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IBA: Meaningful Pro Bono and Courtroom Experience Available through the Mediation Assistance Program

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iba-map.gifBy Kristine Seufert, United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana

More than 25 percent of the cases pending in the United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, have a least one pro se litigant. To address this community need, the Court launched the Mediation Assistance Program (MAP) in September 2009.

Since its inception, the MAP, through its attorney volunteers, has provided an outstanding service to both pro se litigants and the court. Attorneys who participate in the MAP are given the opportunity to provide quality pro bono work to pro se litigants unfamiliar with court procedures and the law by representing otherwise pro se litigants at Court-sponsored mediations. Magistrate Judges Tim A. Baker and Denise K. LaRue have used MAP counsel in multiple cases and enthusiastically support the program.

“MAP counsel provide pro se parties with an important sounding board to evaluate their case and assist them in assessing legal arguments, crafting settlement demands, considering offers, and completing settlement documents when a case is resolved. In this regard, MAP attorneys help not only the pro se parties, but the court and the legal system as a whole.” Judge Baker said.

Judge LaRue explains, “Without a MAP attorney, I am always concerned when I privately caucus with each party during a settlement conference that the unrepresented litigant might misinterpret my role to be that of legal advisor instead of Judge—despite my frequent and clear reminders to the contrary. Because of this concern, I would be less inclined to hold a settlement conference in pro se cases if we did not have MAP volunteer attorneys.”

The MAP attorney, who is appointed by the magistrate judge presiding over the case, assists in preparing for the settlement conference (including meeting with the client and preparation of a confidential settlement statement), participates in the settlement conference on behalf of the pro se litigant, and drafts a settlement agreement and corresponding stipulation of dismissal, if appropriate. Assistance under the MAP is limited, however, only to the settlement conference and does not extend to any other part of the litigation process (including discovery to prepare for the conference).

“In my experience, when a MAP attorney is involved, the case gets settled with fewer bumps along the way. For example, on the front end, the MAP attorney can explain to the unrepresented litigant any applicable legal limits on recovery which, in some instances, leads to a more realistic settlement position,” says Judge LaRue. “On the back end, the MAP attorney provides assistance to the pro se in reviewing and explaining legal terminology contained in the final settlement document.”

The MAP also provides valuable experience for attorneys wishing to appear in court. “Opportunities to represent clients in a court setting are unfortunately hard to come by,” Judge Baker said. “The MAP program provides both new and experienced attorneys a chance to appear in court, feel the excitement of litigation, and do some good in the process. It’s a win-win situation.”

MAP volunteers consistently report that their participation in the program was a positive experience. Al McLaughlin, Office Managing Shareholder of Littler Mendelson PC, has been participating in the MAP since its inception and has successfully assisted otherwise pro se litigants in negotiating a settlement agreement in four separate cases. “I continue to provide pro bono service through the MAP because the work is rewarding and interesting. I have been given the opportunity to represent individuals that I would not otherwise have had a reason to connect with. I enjoy being in a position to provide these individuals with practical and legal assistance and knowing that my representation has made a difference in their lives.”•

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  1. Im very happy for you, getting ready to go down that dirt road myself, and im praying for the same outcome, because it IS sometimes in the childs best interest to have visitation with grandparents. Thanks for sharing, needed to hear some positive posts for once.

  2. Been there 4 months with 1 paycheck what can i do

  3. our hoa has not communicated any thing that takes place in their "executive meetings" not executive session. They make decisions in these meetings, do not have an agenda, do not notify association memebers and do not keep general meetings minutes. They do not communicate info of any kind to the member, except annual meeting, nobody attends or votes because they think the board is self serving. They keep a deposit fee from club house rental for inspection after someone uses it, there is no inspection I know becausee I rented it, they did not disclose to members that board memebers would be keeping this money, I know it is only 10 dollars but still it is not their money, they hire from within the board for paid positions, no advertising and no request for bids from anyone else, I atteended last annual meeting, went into executive session to elect officers in that session the president brought up the motion to give the secretary a raise of course they all agreed they hired her in, then the minutes stated that a diffeerent board member motioned to give this raise. This board is very clickish and has done things anyway they pleased for over 5 years, what recourse to members have to make changes in the boards conduct

  4. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  5. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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