What You Need to Know About Dispute Resolution

First of all, it is mandatory. Second, it is effective.Third, it can be relatively inexpensive. Today, most contracts including most real estate purchase agreements‚ contain a provision that requires the parties to submit disputes to arbitration before going to court. If you’ve ever been involved in litigation, you know that at some point in the process, Court rules require the parties to participate in some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution, or  ADR. This can take the form of arbitration or mediation. However, most people, including some attorneys, are confused by these terms.  What are they?  How are they different? Which one is better?

According to the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, ADR is a process in which a neutral person helps people who cannot agree, so that they can resolve their case. The types of ADR available for civil litigation include mediation, neutral evaluation, private arbitration, judicial arbitration, and early settlement conferences. In addition, if the case does not settle, a mandatory settlement conference is usually scheduled the week before the matter is scheduled to go to trial.

Mediation is described as an informal, confidential, flexible and non-binding process‚ in which the mediator helps the parties to resolve the dispute. In mediation, the parties are free to come up with whatever solution is mutually satisfactory. The mediator facilitates the discussion, but does not make rulings. A good mediator can help the parties consider options they and their attorneys might not otherwise have considered. The Courts are somewhat limited in what they can order the parties to do — the parties themselves have a lot more flexibility to fashion a remedy more suitable to their situation.

Arbitration‚ is similar to but less formal than a trial. The parties submit their respective arguments to a neutral  either an experienced attorney or a specially appointed Judge who will make a ruling based on the evidence and arguments submitted.  There is no jury in arbitration. The parties can agree (in advance) that this decision will be either binding or non-binding. If the decision is non-binding, either party may reject the ruling and the matter will proceed to trial. However, in many cases the arbitrator’s ruling gives the parties an idea how the Court might view the case. The primary advantage of binding arbitration is that is can be less costly and produce faster results than a trial. In complex cases involving large sums of money, the parties often will pay for special private arbitration, usually conducted by retired judges.

Dispute resolution is very effective, and can be relatively inexpensive.  Over 90% of all cases filed in Superior Court in Santa Clara County settle before going to trial, sometimes, quite literally, on the courthouse steps. Many of the forms of ADR are offered by the Court to parties in litigation for free or for nominal sums. However, for one reason or the other, parties ignore these opportunities and instead spend considerable time, money and effort to prepare for trial.  By the time they are directed to participate in mandatory settlement, they sometimes feel  erroneously  that they have nothing to lose. They fail to take advantage of the opportunity to take control of the outcome, and ignore the real costs of trial, post-trial procedures, and appeals‚  which can take years!

At any time, anyone may seek mediation to help them resolve a dispute and possibly avoid the cost, time and stress of litigation altogether. A key to saving money is to agree to mediation as soon as possible — before lawsuits are filed, if possible. The process is confidential, relatively inexpensive (especially when compared to the cost of lengthy litigation), and surprisingly effective. The ideal mediator should be knowledgeable about the subject area of the relevant law, experienced and trained, and skillful at getting the parties to explore all reasonable options.

ADR provides parties to a dispute the opportunity to control the outcome, reach an early resolution, and save thousands and thousands of dollars. Remember, the money you save may be yours!  If you need an experienced mediator who understands real estate, business, and common sense, please feel free to contact me.