What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

If you are involved in any kind of litigation in Massachusetts, you may come across the phrase “alternative dispute resolution,” or ADR. The Massachusetts Trial Court offers ADR as a substitute for traditional trial litigation. ADR describes any process in which two parties come to an agreeable resolution using an impartial third party judge or official; in other words, settling a case without having to go to trial. ADR has many benefits over trials, and in certain situations may be the best option for you.

When is ADR Appropriate?

Alternative dispute resolution may not be the ideal solution in every situation. However, settling disputes outside of the courtroom can help lower the costs of resolution and speed up a settlement in many cases. Some ADR programs are voluntary while others are mandatory. There are several ADR programs to choose from in Massachusetts, but there are two types that are the most common:

  • Arbitration is a simplified version of a trial, with limited discovery and less complex rules of evidence. An arbitral panel leads arbitration, comprised of one arbitrator or an arbitrator for both sides. Arbitration can last a few days to a week. The arbitral panel will decide the fate of the case. Opinions in arbitration are not public record as they are during a trial. Arbitration is a popular option for many business disputes.
  • Mediation is a common choice for couples going through legal separation or divorce, but is useful in several types of situations, from criminal cases to business negotiations. Mediation involves both parties in an informal meeting with a mediator, or a neutral third party. During mediation, the parties attempt to come to an agreement they can both accept. If both parties can come to a mutual agreement, the mediator will rule upon what the parties have decided.

When deciding on a voluntary ADR service, consider whether or not you and the other party are likely to come to a resolution without a full-blown trial. If you do not believe a neutral third party will be enough to settle your matter, ADR may not be worthwhile. However, arbitration, mediation, conciliation, negotiation, or neutral evaluation may be a valuable alternative depending on your situation.

What to Expect During ADR

The Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:18 outlines the rules for ADR in civil and criminal cases in Massachusetts. The purpose of the rule is to ensure that ADR services meet certain quality and fairness standards in the judicial system. The rule gives requirements for administrative structure, duties of courts, qualification standards for neutral parties, and ethical standards for conducting ADR services.

Once you agree to use ADR, a representative from the ADR staff will contact you to gather preliminary information about your case. The representative will explain the process to you at this time, and schedule the date for the initial meeting. You are free to ask any questions you may have about ADR at this time. When you attend your ADR meeting, expect some kind of opening statement from your mediator or arbitral panel. This statement typically involves general rules of the assembly.

The mediator will work to explore the underlying interests of both parties, but will not pick a side. The mediator will remain neutral throughout the meeting. Clients during mediation may get the opportunity to each tell their stories without interruption, as well as to state their desired resolution. The mediator may test positions between both parties and objectively view the possibilities for resolution. In a successful ADR service, the parties will come to an agreeable resolution. The mediator will then prepare a Resolution Agreement – a legally binding document accepting the terms of the agreed-upon resolution. At this point, the case is complete.

If you need help settling a dispute via ADR, contact our office today and let us walk through the process with you.

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