Mohan Padmanabhan

Recently in Richmond, Virginia

JUDGES need to be completely aware of the value of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), particularly mediation, and there a great need to address the fears of lawyers with regard to the efficacy of ADR.

It is apparent that support from the judiciary is necessary for ADR.

Giving an overview of the ADR system for lawyers and business leaders in Virginia, where mediation has proved to be a great success, Ms Geetha Ravindra, Director, Department of Dispute Resolution Services, Office of the Executive Secretary, Supreme Court of Virginia, USA, at an interactive session here recently with a visiting team of Indian legal and corporate professionals, said training of lawyers was critical for administering an effective ADR system, as both lawyers and judges need to be completely aware of the benefits.

Explaining the difference between an ADR proceeding and a Bench trial, she said 90 per cent of all `Fortune 500' companies in the US use ADR to settle commercial disputes.

"In Florida alone, some 1.5 lakh cases are mediated every year." She said there were some 830 ADR courses at 182 law schools, with as many as 62 clinics in the US, besides over 550 community mediation centres. She said some 36 States in the US have a full-fledged dispute resolution office.

Commenting on court-referred mediation, as prevalent in India, she said it was ideal to have a strong cadre of trained `neutrals', where strict quality control can be practiced. She also stressed on the need to market mediation services to legislators, maintaining that it was not enough to merely have it mandated by the courts.

"What we need to do is to integrate ADR into civil case management, whereby besides ensuring greater access to justice, the very quality of litigation process gets enhanced, resulting in better utilisation of court resources."

Pointing out that confidentiality was critical to a successful mediation process, she said ideally, mediation was appropriate for disputes in which the parties have an on-going relationship.

Some of the problems, according to her, are when parties want control over the outcome, or where there is insufficient information leading to communication problems.

The various stages in the mediation process, she said, were information sharing, classification of issues, alternatives and an agreement. Stressing on the need for mediators to listen actively, she said "first, one must seek to understand, before seeking to be understood".

Highlighting the ethical standards followed by lawyers in Virginia, she said one has to discuss scope of mediation with clients. In Virginia, the timing of screening and referral of a case, the turn-round time, is very quick, she pointed out.

Related Stories:
Dispute resolution: Mediation catching on in US States

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 10, 2005)
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