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I was asked about the differences between mediation and arbitration. The distinction is a very important one. In mediation the parties to the dispute determine their own result. It is essentially “assisted” negotiation where the mediator helps the parties break through blockages that have prevented their own agreement on their own terms. Mediation is usually much faster and much less expensive than actually going to court, which is why people like it.


Arbitration is fundamentally different. In arbitration, each party makes its best argument, but the final decision is turned over to the arbitrator. Arbitration is somewhat like going to court, but it, too, is usually much easier, much faster and often less expensive in the end.


Mediation may work for you if you want to avoid going to court. It gives the parties themselves the power to resolve the dispute in an informal and safe environment.  The mediator acts as an impartial third party that guides the parties through an informal dispute resolution process. The mediator assists the participants to create their own solutions.  


An average mediation session generally lasts 4-6 hours.  Most issues can be successfully mediated in one session. When there are particularly complex issues, however, mediation may take more than one session to resolve. 

Mediation is appropriate at any stage of a dispute and does not require an underlying legal case. In fact, using the mediation process early in a dispute can help reduce conflict and keep costs from escalating.  Mediation is less restrictive than court proceedings, which may limit the range of options in a dispute.  In contrast, parties may craft creative and flexible solutions tailored to their own needs in mediation, leading to mutually beneficial outcomes.  Mediation is beneficial when there is an underlying court case and the parties wish to try an alternative way to resolve the conflict.  Mediation is also preferred where the parties want (or need) to preserve, maintain or even improve their relationship, despite the conflict. 


Arbitration is the most formal alternative to litigation. In this process, the disputing parties present their case to a neutral third party, who renders a decision. 

Arbitration is generally considered a more efficient process than litigation because it is quicker, less expensive, and provides greater flexibility of process and procedure. The parties often select the arbitrator and exercise control over certain aspects of the arbitration procedure. Arbitrators typically have more expertise in the specific subject matter of the dispute than do judges. They may also have greater flexibility in decision-making.

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