Practice Tip: 
Growing the ADR Industry Begins with Us: Educating the Public - Part I

Gary M. Wisenbaker

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!”

I’ve always suspected that Dick Butler’s plan of action revealed in Shakespeare’s play “King Henry IV,” a story about rebellion in 15th-century England, was ground zero for the next 500 years’ worth of lawyer jokes.   But the more poignant observation came from his revolution co-conspirator Cade, who proposed that, in the new world order, they ought to “make it a felony to drink small beer.”

Aside from the ancient Romans’ proclivity for expanding the public dole to satisfy the masses and thus ensure their own re-election bids—sound familiar?--- these two lines probably articulate the first recorded proof of the rise of populism, given that lawyers were in low esteem and large beers were popular.

But swilling large beers in a lawyer-free society is no panacea.  As simple and satiric as the lines are, they reflect, I think, a couple of commonly held thoughts that survive even today. First, we have a legal system that cannot be navigated easily with—or without—an attorney and, second, we have better things to do than commit a lot of time and resources to either the legal process or to its gatekeepers.

While average Georgians are not inclined to want to deal with a legal system or its acolytes, they don’t seem to think that they have a choice where there’s a legal wrong to be addressed.  No matter the grievance, whether they’ve suffered a physical or economic injury, they feel like they simply have to deal with the legal system. 

As members of the ADR team, we need to do a better job of educating the public on the alternatives. And we can do that best by pointing out the facts at every opportunity in a way that gets their attention.

It’s said that people “vote their pocket books.”  Maybe so, maybe not.  But if we can point out savings in dollars (most folks like saving money), we might make some headway in demonstrating one of the benefits of the ADR process.

And one of those benefits is lessening the load on the judiciary, possibly resulting in restraining its growth and its demands on the taxpayer.

We all know that ours is a huge, slow, complicated judicial system.  This didn’t happen by accident, but rather by design.  After a 31-year binge with it, I’ve developed some sense of clarity or, as Cade might bemoan, a sense of sobriety about it.

Let’s take a quick look at Georgia’s judiciary scheme.  Aside from a state Supreme Court and a Court of Appeals, there are 159 superior courts having general jurisdiction to hear all cases.  These courts are organized into 49 judicial circuits which, in turn, are organized into 10 judicial districts throughout the state.  In 2012, these courts saw an astounding 343,000 civil cases filed.  That’s nearly one civil action for every man, woman and child living within the city limits of Columbus and Augusta, Georgia, combined.

Where I mediate here in the western part of south central Georgia, we’re in the 2nd Judicial District, made up of 27 counties. As of 2013, this district currently had 29 judges presiding, 16 of those being superior court judges and the remaining 13 being state court judges. While counties may share a superior court judge, some counties fund an additional judge, a state court judge, who can handle the same type cases as a superior court judge except  felony, equity (usually issues involving land) and domestic matters. During 2013, almost 24,000 civil actions were filed in the 2nd Judicial District, the same number as the population of Stockbridge, Georgia, and a little larger than the entire population of Worth County.

These judges require staffs, and they all have to be paid and given health and retirement benefits.  Pinning down an exact cost is difficult due to county supplements and other variables.  Suffice it to say that the number is not insignificant, and it just got bigger with the recently approved judicial pay increase signed by Governor Deal.

The growth in the ADR industry depends on broadening the public’s perception of its benefits and application.  We know that early ADR intervention can result in cost savings to the public and as well as the judiciary in terms of both time and money.

But John Q’s not going to know about that unless we tell them. Talk to that civic club or any other appropriate forum and get the word out.

It won’t happen without you.      

Gary Wisenbaker, B.A., J.D. is a native of South Georgia where he practiced law in Valdosta and Savannah for 31 years. He has lectured at seminars and written treatises on real and personal property foreclosure and the rights of creditors.  His column “Law Wise” appeared in the Savannah Morning News and he hosted his own weekly radio call in program, “Ask the Expert”. He holds a general civil mediation certification and is a state approved Neutral with the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution.  Gary established a mediation practice, Wiregrass Mediation Services, LLC,, in the South Georgia area and is an approved Neutral throughout the region.  Gary recently published his first book, “How Great is His Mercy: the Plea” which is available on



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