Now that ADR has entered the mainstream, the phrase "alternative dispute resolution" is outdated, the broader term "conflict resolution" more accurately describes these processes as the industry enters the new millennium. In the past 20 years, the ADR movement has boomed, becoming a multimillion-dollar industry.
The choices for resolving conflict in the next millennium are simple. Either waste precious time, energy, and resources fighting each other, or find creative ways to problem solve.
Opening new markets
Frustration with the economic and psychic costs connected with the public judicial system continues to spark growing demand for private resolution options. Law firms and institutional clients such as insurance company, historically the industry's highest volume users, have become more sophisticated in selecting resolution procedures. And they are no longer the only source of business.
In-house counsels, faced with spiraling legal bills and the possibility of excessive jury awards, are turning to discovery referees, mediators and settlement judges for quick, cost-effective results, Dot-coms, biotechnology, and other high-tech businesses offer a huge new market to neutrals with intellectual property, trademark infringement and complex business litigation expertise.
The breakneck pace of technological change and the need for information technology companies to remain on the leading edge means they can ill afford to become mired in expensive, time-consuming litigation. IT industries have begun to embrace conflict resolution in impressive number, not only to resolve lawsuits quickly and cost effectively, but also as a means to anticipate and address the root causes of conflict before it escalates into an intractable legal battle. These innovative organizations are likely to lead the way in making facilitation, mediation and other early resolution processes a routine business strategy for managing both internal and external disputes.
The health care field will also generate significant business for neutrals with experience handling disputes among HMO' s, hospitals, suppliers and medical groups. Multiparty, multi-issue cases involving environmental, employment and construction-defect disputes are routinely resolved with mediation and arbitration. Small business owners are also jumping on to band-wagon.
Educating the community
The industry has the opportunity in the new millennium to demonstrate the win-win philosophy it espouses. In the last few years, the marketplace has become saturated with neutrals and there may not be enough business for all competing neutrals.
Rather than competing to corner existing markets the industry would benefit from efforts to create new ones. Independent practitioners, provider firms and other professionals should consider forming an alliance to promote the industry through seminars, speakers' bureaus, presentation of papers, civic participation and other activities.
The alliance would educate the community about the benefits of non adversarial conflict resolution, resulting not only in a generation of new users but also in growth within the profession. The alliance would help guide a number of expected developments. including regulation of neutrals and use of technology in the industry.
Regulation of neutrals
Within the next few years, the private conflict resolution industry must regulate itself for accept government standards for ethics, qualifications and training of neutrals as well as the hearing process. Regulation might provide greater protections to consumers and enhance the profession's credibility, or it might narrow the distinctions between private conflict resolution and court procedures, limiting the appeal for some market segments. The challenge for regulators will be to retain the profession's unique qualities and strengths while ensuring its procedures are fair and balanced and its practitioners ethical and qualified.
Until these uses are sorted out, the legal community is likely to continue to give the lion's share of its business to prominent and popular retired judges and attorney-neutrals. As the industry continues to evolve away from the litigation model, users will demand more creative processes and solutions.
Technology in ADR
The internet and World Wide Web are the driving forces behind a massive revolution that affects how we share information, educate people and market and sell goods and services. Thousands of Web sites now offer conflict resolution information and services such as video-conferencing, cyber-mediation and virtual dispute resolution.
How these innovations will influence the mainstream is unclear. However, the opportunities the Internet and related technologies offer to enterprising individuals and organizations inclined to invest in the industry's future are constrained only by the imagination.
Article originally appeared in December 30, 1999 issue of VERDICTS AND SETTLEMENTS