Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a system of methodologies that parties can use to resolve disputes without resorting to litigation. These include arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and more.
The Legal Information Institute (LII) Wex online legal dictionary provides a helpful and succinct overview of ADR and its methods.
This research guide discusses materials and methods for researching ADR methodologies and practices in the Harvard Law School library and beyond.
Use the HOLLIS online library catalog to find print and electronic materials in Harvard's libraries, including the law library.
This guide includes links to pre-populated HOLLIS searches that use either general keywords, Library of Congress Subject Headings, or both.
About the Linked HOLLIS Searches in This Guide
To access ADR journals in Westlaw, type Alternative Dispute Resolution in the search box on the home page but do not press return or click the search icon. Instead, select Alternative Dispute Resolution Law Reviews and Journals under Content Pages in the popup menu.
There are many methods that parties can use to resolve their legal and quasi-legal disputes without resorting to litigation. They are described below.
Arbitration is a common method of dispute resolution that is used by contracting parties. If a contract has an arbitration clause and a dispute arises, a neutral arbitrator can issue legally-enforceable resolution to the dispute (an arbitration award). Advantages to arbitration include reinforcing the parties' freedom of contract, preserving confidentiality, saving legal fees, and, potentially, more limited discovery than a court trial.
Many types of legal disputes are resolved through arbitration, including:
Arbitration is often used to resolve disputes arising in international commercial transactions.
Over the last few decades, US courts have increasingly established ADR programs to encourage parties to resolve their legal disputes without the expense of trials.
In Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE), disputing parties submit their case to a neutral evaluator through a confidential "evaluation session." The neutral evaluator considers each side's position and renders an evaluation of the case. Parties can include an ENE clause in a contract, which represents their agreement to submit to ENE in good faith.
Under the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996, federal agencies are authorized to use ADR for resolving disputes.
The Interagency Alternative Dispute Resolution Working Group facilitates the use of ADR by government agencies. Its website, adr.gov, provides information about how this works in practice, including guidance on how to set up and maintain successful ADR processes, and links to related statutory and executive documents.
In the mediation process, the disputing parties meet with a neutral person who facilitates the discussion of their disagreement and the helps them negotiate a compromise.
The goal of the mediator is not to judge which party is "right" or "wrong," or to "solve" the conflict for the parties. Instead, the mediator encourages the parties to communicate about their differences so they can reach a mutually-agreeable solution.
Mediation is not an ideal solution in all conflict situations, especially when there is an imbalance of power between the parties, or when the relationship has a history of being manipulative, abusive, or violent.
Med-arb has features of both mediation and arbitration. The parties first try to resolve their disputes through mediation. If that does not resolve it, then the process switches to a binding arbitration.
Arb-med starts with an arbitration proceeding, after which a non-binding arbitration award is issued. Then, the parties work with a mediator to attempt to resolve their conflict.
Parties who engage in negotiation meet in good faith to discuss their dispute with the goal of coming to a mutually agreeable resolution. Negotiation can take place with or without a lawyer.
Online dispute resolution (ODR) gives parties the opportunity to resolve disputes when distance or other circumstances (such as global health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic) make it difficult or impossible for them to meet face-to-face.
In 2019, the American Bar Association's Center for Innovation published a report on the use of ODR in the United States. It includes data about who is using ODR and their reasons for doing so.
For post-conflict societies in which people have been subjected to violence and human rights violations, transitional justice offers a means of acknowledging and punishing prior harms, while also furthering the goals of healing and rebuilding communities.
Restorative justice involves creating a criminal restitution process focusing on the needs of all stakeholders, including the victim, the offender, and the community. It can include mediated dialogues between criminal offenders and their victims, which are used to foster offender accountability, victim forgiveness, and social reintegration for both parties.
This section provides pre-populated HOLLIS searches and tips for ADR research involving specific types of disputes.
Dispute system design involves "the design of processes and of systems for preventing and managing disputes." It is not merely making a decision about using a particular ADR method to resolve a dispute. Instead, it means creatively crafting ways to resolve novel, complicated disputes that feature diverse and competing variables and interests.
(Source: Rogers et al., Designing Systems and Processes for Managing Disputes (2013)).
According to the American Bar Association, "Dispute Resolution professionals must be award of the ethical standards that apply to their jurisdiction and area of practice." Visit the ABA's ADR Resources page to learn more about the work of ABA committees in this area, and to review standards, rules, and policies related to ethics in ADR.
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