If you are facing a contract dispute with an employee, customer or other North Carolina business associate, you are probably already feeling the stress at work and in your personal life. The threat of a lawsuit can be paralyzing because the outcome is uncertain, and you dread the drain such an event will have on your company's finances and resources.
There are alternatives, however, and you may find your opponent is just as reluctant to become entangled in a long and contentious court battle. If the other party is willing to try alternative dispute resolution methods, you may be able to settle your differences in a positive manner that may even allow you to salvage your working relationship.
Comparing mediation and arbitration
The two main forms of dispute resolution are mediation and arbitration. Each has its own methods, advantages and drawbacks, so it may help to seek a more comprehensive explanation from an attorney who has extensive experience in both forms of ADR. Your business contracts may include a clause requiring parties to use one of these methods to resolve any legal disputes. Some of the important differences between the two forms of dispute resolution include the following:
- A mediator facilitates the discussion between the two parties, but an arbitrator hears arguments from both sides and makes a binding ruling.
- With mediation, you and your opponent are resolving misunderstandings or trying to preempt a legal dispute, but you may initiate arbitration when you need a decision about a serious matter.
- Mediation is less formal than arbitration.
- If mediation is not working, you or the other party may end it and move on with a trial, but in most cases, you must see arbitration through to the end.
- Arbitration is often a mandatory element in business contracts, but mediation seldom is and may be a choice the parties make on their own.
Both arbitration and mediation often take much less time than a court trial. There is no discovery phase, and witnesses do not testify, which cuts a great deal of time from the process. Additionally, the proceedings and conclusions of these forms of dispute resolution do not take place in a courtroom and so are not matters of public record. This may be an attractive quality if you are hoping to keep the issues involved in your dispute as private as possible.
Whichever method of dispute resolution is best suited for your situation, you will want a legal advocate at your side to guide you through and ensure your rights are protected. It is best to find an attorney with a successful history in alternative dispute resolution.