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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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