Alaska has a great Early Resolution Project in which pro bono attorneys focus on cases which are settlement ready, as screened by the self-help center. As the linked document explains:
Early intervention is an effective component of settlement in family law cases. Therefore, the Alaska Court System created the Early Resolution Project (ERP). In ERP, newly filed divorce and custody cases involving two self-represented litigants are screened by reviewing the contested issues and the likelihood of settling any or all issues. Once selected for ERP, the court schedules six to eight cases at the same time during a regularly scheduled afternoon hearing block. ERP occurs currently in three of the state’s largest volume courts – Anchorage, Palmer and Juneau – and the Fairbanks court will be starting ERP in the spring of 2013.
Volunteer attorneys are available at the hearing to provide unbundled legal services. In other words, the attorneys provide advice to their client for the ERP hearing only and negotiate with the opposing party’s volunteer attorney to see if any agreements can be reached. Court mediators are also used to assist the litigants. The Alaska Legal Services Corporation Pro Bono Program handles the volunteer attorney coordination, training and recruitment. The Alaska Attorney General supports the involvement of Assistant Attorneys General in this project. The court Child Custody Visitation Mediation Program provides court mediators for ERP. A few cases do not receive either attorneys or mediators if there are no disputed issues or relatively few or simple issues to be decided. In those cases, the ERP judge acts as a settlement judge at the hearing.
If the parties reach an agreement, it is memorialized on the record by the ERP settlement judge. Appropriate orders, including a child support order, are issued at the hearing’s conclusion; final paperwork is distributed to the parties while they are still in the courtroom.
There are two ERP hearings per month in Anchorage and once per month in Palmer and Juneau. The Early Resolution Project has proven to be an effective settlement tool in 80% of the over 428 family law cases assigned to the project. Over 50% of the eligible cases have gone through ERP. Significantly, there has been a 98% appearance rate by the parties. Volunteer attorney participation has been impressive, with volunteers continuing to regularly appear three years since the program began.
The linked document discusses the screening considerations and the benefits of the program.
While this may not be a perfect solution for all courts, it is a great example of focused attention to the actual needs of the litigants and the court.
See also New York attorney of the day programs at http://nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/housing/vlfd_housing.shtml and http://nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/civil/vlfd_civil.shtml
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