This past January, three students from Harvard Law School’s Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program traveled to Chile to investigate the Ministry of Justice’s neighborhood multi-door courthouse pilot program.

The Unidad de Justicia Vecinal (Neighborhood Justice Unit) program is piloting multi-door courthouses in four districts in the greater Santiago area. The pilot program aims to study the potential for a national system of multi-door courthouses that would address the lack of “access to justice” that is a problem for many communities in Chile.

The students, Leah Kang ’12, Teresa Napoli ’13, and Apoorva Patel ’13, worked under the supervision of Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law Jeremy McClane ’02. They conducted field research in the form of site visits at each of the four pilot courthouses, interviewed stakeholders, and observed courthouse processes.

The clinical project began last fall when the Chilean Ministry of Justice asked HNMCP to conduct a study of its neighborhood justice program and to evaluate the Chilean multi-door courthouse model according to principles of alternative dispute resolution and dispute system design theory.

The idea of the multi-door courthouse was originally presented by Harvard Law Professor Frank Sander ‘52, who imagined that a single justice unit could provide multiple fora, or “doors,” for dispute resolution, so that disputants could access a range of ADR options in addition to traditional legal processes. In Chile, the absence of civil reform has created difficult procedural and formalistic barriers to the public’s use of the courts. As a result, there are few avenues for resolution of neighborhood disputes. By providing community members with the services of mediation, conciliation, arbitration, legal representation, and social services referrals within a single courthouse, the neighborhood justice program could be the solution for this problem.

Based on their research, the students proposed recommendations for improving the UJV program, which the Ministry of Justice will consider as it forms its strategy for a national roll-out of the neighborhood justice units. Before leaving Chile, the students presented their preliminary findings before an audience of Ministry officials and their work was enthusiastically received.