Even though we know that research shows early dispute resolution has countless benefits including saving money, time, and relationships, the concept of alternative dispute resolution remains way behind the concept of litigation in our society. We are a rights-based society and that is ingrained in each one of us.
Thus, people in conflict have a need to understand their “rights” and that is what sends them to a lawyer. However, understanding “rights” in conjunction with understanding the process of litigation and the cost and the likelihood of success is just as important. Unfortunately, this often does not happen until much later in the litigation process after much money and effort have been spent and a client is invested both financially and emotionally. This often results in unreasonable entrenchment or even the opposite, an immediate need to get out and carry around resentment and anger at the system and lawyer.
As the gatekeepers of conflict, lawyers have the opportunity to emphasize dispute prevention and discuss with the potential client alternative dispute resolution methods. People come to lawyers as experts and it is as an expert that the lawyer must counsel his/her client about the benefits of dispute prevention. Now a client has a much broader understanding of how a case/conflict can be handled. Moreover, a lawyer advising a client to engage in settlement discussions early or work a case toward an early settlement opportunity slows the spending down for the client, encourages the client to start “forward” thinking about how to put the conflict in the past, and focuses the client on examining the relationship that is conflict.
That relationship that is in conflict is often a relationship that can significantly affect the future of the client. Whether the relationship involves co-parenting, is a client or contractor, employee, buyer, business, how this conflict is handled is key to the life of your client often both personally and professionally. And you, as the person in conflict, must learn from the conflict and realize that how you handle this conflict can and many times does have future implications. Wouldn’t it be smarter for you to move consciously and with less haste through a conflict armed with more information and more opportunities to evaluate your case with a realistic eye rather than with blind emotion and an entrenched position that, even if it is right, can often lead you deeper into future conflict?
In the end, “clients” of all kinds must demand that legal service providers emphasize dispute prevention and counsel on the variety of ways your business or your situation can use alternative dispute resolution to your benefit.