Court Form Nuts & Bolts
Many of the requirements for good court forms differ depending on the form's use and the type of program. There are, however, certain rules that should be followed for all court forms:
Collect data that reflects program goals
One objective in designing the forms is to collect the information needed to accomplish ongoing monitoring of the ADR program and to evaluate it from time to time. Get input from stakeholders to help ensure that the forms gather the information required.
Keep it simple
The form should be easy to understand and easy to complete. Format the form so that it can be easily followed. Use checkboxes to shorten the length of time needed to complete the form and maintain uniform responses. Checkboxes and uniform responses make it easier for administrative staff to enter the data into the court docket. Make sure as well that those filling out the forms can readily respond to particular items.
Make the form's language accessible to everyone
In many cases those filling out the forms will be representing themselves. The language of the forms should reflect this. Use direct, every day language as often as possible. Keep sentences short. Whenever possible, translate the forms into languages that reflect the population served by the court.
Use precise language
Ambiguous language can lead to misunderstandings, particularly in orders to participate in an ADR process. It can also lead to improper completion of forms. Leave nothing open to interpretation. If providing choices for responses to a particular item, make sure they cover all the possibilities and don't overlap from one item to another.
Provide good direction
Use forms for more than just collecting information for the court. Use them as well to inform attorneys, parties, and neutrals about the ADR process and what is expected of them from referral to informing the court of the outcome.
Make forms uniform and accessible
As much as possible, use standard forms across jurisdictions. This will help those working in multiple jurisdictions. It will also be useful to the gathering of monitoring and evaluation information so that programs can be compared across jurisdictions. Post the forms online and, if possible, have lawyers, parties, and mediators fill them out online.
Need help with your court mediation forms? Ask RSI, the Court ADR Experts
Beyond offering resources on this site, RSI also works with courts to develop mediation programs. We have helped many courts create or revise their court forms. For information about how we could help you, please email us.