Alternative Dispute Resolution for Lawsuits

You don’t have to resolve all legal disputes by going to court. Sometimes, litigation is not the best way to solve your legal issues. There are common alternatives to litigation that let you settle legal matters outside of court. These methods of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) allow you and other parties to save on the expenses, time, and uncertainty associated with a traditional courtroom case.

The types of ADR available in your case may depend on state law and contractual language. Talk to an ADR lawyer near you if you have questions about using ADR for your case.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Options

There are several types of ADR processes. The two most common ADR programs are mediation and arbitration. Other forms of ADR services include early neutral evaluations, settlement conferences, and collaborative law.

What Is Mediation?

Mediation is a facilitative approach to resolving your dispute. The disputing parties meet with a trained, neutral mediator. The mediator facilitates an agreement between the parties. The mediator doesn’t decide the outcome. Instead, you come up with your own compromise with guidance from the mediator. Mediation is common in family law cases.

The mediator acts as a neutral go-between. During a mediation session, the mediator will use their skills to:

  • Narrow down the legal issues
  • Identify the points of mutual agreement
  • Help you come up with resolution possibilities
  • Understand what may happen if you do not reach a voluntary agreement

Mediation also allows you to come up with your own unique solution. In court proceedings, the judge will generally issue an all-or-nothing ruling. Mediation is a compromise where you can both come up with a resolution on your own terms. If mediation is not successful, the legal dispute may go back to the court system. 

What Is Arbitration?

Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which a neutral third party decides the outcome. Both parties agree to have their dispute settled by a neutral arbitrator. Each side presents its case to the arbitrator, who then makes a decision.

In binding arbitration, the arbitrator makes a binding decision. This means the parties agree to comply with the outcome. However, some types of arbitration may be non-binding.

Arbitration can be like a miniature trial. Each side presents its case to the arbitrator. However, there are several differences between arbitration and courtroom trials. Arbitrators do not have to follow all the legal rules and procedures of the court, making the process more flexible, faster, and less expensive than litigation.

Private Arbitration

Private arbitration is also referred to as contractual arbitration. This is a common alternative dispute resolution process.

When you sign a contract, you agree to its terms and conditions. Many agreements include a clause that spells out exactly how to address any potential disputes. The clause may also identify the conditions of arbitration and who will act as the arbitrator.

Judicial Arbitration

Some court cases are eligible for arbitration. In this case, the court may mandate judicial arbitration.

The judicial arbitration ADR process is usually non-binding. This means that while the arbitrator makes a ruling, neither side is legally required to accept it. If either party disagrees with the arbitrator’s decision, the case can still go to court.


There is also an option called mediation-arbitration. This combines the processes of mediation and arbitration. First, you will work to negotiate an agreement with a mediator’s help. If mediation fails, you may then turn to arbitration.

Summary Jury Trials and Mini Trials

Summary jury trials and mini-trials allow the parties involved to understand their weaknesses and strengths by presenting their arguments to an advisory panel of jurors. The advisory jury’s findings act as a starting point for negotiations. Mini trials can be useful in cases like those involving defective products or other injury claims.

Summary jury trials are typically used as an ADR process in federal court cases. The lawyers for each party give shortened presentations to a six-member jury. Mini trials are also generally private and kept out of the public record.

Early Neutral Evaluation

Some jurisdictions require early neutral evaluations. This informal process allows both sides to present their cases to a neutral intermediary. The intermediary breaks down the strengths and weaknesses and helps find common ground. A successful early neutral evaluation may lead to settlement negotiations and ultimately resolve the matter.

Is ADR Right for You?

Holding out for a formal trial and going through the full court process is often expensive and time-consuming for both sides. Talk to your lawyer about the various ADR methods available for conflict resolution. It can provide you with certainty in your dispute compared to going to trial.

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