This bar year began with a huge success: A resolution promoting civility that the Section of Dispute Resolution proposed to the ABA House of Delegates was adopted at the ’s Annual Meeting in in August.
When did we forget how to talk to each other? Civility in public discourse has been on everyone’s mind since the shootings in Arizona. The lack of civility in the recent debt crisis debate cries out for the legal profession to take a leadership role in framing discussions constructively. ABA President Stephen Zack said it best in his ABA President’s message in the August 2011 ABA Journal. He noted that the legal profession has a rich history of vigorous debate and advocacy. We must, however, disagree and advocate appropriately.
The adoption of our Civility Resolution by the ABA House of Delegates reaffirmed that the principle of civility is a foundation for democracy and the rule of law. Differences must be resolved constructively, and lawyers must promote a more civil public discourse. Who else but alternative dispute resolution professionals are best positioned to lead this effort? ADR professionals promote conversation, debate and resolution, all essential tools in the ADR toolbox. ADR professionals will lead this initiative.
The adoption of our resolution is a first of many actions that our Section will take to foster civil discourse. We have formed a new Task Force on Civility and Civil Discourse, chaired by Bruce Meyerson, with members Richard Reuben, Lisa Blomgren Bingham, Philip Cottone, and Wayne Thorpe. It is the goal of the Task Force to use this initiative to create more fruitful conversations within government. As a follow-up, this year’s ABA Mediation Week theme was “Civility and Civil Public Discourse.” The theme was emphasized during the many Mediation Week events that the Section sponsored during October.
There are many challenges in the current legal and economic environment. Courts face budgetary problems even more extreme than when ADR first started its rise in the 1990s. At that time, court dockets were burgeoning, and delays for disputants to reach trial were common. To address the problems, court reforms increased efficiency with rocket dockets, and we saw the creation of court ADR programs. We also saw the expansion of the private ADR community offering disputants an alternative to court.
Today, past reforms and efficiencies are weakening in the current economic environment. As court staffs shrink, resources available to judges are declining. Litigated cases are taking longer, and court dockets are again growing. The Section’s Court Committee will certainly be busy developing recommendations to restate the value proposition for court ADR programs and recommend initiatives to ensure that ADR continues to be a vibrant part of our court system.
Another important focus for us in the upcoming year is diversity. The ABA Section of Dispute Resolution has long been a strong supporter of diversity efforts in the dispute resolution field. In August, the Dispute Resolution Section’s Council established a Task Force on Women in Dispute Resolution (WIDR). The goals and objectives of WIDR include serving as leading resource for business and professional development of women dispute resolution professionals to insure that women can access the full scope of opportunities in dispute resolution. The task force plans to survey advocates and others to determine their views on the role of women in the field. During the year, WIDR will develop an action plan to broaden opportunities for women in the field.
This issue of the Dispute Resolution Magazine has several articles focused on mass claims. I had the opportunity to attend a meeting earlier this year where Ken Feinberg described his assignments to resolve Class/Mass actions. Many of his assignments were special programs funded by the government or where special funding sources were created. Those programs included the 9/11 Fund, the BP Oil Spill, and the Virginia Tech Massacre, to name a few. Each was unique. Ken was required to be creative and develop procedures and make decisions that were not very popular. Fairness was his guiding principle. That said, we can draw lessons from how the programs were developed, what was the structure, and determine what lessons could be transferable to a different problem set. While we might not be called upon to design a program like Ken was tasked, we can leverage his experiences.
We certainly will be busy this year. It is a privilege for me to serve as chair of the Section, and I hope you will join me in making this year a success.
Deborah Masucci is Chair f the American Bar Associatiom Section of Dispute Resolution and Vice President of the Office of Dispute Resolutiom at Chartis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.