Curriculum Development Grant Brings Technology to Mediation

December 15, 2014

What kind of challenges do self-represented litigants face as they navigate the complexities of mediation? This is one of the questions that Alyson Carrel, clinical assistant professor of law and assistant director of the Center on Negotiation and Mediation, will address as part of an Access to Justice (A2J) Author Course Project grant. Carrel was recently awarded one of the curriculum grants managed by IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). The project will begin in early 2015.

The project will employ A2J Author, a software tool used to create user-friendly web interfaces that assist self-represented litigants prepare for a variety of civil procedures. This is the first time this technology has been used for mediation.

“Mediation presents an especially interesting challenge,” said Carrel. “People who represent themselves in these proceedings don’t always understand the process. It’s different from litigation. You’re not preparing for a fight in mediation, it’s about creative problem solving.”

The grant will enable Carrel and her students to develop a series of self-guided interviews to help litigants better prepare for their mediations.

“The goal for the self-guided interviews is to help people understand if their case is suited for mediation, and how best to prepare for it,” Carrel said. “This will ultimately lead to higher resolution rates and better outcomes for people who have to represent themselves in these types of proceedings.”

Carrel will work with students in her Mediation course to develop the online interviews. The students will be divided into groups that will then be paired up with an organization—such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—which will expose them to different potential mediation scenarios. They will meet with clients, brainstorm questions, and ultimately create the A2J interviews. She believes that creating these interviews will help students understand and internalize the mediation process, which will help them be better prepared to advise their clients.

Additionally, this initiative will further develop Carrel’s focus on the use of technology in the classroom.

“Preparing students to understand and use technological advances is imperative,” Carrel said. “With recent changes to the model rules and innovative uses of technology in legal services, we must encourage law students to become more knowledgeable and adaptive to new technology.”

A2J was initially launched in 2004. The latest version, A2J Author 5.0, was released in 2014. CALI Executive Director John Mayer estimated that “With this technology, the legal aid community has delivered over 2.5 million interactions with users seeking assistance in a legal matter for themselves.”

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Center for Access to Justice and Technology fellow Alexander Rabanal noted that even though A2J is already widely used, Carrel’s proposal to develop a tool for mediation represents “exciting new territory” for the software. Ultimately, Rabanal and his team plan to publish the course grant results to expand A2J capabilities for students, court administrators, and litigants. 

Homepage image courtesy of A2J Author.