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Road Home becomes a little smoother with help of Loyola’s Mediation Clinic

Loyola press release - July 14, 2008

Aggrieved homeowners in New Orleans normally do not end up hugging contractors after lengthy disputes, but that is exactly what happened when Loyola University New Orleans College of Law student Claire Easterling helped resolve a case in the university’s Mediation Clinic this past semester.

Third-year law students at Loyola can participate in the Mediation Clinic, an off-shoot of Loyola’s Law Clinic, which provides pro bono legal representation to needy clients. Mediation Clinic clients are victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who received Road Home program money to repair their homes and who later became involved in a construction dispute. These homeowners who have become dissatisfied with their contractor can file complaints with the attorney general’s office, which forwards them to ICF International which runs the Road Home program. ICF has a contract with Loyola College of Law to refer these cases to the Mediation Section of the college's law clinic.

Visiting assistant clinical professors and licensed attorneys Nannette Jolivette Brown and Denise Pilié work with and supervise law students in the clinic. According to Pilié, the relationship between homeowners and contractors can sometimes be a delicate one. Jolivette Brown added, "Functional Illiteracy, cultural differences and language barriers are some of the things that cloud the relationships. We try to prepare our student mediators in advance by giving them strategies to help the participants overcome these challenges."

"Mediation gives these homeowners an opportunity to be heard which they may not have anywhere else. Some of these homeowners are still in trailers almost three years after the storm and their nerves are at the breaking point. More then anything, they want to get back into their houses. We try to give them a way to accomplish that," Pilié said.

For students, it is valuable experience and exposes them to a wider array of social issues. Easterling hopes to incorporate mediation into her career. "The experience is educational, and it has helped me in both my personal life and legal career," Easterling said. "I feel that I am better able to communicate with clients. Mediation has enabled me to listen to what someone is saying and to think about how to respond at the same time."

Easterling’s mediation not only ended up with apologies, hugs and tears, but the claimant withdrew the complaint against the contractor. "It can sometimes be extremely emotional work, especially when a person has fallen on bad times. Other times, however, I am merely serving as a bridge to a gap in communication or understanding. Those cases are easy, and I am happy to help the parties come to a meeting of the minds. The emotional issues can be exhausting, and I can only hope that my small role in their battles to return to normalcy has made a difference," Easterling said.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact James Shields in the Office of Public Affairs at (504) 861-5888 or jshields@loyno.edu.