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What Is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a catch-all term for settling disputes without going to court. ADR may involve attorneys and judges or only the parties themselves. There are several types of alternative dispute resolution. ADR has become common in business disputes and family law disagreements since it can be faster and more cost-effective than court proceedings.

All forms of ADR are collaborative rather than adversarial. That means the parties work together to reach a beneficial resolution to their dispute rather than argue in court and have a judge decide which side is right. Both sides have an equal stake in the resolution process and outcome.


Arbitration resembles a trial. It doesn't take place in a courtroom. The arbitrator is a neutral third party who may be a retired judge or attorney. During arbitration, the parties present their cases to the arbitrator and explain why they should prevail. They suggest possible resolutions to the dispute that they would accept. The arbitrator may accept or reject the suggestions or offer an alternative. At the end of the arbitration, the arbitrator issues a decision. The decision may be binding and have the weight of a court order or non-binding, and the parties may be able to appeal the decision to a court.


Mediation is less formal than arbitration. The mediation process involves both parties and a neutral mediator. During a mediation session, the parties discuss the basis of their dispute and find common grounds for a solution. Mediation can be time-consuming because both parties must give up something to get something. Small claims cases get referrals for mediation because the disputes often involve more than just money.

Collaborative Law

Collaborative law is often seen in family law and divorce, but it is useful in any legal dispute. The important consideration is that all parties agree on the ground rules. The parties and their attorneys handle the legal matter in collaborative law. Rather than going to court for hearings over every disagreement, the parties meet to discuss them and work out their differences. The attorneys agree that the parties must hire new counsel to go to court if the collaboration fails. All parties must take part in this form of alternative dispute resolution. If anyone refuses to work with the others, it will fail.

Advantages and Disadvantages of ADR

ADR gives control to the parties in the resolution process. There are alternative dispute resolution lawyers, but they are not necessary during the ADR process. An attorney can help explain legal terms during negotiations or write an order during binding arbitration.

Parties do not need legal counsel during mediation or arbitration. Some mediators discourage parties from bringing attorneys during the mediation process.

ADR may not provide the closure some parties want from the legal process. ADR requires both parties to give up something as well as get something back. Parties with deep-seated conflicts may need the finality of a judge's decision.

Some legal subject matter is not suited for ADR. Medical malpractice, for instance, requires too much testimony for the parties to decide among themselves what is fair. Some personal injury claims are too complex for ADR methods.

Hiring an Alternative Dispute Resolution Attorney

If you want your legal issue to get resolved through ADR, contact an ADR lawyer immediately to explore your options. Not all jurisdictions use ADR, so you should discuss methods of ADR with your attorney before selecting one that is right for you.

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