Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) is a term that refers to a number of processes that can be used to resolve a conflict, dispute, or claim. ADR processes are alternatives to having a court decide the dispute in trial.
ADR processes can be used to resolve any type of dispute including but not limited those related to families, neighborhoods, employment, businesses, housing, personal injury, consumers, and the environment. ADR is usually less formal, less expensive, and less time-consuming than a trial.
Most Common Types of Alternative Dispute Resolutions
In mediation, an impartial person called a “mediator” helps the parties try to reach a mutually acceptable resolution of the dispute. The mediator does not decide the dispute but helps the parties communicate so they can try to settle the dispute themselves. Mediation leaves control of the outcome with the parties.
There are a number of different ways that a mediation can proceed. Most mediations start with the parties together in a joint session. The mediator will describe how the process works, explain the mediator’s role, and help establish ground rules and an agenda for the session.
Mediation may be particularly useful when parties have a relationship they must preserve. Thus, when family members, neighbors, or business partners have a dispute, mediation may be the ADR process to use. An effective mediator can hear the parties out and help them communicate with each other in an effective and nondestructive manner.
In arbitration, a neutral person called an “arbitrator” hears arguments and evidence from each side and then decides the outcome of the dispute. Arbitration is different from mediation because the neutral arbitrator has the authority to make a decision about the dispute. The arbitration process is similar to a trial in that the parties make opening statements and present evidence to the arbitrator. After the hearing, the arbitrator issues an award.
Arbitration may be either “binding” or “nonbinding.” Binding arbitration means that the parties waive their right to a trial and agree to accept the arbitrator’s decision as final. When arbitration is binding, the decision is final, can enforced by the court, and can only be appealed on very narrow grounds. When arbitration is non-binding, the arbitrator’s award is advisory and can only be final if accepted by the parties.
Arbitration is best for cases where the parties want another person to decide the outcome of their dispute for them but would like to avoid the formality, time, and expense of trial. It may also be appropriate for complex matters where the parties want a decision-maker who has training or experience in the subject matter of the dispute.
Settlement conferences may be either mandatory or voluntary. In both mandatory and voluntary settlement conferences, the parties and their attorneys meet with a judge or neutral person called a “settlement officer” to discuss possible settlement of their dispute. The judge or settlement officer does not make a decision in the case but assists the parties in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the case and in negotiating a settlement. Settlement conferences are appropriate in any case where settlement is an option.
While Alternative Dispute Resolution is intended to reduce the costs, stress, and formality associated with going to court, many parties still hire an attorney to represent them at ADR proceedings to ensure that they receive the most favorable outcome possible. If you are involved in a legal issue that you would like to see resolved through ADR, contact an experienced attorney at Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara, LLP to explore your legal options.