UF Law Mediation Expert Wins Award
Legal Skills Professor Alison Gerencser is named a “Woman of Distinction” for bringing mediation to local courts
When Alison Gerencser was a freshly-minted attorney practicing family law in the Jacksonville area, she often wondered if there wasn’t a better way to settle family disputes.
“I began to feel that bringing lawyers into a divorce only made a bad situation worse,” said Gerencser, a legal skills professor and associate director of the Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Levin College of Law.“There has to be a better way to settle these issues than to fight it out in court.”
In the early 1990s, Gerenscer’s experience led her to take charge of the 8th Judicial Circuit’s first mediation program – a project that gives families the chance to settle disputes at the negotiating table before going to court. Her involvement in the program led Santa Fe Community College to honor her with its Woman of Distinction Award. Gerencser is one of six women who will receive the award at a March 15 ceremony at the Tower Club at the Village, near the SFCC campus.
Gerenscer headed the 8th Circuit’s mandatory family law mediation program when it was literally headquartered in a closet in a judge’s office. Originally the program offered mediation only in family law cases – since then, it has expanded to include civil law in county and circuit courts, as well as some criminal cases.
Mediation has drastically reduced the caseload in the 8th Circuit Court. For instance 80 percent of family law cases in the 8th Circuit are now settled through mediation.
“Let’s face it: litigation is costly, and people would usually prefer to avoid it for that reason alone,” she said. “Another reason mediation works, particularly in family law, is that there’s no transcript, so you don’t face the prospect of very personal information becoming public record.”
Gerencser teaches the UF law mediation clinic, which trains law students in mediation techniques and gives them hands-on experience in the field. Gerencser and her students also work at the Pace Center for Girls and other schools for at-risk youth, teaching alternative dispute resolution techniques to children.
“I really do believe that lawyers have a responsibility to give something back to the community,” she said.