Most attorneys who practice in Contra Costa County are generally familiar with the Court’s several Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) programs. There are specific requirements which all ADR panel members must meet to serve on the panel (described in CCC Local Rules of Court, Rule 109) and thus be eligible to conduct mediations, arbitrations, neutral case evaluations and settlement mentor conferences.
Settlement Mentors have remarkably excellent success in bringing them together and settling cases, with an overall success rate approaching 40%. Individual Settlement Mentors who volunteer to serve on a regular basis have a success rate of about 90%.
Although cases may be referred to a Settlement Mentor at any time during pendency of the case, most cases are scheduled for settlement mentor conferences to take place on the morning of trial. The Civil Judges attempt to “match” cases with specific Settlement Mentors who have experience with similar cases. In addition to having the qualifications to be on the ADR panel, Settlement Mentors must have significant litigation experience and the expertise to analyze the issues, understand the case, be knowledgeable about recent jury and bench trial verdicts to give credibility to their evaluation of the case at hand, and make settlement recommendations, when appropriate. Effective Settlement Mentors prepare by reviewing the Court’s file, trial briefs, motions in limine, speaking with the judge and requesting additional information from each side’s attorney in advance of trial, if necessary.
An effective Settlement Mentor must have the skill, knowledge, personality and finesse to assist the parties in taking a hard, realistic look at their case, despite their avowed impasse, frequently with “lines drawn in the sand” on the day of trial, and to facilitate creative negotiations so that the case can be settled.
The process is very different from mediation and is not confidential. In fact, the Settlement Mentor may share information learned from the parties (including settlement positions) with the judge handling the case and receive input from the judge. However, information obtained from the parties and attorneys is otherwise confidential.
It is also unlike arbitration since no evidence is presented, witnesses are not called and, of course, no award or decision is made.
Considering the fact that on the day of trial, parties are usually quite entrenched in their positions, Settlement Mentors have remarkably excellent success in bringing them together and settling cases, with an overall success rate approaching 40%. Individual Settlement Mentors who volunteer to serve on a regular basis have a success rate of about 90%.
This is a win-win program. Whether the cases settle or not, attorneys and parties are appreciative and very complimentary of the Settlement Mentor’s efforts (with 2 hours of the Settlement Mentor’s time gratis), the judges are grateful when the case settles as their time is freed up for another case and they aren’t required to bring in 50+ citizens for jury selection, citizens are grateful they don’t need to spend time in trial, and attorneys and parties in other cases, then can go forward with their trial without trailing or a continuance. And, the Settlement Mentors report that they find the experience educational, gratifying and rewarding, knowing they have performed a valuable service to the Court, their colleagues, their profession and the community.
Anyone interested in participating in the settlement mentor program may contact the ADR office for more information, or complete the application on the Court’s website. (www.cc-courts.org/adr)