Alternative Dispute Resolution

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)?

The idea behind ADR is that people are given the chance to resolve or settle their disputes with others by agreement with the assistance of a trained facilitator, who is known as a “neutral.” ADR is an umbrella term that describes various processes to resolve disputes, such as mediation, case evaluation, arbitration (binding or non-binding) or a judicial settlement conference. In Tennessee if you have a lawsuit pending in the Circuit or Chancery Courts, the judge may order you to participate in one of these processes.

What is arbitration?

“Arbitration” is a process by which a neutral third party, often a lawyer, will hear the facts of your case, through witnesses and other appropriate proof, and then render a decision in a manner similar to that which a judge would render. Arbitration can be “binding” meaning that the decision of the arbitrator is final if not appealed to the court, or “non-binding” and issued as an advisory opinion to you to assist you in evaluating your settlement options in a case. Binding arbitration usually occurs only when all parties to the lawsuit agree that it should be binding, or when the parties have entered into a contractual agreement with each other specifying that disputes will be resolved by binding arbitration. The benefits of arbitration are that a neutral arbitrator can be selected who has special expertise in the area of the dispute and often an arbitration can take place in a faster time frame than waiting to go to court.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a process in which a trained neutral or a “mediator” assists the parties in negotiating a mutually agreeable settlement of their conflicts. Mediation is a flexible process in which the parties are given the opportunity to make informed decisions. Mediated agreements may satisfy interests and goals of the parties that court resolution by a judge or jury may not be able to provide. The process is designed to be completely consensual and provides a forum to often overcome communication problems and other hindrances to resolution of disputes. Resolution of a case through mediation often saves time, money, and feelings, and if agreement is reached on all issues, enables the parties to avoid a contest in court. Most disputes, other than criminal matters or matters involving domestic violence, are appropriate for mediation. The mediator is a trained person, often, but not always, a lawyer, who manages the process and makes sure that the mediation remains balanced and on track. A good mediator has excellent communication skills, is a good listener and is able to keep the process on track. Lawyers, who attend mediations often, are good referral sources for mediators. Mediation is a completely confidential process and the mediator may only report back to the judge in your case that the matter settled or did not settle without any details. Mediators do not function in a judicial capacity and are not there to render a ruling on your dispute. Mediations can take place with or without lawyers present, depending on the parties’ need for legal advice during the process, as mediators are prohibited from rendering legal advice to the parties. The cost of mediation is generally on an hourly or daily basis and varies from mediator to mediator.

Where do I find the Tennessee rules concerning ADR/ mediation and a list of approved mediators?

Go to

DISCLAIMER: The above information available through is basic legal information and is neither intended as legal advice, nor a substitute for legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created herein. The content on is provided by the Jackson-Madison County Bar Association as a public service and for general information only. You should consult your attorney if you have questions concerning any specific situation. If you do not have an attorney, may we suggest that you visit our (Need a Lawyer – link) section or find a lawyer in the phone book. The topics covered through will provide basic information and should make it easier for someone with a problem to decide whether they need professional help from a lawyer or if another agency could provide them with assistance.

A special thanks to the Memphis Bar Association for its contributions and assistance to the Jackson-Madison County Bar Association in making available this legal information. Portions of the foregoing content have been reprinted with the permission of the Memphis Bar Association.