ADR – Alternative Dispute Resolution

Did you know that most civil lawsuits settle without trial?

In addition, did you know that there are a number of ways resolve civil disputes without having to sue somebody?

These alternatives to a lawsuit are known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR). The most common forms of ADR are Mediation, Arbitration, and Settlement Conferences. There are a number of other kinds of ADR as well.

In ADR, trained, impartial persons decide disputes or help parties decide disputes themselves. These persons are called neutrals. For example, in mediation, the neutral is the mediator. Neutrals  normally are chosen by the disputing parties or by the court. Neutrals can help parties resolve disputes without having to go to court.

ADR is not new. ADR is available in many communities, through dispute resolution programs and private neutrals.


ADR can have a number of advantages over a lawsuit.

• ADR can be speedier. A dispute often can be resolved in matter of months, even weeks, through ADR, while a lawsuit can take years.
• ADR can save money. Court costs, attorney fees, and expert fees can be saved.
• ADR can permit more participation. The parties may have more chances to tell their side of the story than in court and may have more control over the outcome.
• ADR can be flexible. The parties can choose the ADR process that is best for them. For example, in mediation the parties may decide how to resolve their dispute.
• ADR can be cooperative. This means that the parties having a dispute may work together with the neutral to resolve the dispute and agree to a remedy that makes sense to them, rather than work against each other.
• ADR can reduce stress. These are fewer, if any court appearances. In addition, because ADR can be speedier, and save money, and because the parties are normally cooperative, ADR is easier on the nerves. The parties do not have a lawsuit over their heads for years.
• ADR can be more satisfying. For all the above reasons, may people have reported a high degree of satisfaction with ADR.

Because of these advantages, many parties choose ADR to resolve a dispute, instead of filing a lawsuit. Even when a lawsuit has been filed, the court can refer the dispute to a neutral before the parties’ positions harden and the lawsuit becomes costly. ADR has been used to resolve disputes even after a trial, when the result is appealed.


• ADR may not be suitable for every dispute.
• If ADR is binding, the parties normally give up most court protections, including a decision by a judge or jury under formal rules of evidence and procedure, and review for legal error by an appellate court.
• There generally is less opportunity to find out about the other side’s case with ADR than with litigation. ADR may not be effective if it takes place before the parties have sufficient information to resolve the dispute.
• The neutral may charge a fee for his or her services.
• If a dispute is not resolved through ADR, the parties may have to put time and money into both ADR and a lawsuit.

Lawsuits must be brought within specified periods of time, known as statutes of limitations. Parties must be careful not to let a statute of limitations run out while a dispute is in an ADR process.

Three Common Types of ADR
Forms of ADR most often found in the California State Courts and discussion when each may be right for a dispute.


In mediation, a neutral (the mediator) assists the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution of their dispute. Unlike lawsuits or some other types of ADR, the mediator does not decide how the dispute is to be resolved. The parties do.

Mediation is a cooperative process, in which the parties work together toward a resolution that tries to meet everyone’s interests, instead of working  against each other, where at least one party losses. Mediation normally leads to better relations between parties and to resolutions that hold up. For example, mediation has been very successful in family disputes, particularly with child custody and visitation.

Mediation is particularly effective when the parties have a continuing relationship, like neighbors or business people. Mediation also is effective where personal feelings are getting in the way of a resolution. This is because mediation normally gives the parties a chance to let out their feelings and find out how each other sees things.

Mediation may not be a good idea when one party is unwilling to discuss a resolution or when one party has been a victim or the other or cannot have enough bargaining power in the mediation. However, mediation can be successful for victims seeking restitution from offenders. A mediator can meet the parties separately when there has been violence between them.


In Arbitration, a neutral (the arbitrator) reviews evidence, hears arguments, and makes a decision (award) to resolve the dispute. This is very different from mediation, where the mediator helps the parties reach their own resolution. Arbitration normally is more informal, much speedier, and less expensive than a lawsuit. Because of the large number of cases awaiting trial in many courts, a dispute normally can be heard much more quickly by an arbitrator than by a judge. Often a case that may take a week to try in court can be heard by an arbitrator in a matter of hours, because evidence can be submitted by documents (like medical reports and bills and business records), rather than by testimony.

There are two kinds of arbitration in California. Private arbitration, by agreement of the parties involved in the dispute, takes place outside of the courts and, normally, is binding. In most cases, “binding” means that the arbitrator’s decision (award) is final and there will not be a trial or an appeal of that decision. By contrast, a decision by an arbitrator in a case referred by the courts, known as “judicial arbitration,” is not binding, unless the parties agree to be bound. A party who does not like the award may file a request for trial with the court within a specified time. However, if that party does not do better in the trial than in arbitration, he or she may have to pay a penalty.

Arbitration is best for cases where the parties want a decision without the expense of a trial. Arbitration may be better than mediation when the parties have no relationship except for the dispute.

Arbitration may not be a good idea when the parties want to resolve their dispute by themselves, or with the aid of a neutral.


In a Settlement Conference, a neutral, who conducts the conference, meets with both sides and confers with each, often separately, to attempt to get the parties to evaluate and re-evaluate their case so as to achieve a negotiated settlement. Essentially, the neutral simply assists the parties to negotiate a resolution. Settlement conferences may occur at any time in the course of the dispute or litigation, and often are required as a case nears trial.



There are several other types of ADR besides mediation and arbitration. Some of these are conciliation, case evaluation, fact finding, mini trials, and summary jury trials. Sometimes parties will try a combination of ADR types. The important thing is to try to find the type or types of ADR that are most likely to resolve your dispute. The selection of a neutral is an important decision. There is no legal requirement that the neutral be licensed or hold any particular certificate. However, some programs have established qualification requirements for neutrals. You may wish to inquire about the qualifications of any neutral you are considering. Agreements reached through ADR normally are put in writing by the neutral and, if the parties wish, may become binding contracts that can be enforced by a judge. You may wish to seek the advice of any attorney as to your legal rights and other matters relating to the dispute.


California Department of Consumer Affairs
Consumer Information Center
Toll free 800-952-5210
The Riverside County Bar Association
Dispute Resolution Program
4129 Main Street, Suite 100
Riverside, CA 92501
The Department of Community Action
Dispute Resolution Program
2038 Iowa Ave.,  Suite B 102
Riverside, CA 92507