Why Attorneys Support Mandatory Mediation
Political Science and International Affairs
While mediation is often thought to decrease trial rates, reduce costs to courts and litigants, speed up case disposition, and increase litigant satisfaction with case processing, empirical evidence demonstrating that mediation accomplishes these goals is elusive. The effectiveness of mandatory mediation was investigated based on a study of the Mediated Settlement Conference Program started in 1992 in North Carolina's superior courts. Under the program, a senior resident judge may order parties to almost any non-domestic civil suit to participate in a mediated settlement conference. Most civil suits eligible for the program involve negligence claims or contract disputes. In all cases, plaintiffs must claim at least $10,000 in damages. Parties ordered to mediate retain the right to settle a case prior to a conference and to settle or go to trial following an unsuccessful conference. An evaluation of the program showed it was only moderately successful in achieving its goals. The program reduced the median case disposition time from 58 to 51 weeks, and litigants who participated in the program liked it. However, relatively few cases actually went to a mediated settlement conference, more mediation sessions ended in impasse than in settlement, and the program had no significant effect on the trial rate. Further, the program did not reduce the workload of superior court judges and clerks in terms of the per case number of orders and motions processed and it did not improve the already high rate of compliance with settlement terms. Despite these findings, attorneys indicated strong approval of the program. Benefits of mediation are examined in terms of structure and client involvement.