Before you sign: Dispute Resolution


Contrary to what the majority of people believe, when you have a contractual bust up with the other side litigation or arbitration should be the last resort. THE LAST RESORT. Taking a dispute to court is extremely expensive in any country and it should only ever really be done when you can’t do anything else. This is why good lawyers review the dispute resolution clause before signing to ensure that a dispute between the parties can be RESOLVED by cheaper alternative methods and is not just fast tracked to formal litigation or arbitration. These other ways are known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and it is becoming more and more common for dispute resolution clauses to build in some of these alternative forms of dispute resolution as a precursor to any formal proceedings.

The forms of ADR are abundant. ADR can be anything from SIMPLE NEGOTIATION between senior members of either party to MEDIATION whereby an independent third party (called a mediator) helps you and the other parties to talk things through and guides you to a settlement agreement (a document setting out the agreement reached between the parties). ADR is less confrontational and is more likely to encourage business relationships to continue. HOWEVER essentially ADR is NOT binding in the same way as a JUDGMENT given at court or an AWARD (which is basically a judgment) given in arbitral proceedings (small caveat here, arbitral awards are binding so long as international treaties are in place in the relevant countries, such as the New York Convention…this is a topic for another post). This means that you CAN’T actually make the other side COMPLY with whatever you have agreed with them as a result of the ADR. For example if the other side failed to act in accordance with the settlement agreement you would have to sue them for breach of the settlement agreement. CONSEQUENTLY, if the other side is being obstructive and uncooperative in the ADR procedures take that as a warning that A BINDING judgment is required and that maybe formal legal proceedings are necessary.

So how can you incorporate these more friendly and way cheaper ADR forums into your dispute resolution clause? Well the ways are infinite and you NEED a lawyer to ensure that this clause is carefully drafted. HOWEVER, generally, dispute resolution clauses are either multi-tiered or drafted as carve out clauses.

Multi–tiered dispute resolution clauses require the parties to engage in tiers (stages) of ADR and only when a stage fails can the parties progress to the next stage with the last stage being formal court or arbitral proceedings. If the dispute is truly and obviously irreconcilable (you hate each other) it would of course be possible to waive the tiered obligations by mutual consent and skip straight to the expensive bust up. Here is an example of a tiered dispute resolution clause:

“If any dispute arises out of or in connection with this agreement or its formation, directors or other senior representatives of the parties with authority to settle the dispute will, within [ ] days of a written request from one party to the other, meet in a good faith effort to resolve the dispute. If the dispute is not wholly resolved at that meeting, the parties will attempt to settle it by mediation in accordance with the CEDR Model Mediation Procedure. Unless otherwise agreed between the parties within [ ] days of notice of the dispute, the mediator will be nominated by CEDR. To initiate the mediation a party must give notice in writing (“ADR notice”) to the other party(ies) to the dispute requesting mediation. A copy of the request should be sent to CEDR. Unless otherwise agreed, the mediation will start not later than [ ] days after the date of the ADR notice. If the dispute is not settled by mediation within [ ] days of commencement of the mediation or within such further period as the parties may agree in writing, the dispute shall be referred to and finally resolved by arbitration.”

As mentioned above, dispute resolution clauses can also be carve-out clauses. Carve out clauses allow for some disputes to be resolved through arbitration/litigation and other disputes relating to other aspects of the parties’ relationship to be referred to a form of ADR. For example a dispute relating to the quality of a product (a computer) supplied to a purchaser might be referred to an expert in that field (a computer engineer – this is called expert determination), and all other disputes relating to the contract (for example exclusivity or payment terms) might be referred to litigation or arbitration.

The point of this post is to encourage you to GIVE yourself OPTIONS when it comes to resolving the disputes under your contracts. You don’t have to go straight to court or arbitration (did I mention these forums are EXPENSIVE). You can take a breather and try to settle things amicably (and CHEAPLY) first. ALSO please do not use the example clause in this post in your contracts – it is an EXAMPLE. There are several other factors that MUST be considered when drafting dispute resolution clauses and this is why you really need a lawyer’s drafting skills here. Some dispute resolution clauses have been deemed by the English courts to be unenforceable or not part of the contract at all because of bad drafting. So never sign a contract without considering this clause and thinking about the best ways to resolve disputes for your business HOWEVER this is not A DIY clause by any means.

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