The American Arbitration Association (“AAA” or “Association”) in 2015 created a special unit of dedicated case administrators to process pro se cases. We offer here a synopsis.
An AAA arbitrator who had been approached recently to serve on a case shared with us news that the Association has a case administration team to work on cases involving pro se parties. The invitation letter said: “This dispute is being administered by the Pro Se Arbitration Administration Team as at least one party to the case is currently not represented by an attorney. The Pro Se Arbitration Administration Team (‘Pro Se Team’) is comprised of experienced AAA case administrators, and the goal of the Pro Se Team is to ensure fair and efficient management of cases involving unrepresented parties. For this reason, all communications between the AAA and parties are conducted in writing, and the names of individual team members are not disclosed to the parties. My name is ________, but I will be communicating with the parties and you via the ProSeAdministrator … email address. You are free to contact me at this email address or by calling my direct telephone number _______. We request that you do not disclose our names or telephone numbers to the parties.”
The AAA Explains
This naturally got our attention so we contacted the Association to seek more information. Senior Vice President Christine Newhall was kind enough to virtually sit down with the Alert to provide some insights. The conversation is essentially verbatim:
SAA: What is the Pro Se Arbitration Administration Team program? Please describe the core features.
Newhall: The Pro Se Case Administration Team administers cases involving unrepresented parties by a team of highly skilled AAA case administrators who are experienced and trained in handling cases involving pro se parties. The Pro Se Case Administration Team has developed specifically tailored resources for pro se parties to educate them about the arbitration and mediation process (ADR process). The Pro Se Case Administration Team also has provided information to pro se parties to help them obtain legal representation (example: ABA Free Legal Answers). To ensure an efficient and fair process, all communications on cases administered by this team are primarily conducted in writing with the exception of any in person or telephonic hearings which are conducted by the arbitrator. This helps parties focus on case issues, gives parties time to respond to submissions from opposing parties and can make it possible for both parties to be copied on all correspondence.
SAA: When did it start?
SAA: Why did AAA create it?
Newhall: Unrepresented parties who are unfamiliar with the ADR process have more questions and are less familiar with the process. In keeping with our not-for-profit mission to educate the public about ADR, the AAA saw a need to have a team experienced in administering cases with unrepresented parties in order to help these parties navigate their case. Resources available on our Website include videos that help educate the pro se party on the arbitration process.
SAA: How is it working so far?
Newhall: The AAA Pro Se Case Administration Team is providing information and service on the cases and continues to learn and develop new resources for unrepresented parties, as well as for the arbitrators that serve on the cases. The team is working hard and over the last five years have provided valuable administrative services on the pro se cases.
SAA: Is there anything else you want our readers and followers to know?
Newhall: Those interested in additional information on the AAA’s Pro Se Case administration should visit our website, www.adr.org.
Message is Clear
There’s a page on the AAA Website dedicated to the program, https://adr.org/pro-se. Among the resources is a 3-minute video, Pro Se Party Information, advising: “It is important to keep in mind that the AAA manages only the administrative aspects of the arbitration, such as the appointment of the arbitrator and handling the fees associated with the arbitration. The AAA and/or the arbitrator do not assist the parties in presenting their case. The AAA and/or the arbitrator do not provide legal advice or assistance to the parties and cannot give advice about your case or what documents you should use as evidence.” The video underscores that all communications must be in writing, and phone calls are not accepted (we assume this applies to all sides, including parties represented by counsel.)
(ed: *Our thanks to Ms. Newhall for providing this information! **We’re assuming that a need to shield staff in part drove creation of the program. ***FINRA does not have such a program, but under Rule 13203(a) the Authority can: “decline to permit the use of the FINRA arbitration forum if the Director determines that, given the purposes of FINRA and the intent of the Code … accepting the matter would pose a risk to the health or safety of arbitrators, staff, or parties or their representatives.”