A special master carries out some direct action on behalf of and at the request of a court. The special master is appointed by a judge to oversee one or more aspects of litigation at the pleasure of the appointing court. The special master may be appointed pre-trial, during trial, or post-trial. Special masters often become temporary or quasi-judges. Any ruling or recommendation by the special master may be reviewed by the trial judge at the request of any of the litigants.
It is not uncommon for the parties in litigation to mutually propose that a special master be appointed. When they do this, the parties frequently jointly propose a recommended neutral. JAMS neutrals are frequently asked to perform this task. Each is experienced in litigation and most have acted as special masters or judges in the past. JAMS neutrals have a wide range of expertise and are frequently chosen for their familiarity with the legal issues in dispute.
Judges appoint special masters for many reasons. Most often the special master manages pre-trial discovery. This includes rulings on discovery disputes, pretrial motions and the review of confidential information to determine whether and how much of it should be provided to the other parties in the litigation. A special master may be appointed post-trial in order to institute or oversee a ruling or order of the court.
Special masters are compensated for their work. The court typically sets the rate of compensation for special masters, and the parties must pay these costs.