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When is Alternative Dispute Resolution Better Than a Trial?

Court battles are complicated, stressful, and may last years before reaching a final resolution. Plus, in a trial, you relinquish the power to a judge or jury to decide your fate. Before proceeding to trial, or before you even file a lawsuit, you should seriously consider resolving your civil dispute through Alternative Dispute Resolution, also known as ADR.

Three Common Forms of ADR

If you watch television dramas or legal movie thrillers you’re bound to hear one of the characters exclaim, “I’ll see you in court!” In reality, approximately 95% of civil disputes are settled before trial by reaching an out-of-court agreement.

The most popular ways to resolve civil suits are mediation, arbitration, and settlement conferences. Let’s look at each method and why one of these options may be the best way to resolve your situation.


During mediation, the two parties meet with a neutral person known as a mediator. The goal is to reach a solution that both sides can accept. The mediator guides the parties, but he or she does not decide any issues or make any rulings. Most mediators are trained to help the parties reach a middle ground while still controlling their resolution.

Mediation is recommended when there is an ongoing relationship between the parties who expect future interaction and want to keep things civil. Mediation is also helpful in divorce cases where the parties may be too emotional to resolve their dispute on their own.

Mediation is not appropriate for every situation. If one of the parties refuses to communicate or compromise on anything, mediation is a waste of time. Also, if there is a large power imbalance or a history of abuse between the parties, mediation should not be attempted.


Similar to mediation, arbitration employs a neutral third-party known as an arbitrator who listens to both sides of the story and arguments about why each party should prevail. However, the arbitrator has the power to make a decision that resolves the case. This sounds like a trial, but it is less formal and courtroom rules are relaxed.

The decision may be binding or non-binding. Binding arbitration means both sides agree to be bound by the arbitrator’s decision, whether they like it or not, and they agree they will not proceed to trial. With non-binding arbitration, either side can reject the decision if they don’t like it and request a trial to finalize the case.

You should consider arbitration if you can’t reach an amicable resolution with the other side, you both want someone else to make the decision, and you want to avoid the time and expense of a full-blown trial. Keep in mind, if you want to keep control of the outcome of your dispute, do not agree to binding arbitration.

Settlement Conference

Settlement can be possible while a lawsuit is pending. Depending on the circumstances, settlement conferences may be voluntary or mandatory. The parties and their attorneys meet with a judge, or a neutral “settlement officer,” to discuss the resolution of their case. The judge or officer does not make an official ruling, but they do use legal experience to point out the strengths and weaknesses of both sides to help guide the parties to a resolution.

In most civil disputes, the parties can request a voluntary settlement conference at any time because judges are happy to help resolve cases and clear up their dockets. In some cases, court rules require a mandatory settlement conference near the trial date to avoid a trial if possible.

The Benefits of ADR

    Some civil disputes must go to trial to be resolved. However, the majority of cases will settle by using ADR because of the many benefits settlement offers. Here are a few to consider:
  • • You can maintain control over the outcome of your dispute by actively participating in the negotiation process.
  • • The aspect of risk is removed if the case is not placed in the hands of an unfamiliar judge or jury members.
  • • It is possible to craft a creative resolution that might not be available under the strict rules of law.
  • • You can avoid an acrimonious trial setting where any chance of a continued relationship is destroyed.
  • • Each side saves the time and money that would be incurred in a lengthy trial process.
  • • The parties receive the satisfaction of working toward a reasonable resolution they can accept.

Attorneys Noreen Evans and Deirdre Kingsbury understand when a case must be tried and when it should be settled. They can explain your options, help you settle your case if appropriate, or vigorously advocate in the courtroom to provide your best possible outcome. At Evans Kingsbury LLP we are trial lawyers with decades of experience, including trials and settlement success. Call us today at (707) 596-6090 or fill out our easy contact form to discuss your case.

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