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Chair's Corner

Ed Pappas, Chair of the ADR Section
Ed Pappas, Chair

By Ed Pappas, Chair

Mediators play an important role in helping parties resolve their disputes in a civil, respectful and peaceful manner, but not all parties have access to, or the ability to pay for, mediators to help them resolve their disputes. I believe that lawyers have a responsibility to provide services to those who cannot otherwise afford an attorney. In fact, rule 6.1 of the Michigan Rules of Professional conduct specifically provides that:

A lawyer should render public interest legal services. A lawyer may discharge this responsibility by providing professional services at no fee or a reduced fee to persons of limited means, or to public service or charitable groups or organizations. A lawyer may also discharge this responsibility by services in activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession, and by financial support for organizations that provide legal services to persons of limited means.

In addition to representing people who cannot otherwise afford a lawyer, I believe that lawyers can discharge their pro bono public service responsibility by mediating disputes involving persons of limited means at no fee or a reduced fee. Whether or not Rule 6.1 contemplates mediation services, the personal satisfaction of helping persons of limited means resolve their disputes is worthy of your consideration. And for mediators who are looking for mediation experience, this is an excellent means of achieving that experience.

There are many ways to volunteer to mediate pro bono matters, but I would like to recommend two of them. First, volunteer at Michigan’s Community Dispute Resolution Centers (“CDRCs”). CDRCs need your support! For more than 30 years, CDRCs have relied on volunteer mediators to make mediation accessible to Michigan residents in all 83 counties, regardless of income.

The model created by the Community Dispute Resolution Act requires volunteer mediators. The CDRCs have advocated for increased usage and types of disputes handled outside or in conjunction with the traditional legal system, including behavioral mental health, special education, agriculture, child protection, small claims, neighborhood disputes, probate, and domestic issues. CDRCs spend countless hours promoting mediation to courts, organizations, and the community to build awareness of mediation. As the number of mediations increases, so does the need for volunteer mediators and the business opportunities for private mediators.

Help your local CDRC help you to help the community. The goal of CDRCs is to provide a positive experience for the mediator and mediating parties. CDRCs do the leg work of matching volunteer mediators to cases, scheduling, gathering summaries, and sending required court reports. Volunteer mediators use their time and expertise to help the community and in turn gain valuable mediation experience. Volunteer mediators choose the type of cases they mediate and choose when and how often they mediate. If you do not volunteer yet, consider volunteering for your local CDRC.

My second recommendation is to volunteer to mediate for legal aid organizations whose lawyers represent persons of limited means throughout the State of Michigan. At this time, Michigan’s Justice for All Commission and other stakeholders, including legal aid organizations, are exploring opportunities for pilot projects to help in uncontested debt collection matters. Volunteer mediators will be asked to assist in this effort to resolve debt collection disputes involving individuals living in poverty.

No matter how or where you volunteer, please consider volunteering your services as a mediator to help those in need. You will find your experience to be extremely rewarding.