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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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