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Mediation, arbitration bring faster, easier solutions

Posted online

by Marvin E. Wright

for the Business Journal

Getting even isn't the same thing as getting justice. Who hasn't had the urge to get even with someone else? Who hasn't taken satisfaction by thinking, "I'll go to court, if that's what it takes."

But after the heat of an insult or problem cools off and tempers return to normal, the prospect of suing someone usually isn't so attractive. And it shouldn't be. For many different kinds of disputes, there are other and, some believe, more attractive ways of seeking justice: alternatives that are less expensive and more productive.

The Missouri Bar is a strong supporter of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Through ADR, the adversarial relationship between plaintiffs and defendants can be tempered. In mediation sessions, the focus is on finding a solution, not on winning a specific argument. In arbitration, disputes can be resolved in a matter of days or weeks, instead of the months or years that a lawsuit may take.

May 1, our calendars note a little-recognized observance, Law Day U.S.A. The history of Law Day reflects the power of peaceful resolutions of disputes. Law Day was set aside as a time to celebrate the rule of law in our nation.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower designated May 1 as Law Day, and it was not coincidence that he chose the same day that the Soviet Union traditionally celebrated its military might with a May Day parade.

Law Day U.S.A. was celebrated in stark contrast to the Soviets' May Day. Where the Soviets paraded their weapons, the Americans dedicated a day to study and reflect on the value of our system of laws. The Soviets polished gun barrels; Americans honed their respect for the rule of law.

Now, more than 40 years after the first Law Day celebration, the Soviet Union has faded into history. And across the many nations that were part of the Soviet block, American lawyers can be found, helping newly formed governments develop a system of law and courts based on the American justice system.

Historians can provide a number of well-researched reasons for the decay of the former Soviet Union. But one thing is certain: It took an incredible amount of resources on both sides to keep the dispute between the United States and the Soviet Union from spreading from a war of words to a war of the world.

Even in this most frightening of conflicts, where a transgression on either side could lead to nuclear war, the conflict was controlled. If nations as different as the United States and the former Soviet Union can agree to disagree according to a set of rules that limit the damage of the conflict, so can individuals. In a way, that's what ADR is all about.

With ADR, the people involved in a dispute agree on the rules for seeking a solution to their conflict. They may decide on mediation, arbitration or a hybrid of the two. But the point is that both sides agree on how they will attempt to solve the problem.

When resources go toward solving problems instead of winning arguments, both sides benefit.

There is nothing wrong with conflict, but the way we choose to resolve our conflicts and disputes can determine our character and our success.

May 1, Law Day U.S.A., is a good time to think about our choices and the alternative ways we have to resolve those disputes or conflicts. I sincerely hope that the articles in this Business of Law supplement provide you with new insight and options into resolving your personal or business disputes.

(Marvin E. (Bunky) Wright is president of the Missouri Bar Association.)

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