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What alternatives do you have to litigation over a dispute?

Americans have long been accused of being overly litigious -- but almost nobody really wants a dispute to wind up in court if they can avoid it. Whether it's a dispute with a neighbor over a boundary line or a problem with a business partner, most people will try to work things out on their own before they turn to a lawyer.

Does going to a lawyer automatically mean you're going to end up in court? Absolutely not. In fact, an attorney can often keep civil claims from going that route by working with all the parties involved to find another solution.

What are the alternatives to litigation?

Two of the most commonly used alternatives to litigation are mediation and arbitration. Both of these can be less expensive and less emotionally painful than a lawsuit.

How does mediation work?

Mediation usually requires both parties to sit down together and try to hash out an agreement that they'll both accept. The mediator, who is typically an attorney, serves as a neutral party who merely facilitates the conversation. Mediation is generally not a binding process, which leaves the parties free to seek a resolution in court if the mediation process fails and the parties are still at an impasse.

How does arbitration work?

Arbitration is sort of a bridge between mediation and litigation. It can involve up to three arbitrators who act as judges over the case. They'll hear both sides, look at any evidence involved in the case and make a decision that is usually (but not always) binding.

What's right for your case: mediation, arbitration or litigation? You probably won't know until you've talked your situation over with an experienced attorney who can examine all the strengths and weaknesses of your case.

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