How does ADR work in California?

Legal trials may not always be the best way to resolve legal disputes. Sometimes, alternative dispute resolution can be a cheaper, quicker and less stressful means to settle disputes. California uses ADR methods such as mediation, settlement conferences, neutral evaluation and arbitration.


A neutral arbitrator hears arguments and evidence from each party and then decides the dispute outcome. Arbitration is less formal than a trial.

Arbitrations may be binding. Parties waive their rights to a trial and agree that the arbitrator’s decision is final. Usually, bindings decisions cannot be appealed.

In nonbinding arbitration, the parties may request a trial if they do not accept the arbitrator’s decision. Penalties may apply if trial does not result in a more favorable decision.

Arbitration may be appropriate if the parties want another person to decide their dispute without undergoing a trial. It is also helpful in complex matters where an arbitrator’s  training and experience can deal with a dispute’s technical matters.


An impartial mediator assists the parties with reaching a dispute resolution. Mediators do not decide disputes but help the parties communicate and reach their own resolution. Qualified mediators listen to the parties and help them effectively and positively communicate with each other.

Mediation is useful when parties want to preserve a relationship with family members, neighbors or business partners or when emotions are an obstacle to negotiating a settlement.

Mediation may be ineffective if a party is unwilling to cooperate or compromise. It is not recommended if there is a substantial difference in each party’s negotiating power or if there is a history of abuse or victimization.

Neutral evaluation

Each party may present their case to a neutral evaluator who gives an opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of their evidence and argument and a possible resolution of their dispute.

The evaluator may be an expert in the dispute’s subject matter. Their opinion is not binding but may be used as a basis to negotiate a resolution. This procedure may be recommended where special expertise is needed to resolve a technical issue or the amount of damages in a case.

Settlement conferences

These may be voluntary or involuntary and are usually held close to the trial date. Conferences may be appropriate in a case that has settlement potential.

The parties and their attorneys meet with a judge or a neutral settlement officer to discuss a possible settlement. The judge or officer makes no final decisions and helps the parties evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their cases and reach a settlement.

ADR may save time, legal and trial costs and allows the parties to exercise more control over the outcome. Qualified attorneys can provide ADR services.

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