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Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is the common term for different ways of settling a dispute.
ADR includes mediation, arbitration, neutral evaluation, settlement conferences, as well as special masters and referees.

What is ADR?

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is the common term for different ways of settling a dispute.
ADR includes mediation, arbitration, neutral evaluation, settlement conferences, as well as special masters and referees.

Advantages of ADR

  • ADR can save time. Litigation can take years to complete; ADR usually takes weeks or months. If you decide to go to court, ADR can reduce the time to settlement.
  • ADR can save money. Parties can save on litigation costs and attorneys' fees.
  • ADR offers you more control and flexibility. Parties choose the process most appropriate for their case. You have more control over the time, place, pace, and outcome of the process. Further, meditation is voluntary.
  • ADR can be less stressful. In mediation, the mediator keeps the discussion on a positive and productive path and assists both parties to hear and be heard.
  • ADR can offer improved outcomes. Surveys indicated that people who have used ADR were more satisfied than people who went through a lawsuit or trial.
  • ADR can preserve relationships. A mediator may be able to help you effectively communicate your interests and point of view to the other side and diffuse bad feelings on both sides. These are important benefits when you want to preserve a relationship.

Alternatives to going to court

  • Mediation Services are available through non-profit and private mediation providers in our area. You can find a mediator in the telephone book under "Mediator" or you can search the Internet. You can also check the Mediator Database in the ADR section of the Court's main website here.
  • Judicial Arbitration is a court-sponsored program where either party can reject the arbitrator's decision and negotiate an agreement or move forward with a trial.
  • In Binding Arbitration, also called Private Arbitration, parties agree to have an arbitrator decide their case instead of going to trial. You present your case at a hearing. The presiding arbitrator will issue a written decision which is final and not subject to appeal.

More Information on Local Rules on ADR

Local Rules on ADR

Alameda County Superior Court believes ADR can be helpful for every case. The Court encourages parties to use ADR to resolve their disputes. Local rules are available here.


ADR Options and Information

Mediation: In mediation, a neutral person (called a mediator) helps you and the other parties discuss what each of you want, and how you can reach your goals or a reasonable consensus. The mediator does not take sides or impose an outcome.  A mediator can help you explore possible resolutions and find a solution that everyone can accept. Please remember that mediation is voluntary.  You can end mediation and continue preparations for trial at any time during the process.  Information shared during mediation cannot be used later in a trial.

Mediation is a good choice when you and the other parties:
  • Have a business, community, or personal relationship you wish to maintain;
  • Have strong feelings that prevent the resolution of your issue; and/or
  • Want a solution that does not only involve money, such as changing a behavior.

Mediation is typically very different, and less formal, than a trial.  It often proceeds more like an assisted negotiation.

Arbitration: In arbitration, an arbitrator hears the evidence and the arguments of the parties, and makes a decision. The participating parties can agree to binding or non-binding arbitration.  If you choose binding arbitration, the arbitrator’s decision will be final and you will not go to trial. You cannot appeal a binding arbitration decision.  If you choose non-binding arbitration (also called Judicial Arbitration), either you or the other party can reject the arbitrator’s decision and request a trial.

Arbitration may be a good option when you and the other parties want:
  • Witnesses to testify under oath; or
  • A (non-binding) opinion from an experienced trial lawyer; or
  • If the only result you are seeking for monetary, which is called “damages”.

Arbitration is usually a less formal proceeding, with relaxed rules of evidence, but is very much like a trial.

Neutral Evaluation (NE): In neutral evaluation, an evaluator listens to both sides and reviews short written statements from each party. Then, the evaluator offers an opinion on the strong and weak points of each party's case.  The evaluator’s opinion can help parties better understand the most important legal issues in the case, assist with discovery plans, and give an idea of the value and likely outcome of the case if it went to trial.  This process is informal and can help parties seek resolution as well as a better understanding of the value of the case.

Neutral evaluation is a good option when the parties:
  • Differ on interpretations of the law or the value of the case;
  • Have a case that involves an issue about with the evaluator has special knowledge; and/or
  • Need assistance to plan the case and save time as well as legal fees and costs.

Mandatory Settlement Conference: Mandatory settlement conferences are informal meetings held at court. They are held in every case that will take more than one day in trial. Usually, the week before the trial date is set, a judge or experienced lawyer meets with all parties and encourages a resolution acceptable to all.
Settlement conferences can be effective when the experience and expertise of a neutral helps to guide the parties to a mutually acceptable resolution.

The Alameda County ADR Program can be contacted in the following ways:

Telephone: (510) 891-6055

More information and lists of mediators and judicial arbitrators are available here

When to Use ADR

As soon as you are aware that you have a dispute which may result in a lawsuit, you may want to develop a strategic approach to resolving the dispute.

Before you file a lawsuit consider:

  • Direct Negotiation - Talk to the other party directly, on the phone, or send a letter. Propose a negotiated settlement.
  • Mediation - If they are unwilling to talk directly or the discussion is not productive you might suggest that a mediator might help the discussion. Mediators are trained to conduct a neutral process which explores options for resolving disputes.
  • Contact a lawyer and ask them to assist you in the negotiations and mediation and if necessary file a lawsuit.

After you file a lawsuit:

  • Information about ADR is a part of the civil lawsuit filing package, which must be served on all parties to the suit. The ADR packet includes a “Stipulation to go to ADR”, sign the this document before you serve the papers and send the message that even though you are suing them, you would prefer to find other ways to resolve the dispute.
  • You must file a Case Management Statement (Form CM-110). This form includes options to go to ADR; please check the box for your preferred ADR process. Some judges will vacate the next court date and send the case to ADR based on information included in the CM-110.
  • When you appear in court, be sure to tell the judge that you would be interested in trying mediation or arbitration.

Most civil lawsuits are resolved before going to trial. Fewer than 5% of all civil filings go to trial. Knowing that you will likely negotiate a settlement before going to trial, prepare for the negotiation now. If mediation of your dispute is not working, it is your choice (or the other party's choice) to end the mediation. You may decide to return to mediation later, find a different mediator, return to direct negotiations or decide to prepare for a trail.

Can I make the other side use mediation?

No. Mediation is completely voluntary and all parties must agree to mediate. The Court strongly encourages exploring ADR as a way to resolve your dispute prior to bringing it to trial.

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