In a Dispute?

Are you in a dispute about something? That’s not unusual.

The historical method to solve some disputes was a duel! We don’t normally do that anymore, at least on a personal level. It may be different on a geo-political level at times.

Traditionally, solving commercial disputes, disputes over property rights, and other matters, involved filing a lawsuit. That meant engaging lawyers, going to court, letting a judge or jury end the dispute, and usually it ended the dispute and satisfied only one party or the other. About twenty million civil cases are filed annually in this country.

In the last half of the 20th Century, small claims courts came into being across much of the country. These courts allowed individuals to represent themselves, saving money on attorney fees, and usually came to trial much more quickly than in regular courts. They are still very useful for many matters. The process is supposed to be simple and accessible. Some people will consult with an attorney before filing, to see if there really is a case worth pursuing and to learn how to present the case.

There are ways to solve disputes other than filing cases in courts. The more familiar is arbitration. Here, the process is much like a court case, with filings, discovery, witnesses, and so on, and the arbitrator makes a decision that is binding on both parties. The advantages are lower cost to the parties and a quicker outcome. Still, the parties usually engage attorneys to represent them.

Recently arbitration has been In the news because it has been forced upon a party to a dispute due to a provision in a contract or in the fine print hardly anyone reads when they click on “I agree” on a web page. I hardly ever read that fine print. If you agree to arbitration, you have most likely given up your right to settle your dispute in court.

Another way to solve a dispute is mediation. In this process, which is voluntary and must be agreed to by the parties, a mediator meets with the parties and, through discussion with them, tries to find a mutually agreeable solution. The mediator does not make a decision that is binding on the parties or enforceable in court, but if the process is successful, will usually draft an agreement that both parties sign. The advantages are lower cost to the parties, a quicker outcome, and a conclusion that is agreeable to both sides. Many times lawyers are still involved in the process.

Of course, a dispute can often be resolved through negotiation between the parties, which may be carried out through the use of attorneys.

Whatever the dispute may be, a good first step is to consult with an attorney. He or she can let you know what the law is about your dispute, what the outcome might be, whether you have obligated yourself to arbitration, or to using only the courts of a particular state, and what it might cost you to engage in the processes available to you.