Over the years, a common theme heard among litigators after a grueling case where one side loses is that there must be a better way to manage disputes. In the mid -1970s, legal scholars from around the nation came together to review ways to make the legal process more user-friendly and accessible. They concluded, among other things, that a multi-door courthouse with processes that were designed to fit the forum to the dispute might be worth considering. Mediation was at the centerpiece of the discussion because it allowed parties to control the outcome, focused on self -determination and empowerment of the parties.
The first legal system to adopt the vision of these legal scholars was the Neighborhood Justice Center. Although disputes had legal overtones, they generally involved personal relationships where the focus was on the parties themselves, and what could be done to assist them with their ongoing relationships. This fit squarely within the goals of mediation, and success was overwhelming. Indeed many of the leaders from the Neighborhood Justice Centers were prominent members of the local and national bar associations. Observing the success of the mediation process in their own backyard planted the seeds for later adaptation into the civil justice system.
Those who served as early mediators were creative and enthusiastic, trusting their intuition, prioritizing the importance of ongoing relationships, and seeking more wisdom that they could impart to their clients. The early neutrals were both visionaries and idealists in the same spirit as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They prided themselves on being authentic, kind and nurturing. They were sure that the use of friendly cooperation was the best way to achieve a fair outcome of any dispute, even if it involved competitive components. These folks had unique, artistic talents that highlighted interpersonal harmony as the gateway to case closure. Some mediators entered the field because they were on a journey of self-discovery and improvement, and wanted to help others on the journey. The process of dispute resolution was the mechanism to follow that chosen path. These idealists were naturally drawn to the mediation process because they could help people find a better way and inspire them to grow.