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Attorney, Arbitration, or Mediation?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

When you need to resolve a legal problem, should you go for an attorney, arbitration, or mediation?

If a contract is involved, you may not have a choice. Otherwise, there are many options when it comes to resolving legal disputes for your business. Hiring an attorney is certainly the most visible option, and it's a good one if you have the right problem. But in some cases having a drawn-out court battle won't help your situation.

You could ask an attorney, a mediator, and an arbitration firm which method is right for you. Or you could swap three meetings for this one useful article. Here's what you need to know when making this choice:

  • An attorney. While may need an attorney in a variety of situations, let's assume here you want an attorney for the purpose of litigation since that is most easily comparable to the other two issues. If you want to sue someone in court, you need an attorney to represent you. Hiring an attorney means you have someone to specifically help and counsel you on this issue, and it also means the process will look familiar -- with a courtroom, a judge, and an opposing party. The downside is that in litigation the parties are adversaries, which can make things very tense between you and the other party. If you don't have a close relationship with the other party and you want the option to appeal a seemingly unfair decision, litigation may be right for you.

  • An arbitrator. Arbitration is still an adversarial process but unlike a court case, once the arbitrator makes a decision, that decision is final. Parties may be represented in arbitration or they may not. The decision maker is not a judge and he is not necessarily bound by courtroom procedure, although he is bound by law. While the setting is less formal than a trial, it is still an adversarial confrontation. When there's an issue that needs quick resolution but there's no personal relationship between the parties, like union issues or insurance claims, arbitration could be a good choice.

  • A mediator. Unlike litigation and arbitration, mediation is an attempt to find common ground and reach a mutually agreed-upon solution. A mediator works with both sides to find a compromise, and the process isn't bound by law. Instead, the mediator hears both sides and tries to help the parties better understand each other and communicate more easily. The goal is to help the parties reach an agreement that everyone can live with, and hopefully preserve any relationship between the parties. If you have a dispute with a former business partner or a current employee and need or want to maintain a positive relationship, mediation may be your best bet.

Of course, your case may not fall so neatly into one of these three categories. To learn more, check out the related resources below, or head over to our FindLaw Answers Small Business Forum where our community of online contributors can chime in on your situation. Feel free to join the conversation.

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