What Are Alternative Dispute Resolutions?

If you are involved in a legal dispute, you may find yourself looking into alternative dispute resolutions, which are meant to lessen the stress and cost of litigation. These methods often involve the assistance of a neutral third party, who can add structure and efficiency to your dispute settlement process. At JAMS, our professional neutrals are experienced lawyers and retired judges with extensive experience in all forms of alternative dispute resolution, including mediation, arbitration and collaborative law.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a broad term that refers to any procedure, agreed upon by both parties in a conflict, that helps settle a legal disagreement without going to court. ADR processes include mediation, arbitration, negotiated rulemaking, neutral factfinding and minitrials. Regardless of their differences, all ADR processes focus on finding solutions that allow both parties to reach a voluntary agreement without resorting to a lawsuit.

The most common types of ADR are mediation and arbitration. In mediation, a neutral third party, called a mediator, facilitates the discussion between the disputing parties in a neutral setting and provides structure to the conversation. Mediators can be largely facilitative, engaging primarily in shuttle diplomacy and keeping their own views hidden, or they can be more evaluative, using their knowledge of the legal issues to help both sides see their position more clearly. The most skilled mediators combine both techniques to meet the needs of the particular conflict.

Arbitration, on the other hand, is a more formal, more structured form of ADR that involves both parties in the dispute ceding their decision-making authority to an arbitrator. The arbitrator listens to arguments and evidence from both sides and then renders a legally binding decision. In some cases, arbitration decisions are binding while others are nonbinding.

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