JBA section helps parties resolve disputes

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  • | 12:00 p.m. November 4, 2002
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by Monica Chamness

Staff Writer

The Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the Jacksonville Bar Association, formerly the Mediation Section, has big plans for the upcoming year. Alternative dispute resolution includes mediation, arbitration, expert case evaluation and private judging. The section focuses on mediation and arbitration.

“Mediation is a settlement conference,” explained Cindy Anderson, chair of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the JBA. “The parties will agree to disagree on xyz terms. It may involve a settlement with monetary compensation or it may not, but it doesn’t say who’s wrong or who’s right.”

Essentially, mediators serve as a neutral facilitator of negotiations between two parties. Employing good listening skills and creative problem-solving, mediators are charged with helping each side resolve their mutual conflict.

“Arbitration is a situation where the parties bring a dispute in front of an individual they’ve chosen to hear the dispute and make a decision regarding who’s right,” she said. “It’s like a trial.”

Once the arbitrator makes a decision, he or she must determine what that means in terms of the contract — if money is owed or obligations remain. According to Anderson, most arbitrations arise from the fine print in previous contracts or by stipulations.

For lawyers who pursue mediation and arbitration, state certification is required. The Alternative Dispute Resolution Section aspires to provide the necessary continuing education for them. To this end, section members are devising a seminar within the region to be tentatively set for the spring. Because most of the attorneys in this group practice mediation, that facet will be the seminar’s focus. Planning meetings will likely occur soon. Due to the newness of the section, long-range goals or designs for signature events have not been crystallized yet.

“We take our cues from the Jacksonville Bar,” said Anderson. “If, say, the trial section had an interest in doing social or educational activities, we would collaborate with them. The section is, and should be, a source for anyone who is interested in becoming a mediator or arbitrator to turn to for advice, or a source for those looking for qualified people in the field because they want to retain one for their client’s dispute. I’m hoping along the way that we may be able to provide a little more education to attorneys on opportunities available to them regarding other forms of dispute resolution.”

As with all of the JBA sections, networking among lawyers in unfamiliar fields is another purpose they serve. With the short history that the arbitration and mediation approaches have been able to garner, creating awareness is a prime focus.

“The section is important because it is an emerging area of the law, particularly within the past 10 years,” said Anderson. “Individuals that practice mediation or arbitration have their own special needs as far as education or training that is not necessarily met in law school. It helps to know others who do this in order to talk about it, to know what to do and how to improve what you do. There is a need for people to understand what’s available and how to use it.”

Originally, the section was to be dubbed either the mediation or arbitration section due to the collective expertise of the practitioners within that group but the current name looks more broadly to the future of the field.

“There is a recognition that some people are not able to use the judicial system in an expeditious manner,” said Anderson on why one should opt for a non-traditional legal outcome. “It’s better to take control of a dispute yourself but both sides have to be willing to compromise. Mediation has gained popularity with judges because cases are settled without going to trial. For attorneys, it’s another means of having a dispute resolved for a client without litigating it in the courtroom.”