Staying Out Of CourtAlison Stein Wellner
Few words are more chilling than "See you in court." Fortunately, there are alternatives to a courtroom battle: mediation, where a neutral party helps negotiate a settlement, and arbitration, where the neutral's decision is binding.
CASE IN POINT
Manhattan-based RLM Public Relations was in a bind. A dot-com client changed its business plan and wanted to walk on a six-figure contract. Obviously, it's not great PR to sue your clients, so RLM insists on an arbitration clause in its contracts. That way, there's no public lawsuit if a deal goes bad. In this case, after a day in front of an arbitrator, the client offered to settle for $35,000, the equivalent of two more months on the contract. "Our feeling has always been that we're partners with our clients. If anything happens, we want to have a way to sit down with a third party," says CEO Richard Laermer.
The Web site of the American Arbitration Assn., which certifies mediators and arbitrators, provides answers to frequently asked questions and allows you to search for a mediator. Download their newly updated Guide to Mediation and Arbitration for Business People (www.adr.org). The library at www.mediate.com can help determine if mediation is for you. You can also search for a mediator and read The Alternative Newsletter.
The Keys to Conflict Resolution, by Theodore W. Kheel (Four Walls Eight Windows, $22), provides specific case studies of prior disputes, so you know exactly what to expect. How to Mediate Your Dispute, by Peter Lovenheim (Nolo Press, $18.95), covers the entire mediation process--from choosing one to what to do if the mediated solution doesn't work.