Sandra Crawford

Did you know…

1. McHenry County Bar Association (MCBA) in 2001 started training and supplying volunteers to mediate pro se cases in the small claims court. Since it was established “our program has been successful beyond our wildest dreams, has eliminated untold small claims trial hours, has provided training and experience to a number of aspiring mediators, and most importantly, has sent more than a thousand small claims litigants home feeling satisfied that they had been fairly treated by the court system,” says the program’s founding member and full-time mediator, H. Case Ellis of Crystal Lake.

2. Dispute Resolution Institute, Inc. (DRI) has provided pro bono family mediation services to the First Judicial Circuit for the last nine years and is the only pro bono mediation organization available to the courts and families in southern Illinois. DRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to help people in conflict find common ground, resolve disputes, and reach agreement. Opening its doors on Aug. 1, 2009, DRI has administered several mediation programs throughout Illinois and provides trainings to professionals seeking to learn mediation skills. Delivery of Legal Services Committee member Missy Greathouse is DRI’s Executive Director. She was appointed to that position on Oct. 1, 2016, and has been employed by DRI since it opened.

3. The 19th Judicial Circuit Court started its pro bono small claims mediation program in June 2012. This program allows pro se civil litigants to avoid the delays and confusion of a courtroom by using a mediator. The Lake County program runs every Thursday. Two mediators sit in each small claims courtroom and the judge notifies unrepresented litigants about mediation options. If both parties agree to it, they walk to a nearby conference room with the mediator. In this program, mediators must be members of the Lake County Bar Association. "Mediation, in general, is really a growing field," says H. Case Ellis, the Crystal Lake attorney who helped the program get its start in Lake County and was the force behind the MCBA program a decade earlier. “The small claims mediation program provides resume experience and offers younger attorneys exposure to alternative dispute resolution.”

3. Will County has a pro bono program that provides volunteer attorney-mediators to assist clients in small claims court.  Chicago attorney Robert Berliner is a co-founder of and currently president of the Illinois chapter of the Association of Attorney-Mediators, which has grown to about 40 members since its founding in mid-2009.  Berliner founded and leads a program that provides pro bono mediation services to the small claims court in Will County. The program has grown from one to over 20 participating mediators since 2010, and has settled about 85 percent of the court-referred cases for mediation. Berliner is also a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Attorney-Mediators. He frequently presents continuing legal education and other educational programs on mediation.

4. Loyola University School of Law offers its students a practicum to learn mediation advocacy skills. In this practicum, law students get the opportunity to represent unrepresented parties under limited scope representation agreements during mediations at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Professor Teresa Frances Frisbie at Loyola says the program has been running for about seven years and both clients and mediators are impressed by the knowledge and skill of the student advocates. 

5. John Marshall Law School, in conjunction with the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR), trains law students to provide pro bono mediation services. CCR is an independent, not-for-profit 501(C)(3), organization with a mission to work with individuals, communities, courts and other institutions to manage and resolve conflict. For 40 years, CCR has accomplished this mission by offering pro bono mediation services and conflict management training to Chicago area institutions, organizations and businesses. John Marshall students trained through CCR offer free mediation services through the Cook County court system, including its suburban divisions in Markham, Bridgeview, Maywood, Rolling Meadows, and Skokie. Pro bono services are also offered by CCR through community-based referrals. Students are required to mediate at least three cases in small claims court. Those cases typically involve disputes between: merchants and consumers, neighbors, professional services contractors, employers and employees, landlords and tenant, or involve various contractual or interpersonal issues. In order to mediate independently through the court system, CCR requires students to: complete CCR required training; pass their certification simulation; attend the agreement writing and court adapted model classes; and observe one court mediation. 

Posted on March 20, 2019 by Rhys Saunders
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