Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") includes a variety of methods of resolving legal disputes without actually going to court. These methods include arbitration, mediation, and negotiation, among others. All are designed to be less formal, less expensive, and less time-consuming than court, and generally leave the dispute out of public record.
Other benefits of using ADR instead of the court system include: parties often feel that they have more control over the process and the outcome than they do at trial; and because it is a less adversarial process, it can preserve the relationship between parties. ADR can also benefit the attorneys involved. Clients can come away feeling like there has been a win-win resolution where the attorney was the problem solver, which increases client satisfaction and creates repeat business and referrals.
Arbitration and mediation are the two most common types of ADR; however, negotiation is almost always attempted first to resolve any dispute and is seen as the preeminent ADR method. Mediation can be used in almost any kind of legal dispute; mediators bring the parties together and attempt to work out a solution or agreement that both parties can accept or reject. Meanwhile, arbitration is very similar to a courtroom trial: evidence is presented, witnesses are called and questioned, and arguments are made. However, many of these aspects of arbitration are streamlined and made simpler in order to expedite the process. Following the hearings, the arbitrator or panel of arbitrators will deliver a ruling to the parties within a specified time period. Depending on the type of arbitration, the ruling may be final or there may be an option to appeal.
The difference between arbitrators and judges is also an important consideration. Courts do not allow parties to choose the judge that will preside over their matter. However, in arbitration, parties often have the ability to choose who their arbitrator will be. Additionally, arbitrators may be required to be experts in the field, whereas judges may or may not have any knowledge of the underlying matters in dispute.
Historically, ADR has been met with resistance by both parties and their advocates; however, with the rising cost of litigation and severe backlog in civil courtrooms, ADR has gained widespread acceptance from both the general public and the legal profession. Many courts now require parties to resort to some sort of ADR before allowing their case to be tried in a courtroom, and forty-nine states have adopted the Uniform Arbitration Act (1955), which was revised by Congress in 2000 mandating that all states adopt their own version of the act.
ADR is a growing field with opportunities in most government agencies, the private sector, public interest organizations, as well as internationally at entities such as the World Bank, Permanent Court of Arbitration, and many others.