As the Trial Court works through its second Strategic Plan, it is highlighting conciliation services, a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), as a way to settle civil cases without going to trial.
The Trial Court’s Standing Committee on Dispute Resolution can help your court facilitate a conciliation training program or can expand the roster of your current court-connected conciliation program by providing another training – all free of charge. Attorney Timothy Linnehan, the ADR Coordinator for the Trial Court, runs the training programs with the help of two pro bono attorney/conflict resolution trainers, Eugene Nigro and Israela Brill-Cass.
The District, Probate and Family and Superior Court Departments are expanding their use of conciliation. Since December 2011, more than 300 attorneys in 17 different training programs have been trained as conciliators as part of this Trial Court initiative. Please see the table below for the courts that have participated in training to date.
"As a current Superior Court judge and former District Court judge who has presided over busy civil sessions, I find the availability of court-connected conciliation services to be an appropriate option and an important case management tool, for certain cases," says Judge Laurence Pierce.
"Conciliators help resolve cases which would otherwise take days to try with thousands of dollars of legal expenses and lost personal time and resources for the litigants,” adds Jocelyn Axelson, Assistant Judicial Case Manager and Local ADR Coordinator for the Hampden Probate & Family Court, who recently attended a conciliation training program. “The skills I learned in conciliation training are useful for my job."
Uniform Rules on Dispute Resolution (Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:18) define conciliation as a court-connected dispute resolution process in which a neutral party helps to settle a case by clarifying issues and assessing the strengths and weakness of each side of the case. The process allows litigants to better understand the scope of the issues that are at stake by going to trial.
Conciliators must meet specific qualification standards to perform court-connected dispute resolution services. The training requirements for conciliation by rule requires attorneys to complete eight hours of training, be in good standing with the Board of Bar Overseers, and have more than three years’ experience practicing law in Massachusetts. The conciliation training program uses informative presentations, interactive discussions, group exercises and mock conciliation role plays.
The Standing Committee has sponsored six conciliation training programs for the District Court Department and 11 programs for the Probate and Family Court Department.
The Norfolk County Bar Association and the Norfolk County Probate and Family Court recently held a conciliation training program to increase its roster of qualified conciliators.
“The Norfolk County Bar Association has had an approved conciliation program since 2014,” says Register of Probate Patrick McDermott. “The three free training programs provided by the Trial Court in 2014, 2015 and 2016 have been instrumental in starting our program in Norfolk County, and expanding the roster of qualified conciliators for the Norfolk County Bar Association Probate Conciliation Program.”
Since 2014 more than 274 cases have been referred to conciliation services provided by the Norfolk County Bar Association's conciliation program from cases filed in the Norfolk County Probate and Family Court Division. Of those 274 cases sent to conciliation, over 138 cases settled in the conciliation process.
There are 18 different approved programs providing conciliation services in 20 court divisions of the Trial Court.
The District Court Department has eight conciliation programs. Four District Court divisions in Dedham, Haverhill, Lynn and Woburn have conciliation services provided solely by a bar association, while four other divisions in Ayer, Barnstable, Brockton, Lowell and Malden have conciliation services provided by a local bar association in collaboration with a local community mediation program. A conciliation training program for the Barnstable District Court was held but the program has not yet commenced operation.
Ten county Bar Associations provide conciliation services to the Probate and Family Court Department. The Boston Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bar Association have also worked with the Standing Committee to provide free conciliation training for the Probate and Family Court.
The Probate and Family Court also offers a Settlement and Early Resolution Volunteers (SERV) conciliation program at its Suffolk and Middlesex County Divisions. SERV is a free conciliation project of the Senior Partners for Justice administered by the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association. The SERV program provides pro-bono conciliator-attorneys to conciliate divorce cases, support and paternity actions, complaints for custody and visitation and complaints for modification for unrepresented litigants.
The Superior Court Department has approved two new court-connected dispute resolution programs providing conciliation services to the Middlesex and Essex County Divisions. These new programs provide free conciliation services to litigants at the pre-trial hearing stage.
Looking to create a conciliation program in your court or expand the roster of a current court-connected conciliation program? For more information about court-connected conciliation services, please contact Attorney Tim Linnehan, ADR Coordinator for the Trial Court, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-878-0372.
Over the last five years, the Standing Committee on Dispute Resolution has provided 17 different conciliation training programs to train attorneys to be qualified as conciliators servicing the following courts: