Prompted by a recommendation by the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Complimentary Dispute Resolution, there is a proposal pending to raise the compensation for Court-referred mediators to $100 per hour for the first three hours of the mediator’s services.

At present, the first three hours of the mediator’s time is without compensation. This has been the arrangement since Court-referred mediation began in the New Jersey Superior Court in 2000. After the first three hours, mediators may charge customary hourly rates which average $250 to $300 per hour. These fees are split between the parties.

The current proposal is a result of increasing dissatisfaction among mediators, causing many to leave the ranks. The Court initiated program, which assigns most cases out for mediation within approximately 90 days after an Answer is filed to the Complaint, is operating in 17 counties, pending likely extension to all 21 counties. This program involves referral of more than 5,000 cases a year.

Extending compensation at $100 per hour for the first three hours, will likely cause some highly qualified mediators to return to the active roster, thereby making available to litigants mediators with greater expertise and increasing the likelihood that cases will be resolved through the process. The goal of mediation is to create an environment within which the parties can settle their disputes before each side has spent considerable sums in attorneys and expert fees, monies which could be better spent, or saved, as part of a settlement of the dispute.

The program has been quite effective and has not only resolved many cases, but has also exposed litigants to alternate means of resolving disputes. In some ways this has humanized the legal system for people otherwise anticipating long, drawn out expensive legal battles.

This should be a positive development, if adopted by the Court, and renew vigor to a program which has demonstrated its rightful place as a means of settling all manner of legal disputes, from the smallest neighborhood dispute to multi-million dollar commercial cases.