In October 2004 the Circuit Court launched a program aimed at requiring litigants in civil disputes to meet at the outset of the litigation process. These early intervention conferences (EIC), under the guidance of volunteer facilitators, serve to define and narrow the issues in a case and to foster communication between the parties, a characteristic of litigation that is all too often absent, particularly during the early stages of the life of a case. The facilitators also introduce other forms of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) to the parties and explore settlement opportunities.
Ten judges are included in this pilot project; each designated a week wherein 25 to 30 of his or her cases are scheduled for EICs. Housing & real estate (CH), contracts (CK), and “other civil” cases (CZ) are targeted. Thirty minute blocks are designated for each EIC. About 10 cases are scheduled each day of the week except Wednesdays.
Scheduling notices (Example: "Notice & Order for Mandatory Civil EIC") with a Frequently Asked Questions sheet are mailed to the attorneys of record approximately 68 days after the cases are filed, and about six weeks in advance of their EICs. Attorneys or pro per litigants are required to attend the EIC. Clients who reside locally are also required to attend.
The EIC program’s primary objectives are to bring parties together early in the dispute to begin the communication process, educate the litigants as to forms of alternative dispute resolution that might be suitable for their dispute, and to clarify and narrow the issues. Settlements are a secondary objective. Settlements achieved during the EIC are not the norm, but often occur shortly after due to the facilitators’ success in accomplishing the primary objectives as noted above. To capture the success of the EIC program, we measure out 60 days after completion of the EICs to determine the effectiveness of the process.
To ensure that the EIC process is made as beneficial to the attorneys and their clients as possible, customer satisfaction surveys are provided to each participant. The results (Civil EIC Customer Satisfaction Survey "Completely Satisfied" Results 2006) are gathered daily and tabulated so that we have a current and complete record.
Facilitators are also asked to critique the program and provide comments for improvement. Suggestions have included limiting the types of cases to those that lend themselves to the EIC process, having facilitators access and explain the types of ADR programs that would be suitable for each case, enforce sanctions to reduce the number of “no-shows”, and lengthen the amount of time scheduled for each EIC.
The statistical results (Civil EIC Results for 2006) have surpassed our expectations and are due to the tremendous experience, expertise, and commitment of the many volunteer facilitators, without whom this program would not exist. The judges and employees of the Circuit Court extend our thanks to the Oakland County Bar Association’s Circuit Court Committee for its assistance in creating the program, and to the many lawyers who have volunteered their time and energy to make the program an unqualified success.