Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mediation & Arbitration Section: Federal Pro Bono Mediation Initiative

By Amy Mahan Tamargo 
“I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
― Albert Schweitzer
In addition to boosting happiness, providing pro bono service fulfills lawyers’ and mediators’ professional responsibilities. Rule 4-6.1 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar sets forth the aspirational goal that members provide at least 20 hours of pro bono legal services to the poor annually. Likewise, Rule 10.690 of the Florida Rules for Certified and Court-Appointed Mediators sets forth mediators’ responsibility to provide pro bono mediation services. A new opportunity to provide such services is underway.  The HCBA’s Mediation & Arbitration Section has teamed up with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida to create a pro bono mediation initiative. The initiative provides mediators with opportunities to offer the pro bono mediation services envisioned by the professional responsibility rules.

The initiative has built a roster of mediators who agree to mediate federal cases on a pro bono basis. To qualify, mediators must be certified pursuant to Middle District Local Rule 9.02. Middle District judges and magistrates, as well as lawyers and parties involved in pro bono cases, have access to the roster. These users contact mediators directly to schedule mediation. When contacted, roster members are not obligated to accept the mediation, allowing a mediator to decline a case he or she does not feel comfortable mediating, such as a case involving unfamiliar or complex subjects or legal concepts.  

Bankruptcy Court Judge Catherine McEwen, past chair of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Pro Bono Committee, was instrumental in creating the initiative and has used the roster in cases that have come before her. Some examples of the types of cases where she has assigned mediators from the roster include contract, fraud, and securities fraud cases. She often assigns mediators from the roster in cases where there is a pro bono attorney or where one side has an attorney and the other is pro se. The initiative provides a meaningful opportunity for pro se or other indigent litigants to participate in mediation and get its benefits, namely: (1) containing costs, (2) eliminating the unpredictability of judges, and (3) allowing litigants to control their own destiny.  

In addition to benefitting underprivileged litigants, the initiative provides benefits to the mediators on the roster. While satisfying professional responsibility goals, the initiative provides opportunities for mediators to build or expand their practices. From a professional development perspective, it is an opportunity for mediators to gain mediation experience. From a marketing perspective, it gives mediators exposure to lawyers, judges, and parties who may hire them in the future for paying cases. And who knows, it just might make you really happy!

If you are interested in being included on the roster, please email your name, contact information, and a brief description of the types of cases you have experience handling as a lawyer or mediator to