Electing ADR Post-Contract: It’s Never Too Late

This article is part of a three part series titled "Alternative Dispute Resolution - Why, When & How." To read the other parts in this series, or to read more articles about ADR, navigate to the Wolfe Law Group ADR page here: ADR. Under most circumstances, discourse about Alternative Dispute Resolution centers around the construction contract and the importance of "ADR clauses." However, it's never too late for the parties to agree to an alternative dispute resolution process. Agreeing to ADR before filing suit At the onset of a dispute, the parties can simply agree to forego filing a traditional lawsuit and to engage in some type of ADR process. When this choice is made, the parties are still "contracting" to submit to binding arbitration, but the notion is sometimes forgotten when the original contract is already history and the dispute has already riled the parties. It's advisable to include ADR clauses in the original contract to avoid this "heat of the moment" problem, but there are many circumstances when the parties - even at odds - can agree to ADR post-contract. During the course of a construction project, there are many situations whereby the parties are amicably dealing with one another but encountering some disagreements. The ADR process can be very valuable to the parties in this scenario. The parties can simply agree to submit to the decision of a neutral, or to participate in a speedy mediation on this issue. The decision of the neutral or compromise of the mediation can likely resolve the issue, prevent delay in scheduling and keep the parties on good terms. It's oftentimes more difficult to engage an opposing party in ADR in a more mature dispute, as the parties are less likely to agree to anything at the beginning of a adverse proceeding. However, the benefits of the ADR process may outweigh any urge to agree with the adversary, and if litigation is actually commenced, the parties can still later suspend the suit in lieu of ADR. Agreeing to ADR after suit is filed. As suggested above, it's common for parties to submit to an ADR process even after suit has been filed. Depending on the county / parish of your litigation, there are different time requirements for when the parties may or may not participate in alternative dispute resolution. Across the board, however, these requirements are extremely liberal, and the parties are usually only limited when the action is close to trial. While any ADR process may be elected during litigation, the most common ADR vehicle used by litigants is mediation. Mediation allows the parties to meet, express their position, and evaluate its pros and cons and the risks of litigation in hopes of reaching an acceptable compromise. Mediation may be initiated most anytime, but litigants most often submit to mediation at the beginning of litigation or towards the end. There are pros and cons to mediation during both periods. The pros and cons to mediating at the start of litigation: Pros
  • The parties have not incurred much expense and frustration, and therefore may be more willing to compromise to avoid the same;
  • Even if a settlement is not reached, it provides the parties with an opportunity to analyze its case in-depth, and to get a better picture of the adversary's position.
  • Usually, neither party has clear leverage over the other party. Oftentimes, at the end of litigation, certain facts have been exposed that weakens the position of one party. At the start of litigation, however, the party with the weaker position has a little more leverage than it will later in the proceeding.
Cons
  • The parties are less willing to compromise. The emotional connection to the dispute is still clear and present, and the expenses of litigation have not been exposed;
  • Stones are unturned - or, in other words, both parties are working on a limited set of facts and understanding of the issues at play. The litigation process allows the parties to research its and the opposing party's position, and a mediation immediately after suit proceeds before this researching opportunity.
The pros and cons to mediating later in litigation: Pros
  • The parties have incurred much expense and frustration throughout litigation, and they are more willing to compromise certain positions in exchange with "getting the matter behind them."
  • Through the litigation process, the parties have an opportunity to develop their respective positions and to investigate their adversary's position, which gives them a good understanding of their risks in going to trial.
  • The threat of trial is real and present, and the parties are more likely to make compromises to avoid the unpredictable event.
  • The "demands" of the respective parties are more developed and understood.
Cons
  • Since the positions of the parties are better developed and understood, the party with leverage will be aware of the fact and be less willing to make a significant shift in their position - and thus, settlement may be less likely.
  • With trial around the corner, parties may be more willing to wait the extra few weeks or months and let a judge or jury decide.
Electing ADR Post-Contract Electing ADR post-contract is easy, but the actual process will likely depend on the ADR provider chosen by the parties. Typically, the parties should agree with one another in writing, and then submit the written agreement to the ADR provider. The American Arbitration Association provides the following clauses as example clauses for choosing ADR post-contract: Construction Dispute Mediation Submission Clause: The parties hereby submit the following dispute to mediation administered by the American Arbitration Association under its Construction Industry Mediation Procedures (the clause may also provide for the qualifications of the mediator(s), method of payment, locale of meetings, the tolling of the statute of limitations, pre-dispute resolution step clause with time frames and any other item of concern to the parties). If a party fails to participate in any scheduled mediation conference, that party shall be deemed to have waived its right to mediate the issues in dispute. Construction Dispute Arbitration Submission Clause: We, the undersigned parties, hereby agree to submit to arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association under its Construction Industry Arbitration Rules the following controversy: (cite briefly). We further agree that the controversy be submitted to [one] [three] arbitrator(s). We further agree that we will faithfully observe this agreement and the rules, and that a judgment of any court having jurisdiction may be entered on the award. Large, Complex Construction Dispute Submission Clause: We, the undersigned parties, hereby agree to submit to arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association under its Procedures for Large, Complex Construction Disputes the following controversy [describe briefly]. Judgment of any court having jurisdiction may be entered on the award.
Scott Wolfe About the Author: Scott Wolfe
Scott Wolfe, Jr. obtained his J.D. degree from Loyola University of New Orleans, and his B.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. In 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, Scott was recognized as a Leader in Law by CityBusiness Magazine. The son and grandson of general contractors, Scott is a construction litigator in the Pacific Northwest, and the founding member of the bi-coastal law firm, Wolfe Law Group. Scott is also the founder and CEO of Express Lien, Inc., a legal document preparation service for contractors. In 2008, City Business Magazine recognized Scott as one of its Innovators of the Year for the Express Lien concept. As an entrepreneur himself, Scott has a strong background in business and commercial transactions and laws. He focuses his practice on the legal issues facing the construction industry, and has represented clients in multi-million dollar construction disputes in litigation and alternative dispute resolution proceedings. Scott is a LEED AP.

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