The North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission (DRC) recently issued an Advisory Opinion concerning the formation of a panel of mediators by the North Carolina Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section (DRS) for pro bono services for clients of North Carolina Legal Aid. Here's a link to the opinion - DRC Advisory Opinion.
This is a laudable project for the DRS. Additionally, the disclosure requirements adopted by the DRC opinion appear designed to maintain mediator neutrality while allowing mediator discretion as to fees for the “other side.” At the same time, mediators should carefully consider how and on what basis they will charge the “other side” in a pro bono case. While this is clearly stated and a process in place as set by the mediated settlement conference rules, i.e., a party may petition for relief from the mediation fee through the Court, the Advisory Opinion allows that each mediator may handle fee payment from the “other side” on a case by case basis.
As the DRS moves forward with this project, perhaps it should consider incorporating a “standard” approach to address fees with the “other side” in its pro bono project. Creating uniformity and consistency would provide mediators with clear direction and keep the mediator firmly in the middle of the process and not in the middle of the mediation fee!