Suing someone in court isn't the only way to solve a legal problem. There are alternative ways to solve your problems outside of court. These alternatives are called alternative dispute resolution or ADR for short.
ADR is a process in which a neutral person helps people resolve their case. ADR is designed to provide an opportunity to settle all or part of the case early on and keep the costs to a minimum.
There are many different kinds of ADR. But all of them use a neutral person to decide a case or help both sides come to an agreement without a trial. ADR is usually less formal, less expensive and less time-consuming than a trial.
Before filing a small claims case, you should try to resolve your dispute with the other party. Free or low-cost services may be available through the court or local legal clinics. For more information, contact your local court.
Types of ADR
The most common types of ADR for civil cases are mediation, settlement conferences, neutral evaluation and arbitration. In some programs, ADR providers determine their own fee for their services.
In mediation, an impartial person called a "mediator" helps the parties reach a resolution to their dispute. Mediation leaves control of the outcome of a case to the parties. The mediator does not decide the dispute but helps the parties communicate so they can try to settle the dispute themselves.
Mediation is voluntary. All parties involved in the dispute must agree to mediation. If you and your opponent attempt mediation but can't reach an agreement, you still have the right to proceed to court.
In arbitration, a neutral person called an "arbitrator" does decide the outcome of a case. The arbitrator hears arguments and evidence from each side before making a decision. Arbitration is less formal than a trial.
Arbitration may be either binding or nonbinding. The plaintiff and defendant agree to be bound by the arbitrator's decision and give up their right to a trial in binding arbitration. Generally, the parties may not appeal an arbitrator's decision in binding arbitration. Nonbinding arbitration means that the parties are free to request a trial if they do not agree with the arbitrator's decision.
In neutral evaluation, each party gets a chance to present the case to a neutral person called the "evaluator." The evaluator then gives an opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of each party's evidence and arguments and about how the dispute could be resolved. The evaluator is often an expert in the subject matter of the dispute. Although the evaluator's opinion is not binding, the parties typically use it as a basis for trying to negotiate a resolution of the dispute.
Settlement conferences may be either mandatory or voluntary. In both types of settlement conferences, the parties and their attorneys meet with a judge or a neutral person called a "settlement officer" to discuss possible settlement of their dispute. The judge or settlement officer does not make a decision in the case but assists the parties in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the case and in negotiating a settlement.
Benefits of ADR
Some potential benefits of ADR are to:
- Save time
- Save money
- Increase control over the process and the outcome
- Preserve relationships
- Increase satisfaction
- Improve attorney-client relationships
Questions for Your Attorney
- What should I do if the defendant has not paid me after we reached an agreement?
- Are there attorneys that specialize in helping resolve small claims without going to court?
- Can an attorney assist me during mediation?