Each October, the American Bar Association has “Mediation Week”, a time to celebrate the strides made in mediation as an essential dispute resolution process. The United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri has utilized mediation as the primary form of resolving disputes for more than two decades, primarily through the program now known as the Mediation and Assessment Program (MAP). MAP’s current Director is Laurel Stevenson who recently assumed the position after former Director Jill Morris became a magistrate judge. Judge Morris served as the Director for more than seven years.
The pandemic resulted in modifications to the MAP so that parties could still be afforded the opportunity to engage in dispute resolution. After working with and assessing various virtual platforms, the Court has found password protected Zoom to be a workable platform for nearly all parties, allowing the engagement of represented and unrepresented parties in meaningful mediation. The MAP has offered “mock virtual mediations” to those parties and attorneys who have not previously utilized Zoom to resolve disputes, resulting in streamlined formal mediation sessions. The importance of both audio and video appearance by the participants where possible is essential for resolving disputes.
To help ensure the confidentiality of virtual mediations, the MAP Director requires all participants to execute a “mediation agreement” in advance and verify verbally during the introductory session that all participants will maintain confidentiality. If the mediation results in resolution, the MAP Director requires that all participants agree to a “Term Sheet” setting forth the essential terms of resolution.
Some mediations continue to be performed in person, with essential safety protocols being followed. More recently, the MAP has adopted a hybrid approach to mediation where agreed to, allowing attendance by some participants in person, while allowing other participants to attend by Zoom.
Training in 2021 and 2022
As the Court looks forward, a three-hour training webinar is planned for February 25, 2021 from 1:30-4:30 with an emphasis on Ethics and Elimination of Bias, and a discussion of “bracketing”, a method for bridging gaps in certain cases.
On October 14, 2022, the Court will celebrate its 30th year of alternative dispute resolution, offering in-person training with faculty from Pepperdine’s Straus Institute and the University of Missouri-Columbia Center for Dispute Resolution, along with others.
If anyone has questions regarding the MAP, please contact the office at 816-512-5080, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.