On October 22, 2022, the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) unanimously adopted a resolution urging rule-makers and legislators to cease using the term “master” or “special master” to describe court-appointed neutrals.  The resolution also supports efforts to broaden the pool of candidates and the development of skills and training of those who serve as neutrals; and to promote the consideration of using “court-appointed neutrals” as “a best practice in matters in which these neutrals may help increase access to justice, reduce costs, avoid delay, or otherwise assist in the just and timely resolution of actions.”

As David Tenner, President of Academy of Court-Appointed Neutrals (ACAN), explained, “having the National Association of Women Judges not only adopt this powerful resolution, but adopt it unanimously, is an inspiration to all of us who seek to improve the administration of justice.”  Tenner added, “our Academy changed its name earlier this year from the Academy of Court-Appointed Masters, because we concluded that the term “court-appointed neutrals” much better serves our own efforts to broaden our profession and broaden the thinking about how our professionals can serve justice.  We are committed to working with the NAWJ and other organizations to achieve these ends and to amend rules to replace the term “master” and “special master” with “court-appointed neutral.”

ACAN Executive Director Merril Hirsh noted that the NAWJ’s Resolution at its Annual Meeting is “the latest in a series of important steps in the effort to rethink our profession.”  In January 2019, the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted Guidelines on the appointment and use of these neutrals in federal and state civil litigation urging that it “should be an accepted part of judicial administration in complex litigation” and in other cases that create particular needs that a neutral might satisfy, ”for courts and the parties to consider using” these neutrals.

Since then, a Committee of the ABA’s Judicial Division Lawyers Conference has been issuing a series of articles, webcasts and support documents designed to help implement those Guidelines (including criteria courts could use to select neutrals to a roster; draft survey instruments to evaluate neutrals’ work; and resource outlines for using neutrals to address pandemic-related backlogs).

Beginning in Fall 2021, the Academy issued a series of announcements explaining that it was joining this effort by opening its membership up to people who had not previously served as court-appointed neutrals, working with former Federal Judicial Center Director and Judge Jeremy Fogel to develop a new training and mentoring program and partnering with organizations, including the NAWJ and the ABA, to advance the profession.

In July 2022, the Academy and the ABA Judicial Division Lawyers Conference Committee announced that their experience in these efforts had led them both to change their names to use “Court-Appointed Neutrals” as the term for the profession, and the Committee issued for wide discussion a draft of the first ever model state rule for considering the appointment of “Court-Appointed Neutrals.”

As Hirsh added, “ACAN plans to work with other organizations on similar efforts and resolutions not just to rename our profession, but to develop new pathways for people to become part of the profession and new thinking on how our profession can advance the just, fair and inexpensive resolution of disputes.”

People interested in learning more about the exciting changes at ACAN or about becoming a court-appointed neutral, becoming a better court-appointed neutral or making better use of court-appointed neutrals can contact Mr. Hirsh at [email protected], (202) 448-9020.