Guest column: There are alternatives to going to court with disputes



Going to court can be a stressful, time consuming and expensive way to resolve a dispute. Many attorneys charge more than $250 per hour, and civil cases can take over a year to be resolved in court. Even after a court decision, people often spend as much time and money on an appeal as on the original case.

To help resolve disputes more efficiently, more parties are turning to something known as Alternative Dispute Resolution, or “ADR.” The name is pretty simple to breakdown and understand. It is an alternative, or different, way of resolving a legal dispute. It is resolution outside of the courtroom.

All forms of ADR involve the use of one or more qualified neutral individuals to meet with the parties and help the matter come to resolution. A neutral is someone who has no connection to either side in the case. This helps instill confidence that the matter is being handled fairly.

The two most well-known methods of ADR are mediation and arbitration.

A mediator gets between — in the middle — of disagreeing parties and attempts to help them voluntarily resolve their dispute. Mediators listen carefully to each party’s position and then attempt to find areas of common ground or to suggest ways that the parties may come to common ground. To be successful, good mediators need to be patient and creative. I have frequently seen how opening a dialogue between parties can get them to reach an agreement that is fair to each of them.

An arbitrator acts as a private judge considering evidence and making a decision. Free from crowded court calendars, and not subject to the formal rules of evidence, arbitrations can be quickly and conveniently scheduled and decided.

Arbitration can be either binding or non-binding. A binding arbitration is a final determination of the matter. In non-binding arbitration, the parties use the decision of the arbitrator to guide them as they attempt to settle the case on their own. Some parties enter mediation after receiving a non-binding arbitration decision.

In addition to arbitration and mediation, there are more than a dozen other commonly used methods of ADR. Each method is designed to fit a particular niche. All ADR tries to help people resolve their disputes without spending the time and money that a courthouse trial requires. One method, known as “early neutral evaluation,” which is used primarily in divorce cases, reports a settlement rate nearing 70 percent within 60 days of the case being filed.

All ADR neutrals in Minnesota must go through a certification process that includes at least 40 hours of educational classes. I obtained certification before taking the bench and found the classes to be very useful. If you are in a legal dispute, consider ADR. If you resolve your case on your own, you will likely be more satisfied than if you go to court.

As one retired judge used to say, “A bad settlement beats a good lawsuit, because at least you know and control what you’ve got.”

Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County. If you have a general question about the law or courts for Judge Galler, send your question to the editor of this newspaper. Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns at