Our series, My Favorite Resource, features interviews with our court ADR friends across the country to learn about their favorite resource. This month, Resource Center Director Nicole Wilmet spoke with Joel Shapiro, Chief Circuit Mediator for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Mediation Program, to learn about his favorite resource.
NW: What is your favorite ADR resource?
JS: For information, I turn to RSI. (Seriously, there is no better source to keep up with developments in ADR in Illinois and around the country.) For insight and guidance, I turn to my immediate professional community – the cadre of forty to fifty mediators who work full-time for the federal appellate and district courts. We are few enough to feel connected and to call on one another when the need arises. Of course, the closest to hand are my fellow Seventh Circuit Mediators. We consult informally on a daily basis and have lunch together once a week to make sure we stay in touch.
NW: Can you share an example of when you turned to your network for support?
JS: Confidentiality is fundamental in mediation, even more so when mediation is conducted under the aegis of the court. Dilemmas regarding confidentiality arise from time to time, requiring principled and pragmatic responses. Years ago, I was subpoenaed to give testimony and produce my notes in a state court action to enforce a settlement I had mediated. In addition to consulting the Judiciary’s Office of Legal Counsel and the leadership of my court, I asked colleagues in other circuits how they had responded to similar demands. Those conversations reinforced my own belief that I must not comply with the subpoena unless directed to do so by the Court of Appeals. I requested representation from the Office of the U.S. Attorney, which removed the subpoena to federal district court and successfully moved to quash it.
NW: In what ways have you found that your network has been better able to serve your needs than a traditional print resource?
JS: Whatever the commonalities among mediators and mediations, performing this work as court staff is a specialized role. My counterparts in the other federal courts share that experience and an outlook rooted in the utmost respect for judicial institutions. They “know the territory.” Their collective wisdom is not available in traditional print resources. Perhaps it should be.
NW: What do you value most about the input you receive from your network?
JS: The input I receive from my network is generous, honest, on-point, and well-informed. I know I can count on my “posse.”
NW: How did you develop your network and what would you recommend for someone looking to develop their network?
JS: In the performance of their regular duties, Chief Circuit Mediators meet at least once a year and confer intermittently by phone and email. The entire corps of federal appellate and district court staff mediators meets biennially for a three-day workshop sponsored by the Federal Judicial Center. These periodic meetings are the trellis on which our network has developed. In addition, I host monthly conference calls that are in the nature of “self-reflective practice” conversations. Those sessions, populated by eight or ten colleagues at a time, provide an opportunity to think deeply about our work, help one another “brainstorm” about particular day-to-day challenges, and continually reaffirm the values and friendships that bind us together.
If someone were looking to develop a network of mutually supportive ADR practitioners, I would suggest they form a self-reflective practice group – it could be as few as three or four colleagues – whose shared professional experience and values can create a foundation of trust. Mediators who have done this find it to be not only informative but invigorating. Anyone who would like to tap into my thoughts about “self-reflective practice” is welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.