It is a well-known saying in business that no matter the results of a trial, the only winners are the lawyers. Lawsuits require lots of time, cause bad publicity, and waste tons of money. It is no surprise that potential litigation is a business owner’s worst nightmare. No matter how careful you are, you are always just one step away from a lawsuit. Luckily, there are some established, useful, and valuable alternatives to a traditional civil court proceeding.
Mediation is one possible way to avoid the negatives of a court case. In this process, both sides meet with a neutral, third party “mediator.” This person will help facilitate a discussion between the disputing parties. The goal is to arrive at an effective and mutually agreeable solution. The mediator has no authority to impose any judgements. This process can be great because it is much lower cost and much faster than the normal litigation process. It is also less formal than a normal court proceeding and allows for more creative solutions to disputes. Best of all, simply talking out your problems and avoiding a court battle will help you possibly preserve a future relationship.
Another alternative is arbitration. Like mediation, both parties meet with a neutral third party, an “arbitrator,” and present their side. But in this case, the arbitrator, most often a retired judge, makes a decision based on the facts of the case. He decides who is right and what the remedy should be. Both parties are legally bound to this judgement. It is more formal, with both sides able to present evidence and witnesses. This can be a useful process, especially in more serious cases. Although more expensive than mediation, it still costs less than a conventional trial.
Hopefully you will never be involved in a case, but if you ever are, these alternatives will help. Keep doing everything you can to avoid a lawsuit, but know there are alternatives. Often mediation or arbitration clauses are written into contracts, specifying that the disputing parties must go to the alternatives before trial (it’s a good idea to check your current contracts so you are prepared before any issues arise.) In addition, after realizing the enormous time, money, and energy commitment of a trial, most people will be receptive to at least trying an alternative. All in all, these could be potential solutions that save you some of the pain of a lawsuit.