alternative dispute resolution

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Alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) refers to any method of resolving disputes without litigation. ADR regroups all processes and techniques of conflict resolution that occur outside of any governmental authority. The most famous ADR methods are the following: mediation, arbitration, conciliation, negotiation, and transaction

All ADR methods have common characteristics – i.e., enabling the parties to find admissible solutions to their conflicts outside of traditional legal / court proceedings, but are governed by different rules. For instance, in negotiation there is no third party who intervenes to help the parties reach an agreement, unlike in mediation and conciliation, where the purpose of the third party is to promote an amicable agreement between the parties. In arbitration, the third party (an arbitrator or several arbitrators) will play an important role as it will render an arbitration award that will be binding on the parties. In comparison, in conciliation and mediation, the third party does not impose any binding decision.

If all the ADR methods are different, they should not be compared and confronted because in practice, the parties combine the use of these different ADRs. For instance, the parties may stipulate in their contracts that in the event of a dispute they will first submit to an attempt at amicable settlement (conciliation/mediation) and only in the event of failure will they resort to a judicial method of settlement, which may be arbitration or recourse to the State justice system. ADRs therefore come into play at different levels and have a complementary character.

The main advantages of ADR are rapidity, confidentiality and flexibility.

Public courts may be asked to review the validity of ADR methods, but they will rarely overturn ADR decisions and awards if the disputing parties formed a valid contract to abide by them.


Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") refers to any means of settling disputes outside of the courtroom. ADR typically includes early neutral evaluation, negotiation, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration. As burgeoning court queues, rising costs of litigation, and time delays continue to plague litigants, more states have begun experimenting with ADR programs. Some of these programs are voluntary; others are mandatory.

  • Negotiation

Negotiation is the preeminent mode of dispute resolution. While the two most known forms of ADR are arbitration and mediation, negotiation is almost always attempted first to resolve a dispute. Negotiation allows the parties to meet in order to settle a dispute. The main advantage of this form of dispute settlement is that it allows the parties themselves to control the process and the solution. Negotiation is much less formal than other types of ADRs and allows for a lot of flexibility.

  • Mediation

Mediation is also an informal alternative to litigation. Mediators are individuals trained in negotiations, who bring opposing parties together and attempt to work out a settlement or agreement that both parties accept or reject. Mediation is not binding. Mediation is used for a wide gamut of case-types ranging from juvenile felonies to federal government negotiations with Native American Indian tribes. Mediation has also become a significant method for resolving disputes between investors and their stock brokers. See Securities Dispute Resolution.

  • Arbitration

Arbitration is one of the most emblematic and growing forms of ADR. Arbitration is more formal than mediation and has a lot of similarities with traditional court proceedings, involving limited discovery and simplified rules of evidence (ex. hearsay is usually admissible in arbitration).

Different types of arbitration exist: 

  • national arbitration: for example American arbitration, French arbitration or German arbitration which are all governed by different rules enacted by the institutions of each country; 
  • international commercial arbitration: usually used to settle disputes that arise from commercial contractual relations between buyers and sellers who are in two different states;
  • investor-State arbitration: unilateral referral by private individual investors to an arbitral tribunal against a host State of their investment.​

Other types of arbitration and areas of specialization for this ADR exist, such as construction arbitration, post M&A arbitration, etc.

Arbitration relies on the consent of the parties, therefore the arbitration agreement is emblematic because it is the gateway to the particular system that is arbitration. Prior to the dispute occurring, parties usually enter into a binding arbitration agreement or any other form of agreement with an arbitration clause, that allows them to lay out major terms for the arbitration process (number of arbitrators, arbitration forum; arbitration rules; fees etc.). 

If parties still have disputes about certain terms before entering into an arbitration they can petition to a court to resolve a dispute. Arbitration can be held ad hoc or with the administrative support from one of the institutional providers like American Arbitration Association (AAA) or JAMS when the arbitration is national. 

The arbitration is headed and decided by an arbitral panel or a single arbitrator, depending on the agreement of the parties. Arbitrators do not have to be lawyers, parties can select arbitrators from other fields that they consider more suitable for the resolution of the dispute, which usually occurs when the arbitration deals with a very specialized topic such as construction or pharmaceutical issues. Indeed, parties can for example choose an arbitrator with an engineering background to arbitrate a construction dispute. 

To comprise a panel, either both sides agree on one arbitrator, or each side selects one arbitrator and the two arbitrators elect the third. Arbitration hearings usually last between a few days to a week, and the panel only meets for a few hours per day. The panel or a single arbitrator then deliberates and issues a written binding decision or arbitral award. Opinions are not public record. Arbitration has long been used in labor, construction, and securities regulation, but is now gaining popularity in other business disputes. For national arbitration, Title 9 of the U.S. Code establishes federal law supporting arbitration. It is based on Congress's plenary power over interstate commerce. Where Title 9 applies, its terms prevail over state law. There are, however, numerous state laws on ADR. Forty-nine states have adopted the 1956 version of the Uniform Arbitration Act as state law. The act was revised in 2000 and subsequently adopted by twelve states. The arbitration agreement and award is now enforceable under both state and federal law.

In 1958, the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, or the "New York Convention", was drafted to aid in the enforcement in domestic courts of awards granted in foreign countries. In 1970, the United States joined and, as of November 2021, there are 156 countries participating in the convention.

[Last updated in November of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]

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