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What’s the difference between “mediation” and “arbitration”?

Posted by Michael Guzman | Mar 16, 2017 | 0 Comments

A trial is the most well-known culmination of a civil dispute: Two bitter rivals duking it out in court, calling witnesses, arguing before a jury, shouting “Objection!” and so forth. Trials are not only less exciting than depicted on TV, but they are also less common (at least as a percentage of total disputes). The majority of cases do not end in a trial.

Most civil cases reach a settlement before getting to trial. There are a variety of methods of “alternative dispute resolution” available to litigants to achieve this. Two of the most common are mediation and arbitration.


In mediation, there is a neutral third party, called a “mediator,” who works with the parties to come to an agreement that is acceptable to both sides. Mediators are trained with a specific skill set to help facilitate communication between the two sides and come to a resolution. The mediator does not make the decision for the parties, but rather leaves it up to them. Sometimes more than one mediation session is necessary. If no agreement is reached, the parties may have to go to trial.

The mediation process is often employed between parties with an existing relationship. Mediation can help avoid the destruction of that relationship, as might happen with a trial. If both sides are willing to cooperate, and have relatively equal bargaining power, the more flexible process of mediation can be a good option.


While mediation is more like a discussion between the two parties, arbitration looks more like an informal trial. The “arbitrator” (a neutral third party) hears arguments and reviews evidence from both sides and then comes to a decision regarding the dispute. If the arbitration is “binding,” then the arbitrator's decision generally cannot be appealed. If it is “nonbinding,” then either party can proceed to trial if they do not approve of the results of the arbitration.

While less formal than a trial, and often with relaxed evidence rules, it is more formal than mediation. Arbitration is designed for those who would prefer a third party decide the dispute, but without a full trial. It can also be appropriate for more complex cases that require a subject matter expert.

Trying to settle a case out of court is often the best option. It saves time and the expense of a trial, and it helps ensure you get some kind of resolution. If you go to trial, you could lose completely. On the other hand, sometimes alternative dispute resolution is not possible, and going to trial is inevitable. Whoever is advocating for you should be skilled at both, and know when to employ each option.

Helix Law Firm can help with civil litigation

If you want to file a claim, or a claim has been filed against you, we can help. We can look at the facts of your case and help determine your options. With nearly 30 years of litigation experience, we will fight to ensure your rights are protected. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can start working for you.

If you're interested in learning more about how Helix can help, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.

About the Author

Michael Guzman

Michael Guzman is a Paralegal at Helix Law Firm. He helps to maintain Helix Law Firm's extraordinary quality of customer service, and assists in the intake of new clients and in communicating with existing clients and vendors. Michael attended the University of San Diego and is a proud Torero.


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