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Settling Out of Court: Types of Alternative Dispute Resolutions

People who want to settle disputes can arrive at a legal resolution without having to resort to litigation. Through Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADRs), parties in dispute may be able to avoid the costly and prolonged process of traditional court litigation while maintaining the confidential nature of the process.

Here are some of the most common types of ADRs.

Mediation

When parties cannot resolve a dispute, they can consider the process of mediation. In mediation, both parties will select a neutral third-party, the mediator, to help them resolve the dispute. The role of a mediator is to facilitate the exchange of information and bargaining process between the two disputing parties. Rather than rule the outcome of the dispute or decide which side is right or wrong, the mediator serves as a conciliator, guiding both parties to reach a mutually acceptable settlement.

Mediation is a voluntary process and common in small courts, family courts and neighborhood justice centers. When a resolution is reached, parties are bound by a mediation agreement. However, if parties fail to arrive at a resolution, they may choose to pursue their claims in other forms.

Arbitration

Arbitration is another type of out-of-court settlement that parties can consider. Arbitration can only proceed if both parties agree to it. Unlike mediation, arbitration requires parties to choose one or more neutral arbitrators who will rule upon the dispute. Arbitration hearings are presided by the selected arbitrators. Arbitrations, similar to but less formal than court trials, offers a more confrontational approach which also involve presentation of evidence and questioning of witnesses.

Mediation-Arbitration (Med-Arb)

Woman talking in front of employees

As the name suggests, Med-Arb combines the features of mediation and arbitration. Parties will try to resolve the dispute through arbitration first. However, if parties cannot reach a mutually acceptable agreement, they then have to move on to arbitration. Med-Arb may be conducted by the same or different neutral third-party, depending on the agreement of both parties.

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Mini-Trial

A mini-trial is a private settlement process where the representative of each party presents a summarized version of the case to a panel of neutral representatives chosen by each party. The panel decides on the outcome of the mini-trial.

Neutral Fact-Finding

Parties may resort to neutral fact-finding if disputes involve issues that require scientific or factual investigation. Both parties agree to elect a neutral third-party to independently investigate, research and present his findings. Parties may agree on a settlement based on the fact-finder’s report. However, the said report is inadmissible in case the dispute is brought to litigation.

Summary Jury Trial (SJT)

Summary Jury Trials are ordered by the court rather than being agreed by both parties. SJT is the only type of ADR that involves case presentation to a mock jury, which renders an advisory verdict. After hearing the verdict, parties will attempt at settlement. However, if parties are not able to reach a resolution, the court will usually require the parties to proceed to litigation.

Aside from providing disputing parties a quicker and more economical option to resolve conflict, the goal of ADRs is to allow parties to improve communication so they can reach a voluntary, consensual and mutually beneficial agreement.

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