Experiences at Civil Court

It’s been a while since I’ve written here! The past couple weeks have been so busy.

This blog post will be about my experience working at the Manhattan office for the civil court. Since many things fall under the civil court umbrella, I will focus here on my work in Small Claims. Basically, the cases that go through Small Claims Court are civil suits that are less than $5,000. The New York County Small Claims Court sends the Manhattan Mediation Center (under the auspices of NYPI) a huge list of cases that the court feels are eligible for mediation. Then, we (the interns) sit down at a computer and begin to call all the plaintiffs on the list to offer them mediation as an alternative option for dispute resolution.

I will admit that my first day was terrifying. As I’ve mentioned before, I get very nervous when it comes to cold-calling, which is my main responsibility as Small Claims intern. I have noticed that clients get very frustrated when you call them – speaking to them when they are in this state is what makes me nervous. It is very understandable – many of the people that I have called for small claims mediation haven’t even been served yet. My phone call is the only notice they have received of any case in court. However, I have spoken to many clients in the past couple weeks who have been very grateful and helpful in arranging mediation. It really seems like people are turning away from court arbitration. Instead, they seem to be turning to mediation to resolve their disputes.

I was lucky to observe a small claims mediation yesterday. For the sake of confidentiality, I can’t disclose actual information about it but I will write a general overview! The parties needed an interpreter, so the mediation was very hectic. The interpreter was speaking the entire time, transitioning between English and Cantonese. When the mediation got heated, both sides were talking over each other and the mediator had to translate everything that was going on. However, an agreement was reached after a while. Both parties compromised! It was truly incredible to see. I remember thinking “these people are never going to work it out,” as the tension reached its peak. It seemed like the parties weren’t even arguing about money. On the surface level, yes the issue was $50. It seemed so trivial to me. Both parties had admitted that the money wasn’t important. I found myself thinking irritably, just pay the $50 already. It’s not that big of a deal. I quickly realized, however, that the parties were arguing overĀ principle. Neither one wanted to admit that they were wrong, and it seemed like paying the money would be a signal of defeat. The mediator seemed to sense this too. He would pipe in when things got too loud and would say “it seems like you’re bringing an issue of record keeping to the table,” or “so I’m sensing that there is some tension regarding the communication between your two companies.” I was shocked to see how easy it was for him to identify the issues and how smoothly he introduced those issues to the conversation.

Seemed like magic to me.