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Bar News - May 13, 2011

Giving Back: ADR Volunteering: Lawyers Every Day - Making Disputes Go Away


Lawyers in the popular media are usually pictured in court, hectoring witnesses or vociferously objecting. Or we see them seated next to always-smirking defendants, sneakily whispering instructions.

But one of the everyday realities of the New Hampshire justice system is the image that you wonít see and itís one that defies the stereotypes promoted by movies and television. Behind the scenes in New Hampshire, difficult and very real disputes confront the citizens of our state. Our lawyers, serving as dedicated volunteer mediators, work hard to help parties resolve their cases outside the courtroom. The more than 100 mediators who are on the Rule 170 roster freely donate many hours to help parties and their counsel settle disputes, ranging from the simplest matters to the most complex.

In 2012 the Superior Courtís Rule 170 alternative dispute resolution program marks its 20th birthday. This collaboration between the Judicial Branch and the lawyers of New Hampshire deserves celebration. Many litigants who achieved a settlement of their dispute with the help of a NH Bar member acting as a volunteer neutral ought to stand up and cheer that anniversary.

NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis, who helped establish the original Rule 170 program and chaired the recent effort to expand the courtsí alternative dispute resolution programs, applauded the work of the volunteers.

"The Rule 170 program has been invaluable for the past 20 years," Dalianis said. "It is particularly valuable in these difficult financial times in that we are able to assist people of limited financial means reach satisfactory resolution of their cases."

In 2008, the Superior Court Rule 170 program underwent a number of changes, including becoming available in all 10 counties, the creation of a market-rate program alongside the continuation of the volunteer program, the creation of an online roster available to parties and counsel and the institution of fees to help pay the cost of running an alternative dispute resolution program through the creation of the Judicial Branchís Office of Mediation and Arbitration (OMA).

The Rule 170 program survived that period of transition and is still going strong. According to Karen Borgstrom, director of the OMA, litigants select a volunteer mediator on average 90 cases per month, statewide. (This does not include the requests for private mediation or market-rate mediation from the OMA list.)

Every Bar member on the Rule 170 list must donate at least two days of mediation, and many donate much more. "This program works well in large part because those on the roster have given generously of their talent and time," says Borgstrom. "Most give many more days then the two days the rule mandates." Lawyers who do mediation and the court officials who deal with case-scheduling acknowledge that the Rule 170 program continues to resolve many cases, and as a result, has been essential as a docket management tool.

The Rule 170 program has been an important resource for parties and counsel; especially in a time of budget cuts which require leaving judicial vacancies open, says Borgstrom. "We must provide alternative options for litigants and their counsel to have access to justice. One way to do that is through the Rule 170; they will find a flexible program, with choices that will fit their particular case needs and with well-trained neutrals who are available to assist them."

The Rule 170 program has been the mainstay of the Courtís ADR program for years. It has been the foundation upon which the Office of Mediation and Arbitration was built and upon which the OMA was able to expand ADR programs under the courtís umbrella. Borgstrom, who was at one time a Rule 170 mediator herself, sees the success of these programs, in part, as coming from the great support the office and programs get from judges and court staff at every court level and from the hundreds of mediators, neutral case evaluators and arbitrators who work within the courtsí ADR programs.

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