Vincent J. Poppiti, Partner, Fox Rothschild LLP
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Q: What is Alternative Dispute Resolution from the perspective of a non-attorney?
A: Alternative Dispute Resolution—commonly known as ADR—is an option for working out conflicts that typically would end up in court. Instead of a trial, ADR works through mediation or arbitration, or a combination of both. Both are less formal and usually less stressful than taking the dispute to court. In mediation, a mediator helps the parties resolve their dispute through the give and take of negotiation. A mediator does not decide the winner and loser of the dispute. On the other hand, in arbitration an arbitrator hears both sides and decides the outcome of the dispute.
Q: Some of us know of ADR through family law proceedings, such as divorce and child custody conflicts. Is ADR used exclusively in disputes of this type, or does it have broader applications?
A: There is a long history of families electing to use ADR in domestic relations disputes because it offers a less stressful, more relaxed setting for couples and children going through a challenging time. That same characteristic applies to any matter in dispute. As a result, ADR is growing in popularity, not just for families, but for all disputes that would otherwise wind up in the courts.
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Q: In what ways does ADR differ from a court proceeding to resolve a conflict?
A: Trials can be long, messy, expensive, and gut-wrenching. In the traditional courtroom route, people do not choose the judge hearing the case. Indeed, a party has little control over much of the courthouse process. The formal rules of courthouse litigation are not very flexible and can be intimidating for non-lawyers, even when represented by counsel. ADR is dramatically different. In ADR, parties have an ability to choose their mediator or arbitrator. Mediation sessions and arbitration hearings occur when it is convenient for the parties, which can include time after traditional business hours and weekends.
Q: And what do these differences between a trial and ADR mean to people resolving differences?
A: The process is guided by rules agreed to by the parties. In short, the setting for ADR is more customized and flexible than the court process. In addition, ADR cases usually conclude more quickly than trials held in a bogged-down court system. This means less money spent on legal fees. In fact, it is difficult to put a price on reduced stress, greater control, increased efficiency, and cost-effectiveness in legal disputes. It is, then, easy to understand why ADR is rapidly becoming the first choice for solving legal conflicts.
Q: What should individuals seeking ADR look for and expect in their ADR process? What sets some ADR mediators and arbitrators apart from others?
A: When choosing your mediator and/or arbitrator, the “new car smell” is not the right choice. Rather, keep experience (the longer, the better), flexibility, and customized service in mind. It is certainly a bonus if a mediator has experience not only in ADR but also in the courtroom, either as a litigator or better yet a decision maker. Flexibility is key: a good neutral will allow clients’ schedules, availability, and needs drive the process. Perhaps most important is customization. The best mediators and arbitrators will go to great lengths to accommodate clients in everything from meeting times and formats to pricing and the actual plan for resolution of a conflict. At Fox Rothschild, our ADR mantra is “the client comes first,” meaning that we let our clients define what their ADR experience is going to look and feel like—and we do what is best for them, financially, practically, and emotionally.
Vincent J. Poppiti is a partner in the Wilmington office of the national law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP. Mr. Poppiti has more than 44 years of experience in civil litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution, including service as a former Chief Judge of the Family Court of Delaware, former resident judge of the New Castle County Superior Court and former associate judge of the Superior Court of Delaware, and former State Solicitor for Delaware. He is an arbitrator, mediator, and neutral assessor for the Superior Court of Delaware; a mediator for the Delaware Court of Chancery; and mediator for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware and for the Delaware District Court. In addition to mediation and arbitration, Mr. Poppiti’s practice focuses on commercial litigation, including patent infringement. Mr. Poppiti is listed among “The Best Lawyers in America” in the area of Alternative Dispute Resolution and Arbitration (2009-2014).
Vincent J. Poppiti · Fox Rothschild LLP · Citizens Bank Center · 919 North Market Street, Suite 300 · P.O. Box 2323 · Wilmington, DE 19899 · 302.622.4274 · www.foxrothschild.com