By Chris Poole
Although many countries have not developed formal ADR processes as part of their legal systems, dispute resolution practices have been in place practically since the beginning of time. These practices have taken on many forms in different societies and they continue to evolve and mature. While many of us think of ADR only in a legal and commercial context, some of the most effective systems in the world exist in some of the least developed economies. Systems like conciliation, negotiation and adjudication are already built into many community structures.
In more developed nations there has been a lot of progress over the past several years aimed at increasing the use of mediation and arbitration in legal disputes. This is often driven by inefficient court systems or perhaps just to reduce the cost of disputes. In some countries the time it takes to get to court and achieve a litigated resolution can stretch over many years and when settlements are reached outside of court, the courts are not always willing or able to enforce them. Consumers in many countries don’t have access to alternatives to long and sometimes expensive legal proceedings.
While governmental bodies in the European Union, India, Singapore and elsewhere continue to use their influence to make ADR more accessible and attractive in settling disputes, the JAMS Foundation has taken a more creative approach. Through its Weinstein JAMS International Fellowship program, the foundation has brought more than 50 individuals from 44 countries to the U.S. since 2009 to learn more about the best practices in the American ADR system so that they can return to their home countries to “spread the word.” Judge Weinstein conceived of and funded the Fellowship Program to provide opportunities for ADR professionals from throughout the world to learn more about dispute resolution in the United States. Now in its fifth year, the current class of 2013 includes 11 Fellows from various countries including Egypt, Mexico, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan and Turkey.
These individuals come from all walks of life. Some are judges, many are lawyers and others just want to pursue a life of dispute resolution. Their goals may be to improve the efficiency in their home court system, set up a commercial ADR business or – in the case of one former Fellow from Bhutan, to “educate communities of the existence of our traditional dispute resolution system known as Nangkha Nangdrik.” Each of these individuals function as a sort of “Johnny Appleseed” to spread the word of conflict resolution and to promote more effective practices in their home countries.
Recently, Judge Weinstein and the Foundation partnered together to continue administering the Fellowship program. The funding provided by Judge Weinstein and the JAMS Foundation will provide a minimum of $6 million over the next 20 years. By that time, hundreds of Fellows from scores of countries will potentially have done more to promote ADR around the world than any regulation or law. It is a refreshing and inspiring approach.