In 1991, the General Assembly authorized a pilot program of pre-trial, court-ordered mediated settlement conferences for civil cases filed in Superior Court. The new program was charged with facilitating the settlement of Superior Court civil actions and with making civil litigation more economical, efficient, and satisfactory to litigants and the public. The director of the Administrative Office of the Courts designated eight judicial districts in which the pilot would be conducted. All eight sites began operating late in 1991 or early in 1992. In 1994, four districts were added. The North Carolina Bar Association was instrumental in encouraging the establishment of the new program and raised grant funds to help support its operations during the pilot period. The pilot project operated through October of 1995, when the General Assembly adopted N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-38.1, authorizing statewide expansion of the Mediated Settlement Conference Program. Statewide expansion began in earnest in January of 1996, and judicial districts continued to establish their programs throughout that year. By the beginning of 1997, the program was operating statewide. The goals the General Assembly set for the statewide program remain the same as those set for the pilot.