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Understanding the role of ADR in the Georgia court system

Back in the 19993, the Georgia Supreme Court and the State Bar of Georgia joined forces to take the historic step of forming the court-connected alternative dispute resolution -- or ADR -- system.

Created in an era of increasingly crowded court dockets and dwindling judicial resources, the goals for the system were essentially to help the state court system handle more cases despite having less at its disposal, and provide litigants with an alternative to traditional litigation that was often more efficient, effective and expeditious.

To date, these efforts have proven to be a great success, as data from the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution, the state agency tasked with oversight of the courts' ADR system, reveals that close to 178,000 cases have been resolved via the proffered alternatives to litigation -- non-binding arbitration, case evaluation and mediation -- since 1997.

For those unfamiliar with these different types of ADR, each is defined by the following distinguishing characteristics:

  • Arbitration: In the arbitration process, either a single arbitrator or panel of arbitrators will conduct a sort of truncated trial and render a decision after consideration of the evidence presented. It's important to understand that the decisions rendered in the Georgia court's arbitration system are non-binding, meaning each party has a specified timeframe in which they may demand a trial.
  • Case evaluation: Case evaluation involves an attorney with subject matter expertise in the legal area covered by the underlying action hearing case summaries from each side. Thereafter, he or she will assess each side's case, helping them streamline the issues, simplify discovery, resolve other pretrial issues and possibly uncover a basis to initiate settlement discussions.
  • Mediation: Perhaps the most successful type of ADR, mediation involves the two sides sitting down to negotiate -- and potentially resolve -- their differences with the assistance of a trained mediator. Unlike arbitration, which involves someone else making a decision for the parties, mediation vests the two sides with the authority to make the decisions themselves. If an agreement can't be reached in a court-ordered mediation, the case will then proceed to trial.  

Here's hoping the foregoing information has proven enlightening. It's important to remember that parties to a legal action don't have to rely on the courts to order them to undertake some form of ADR, rather they can save themselves time, money and energy by electing to pursue this manner of conflict resolution on their own.

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