The Vanishing Trial?

Scholars and practitioners alike often seem up in arms about the “vanishing trial.” Most seem worried that this decline in litigation will ultimately destroy justice. Instead of achieving justice through a court system, conflicts are being resolved without the assistance of lawyers, judges, and–dare I say—lots of time, money, and resources! Many blame ADR. As the court system became more overburdened, alternate dispute resolution methods slowly became recognized as viable alternatives to litigation.

No doubt, few would advocate a “world without all trials.” Although alternate dispute resolution increases access to justice by offering inexpensive and creative methods to resolve conflicts outside the courtroom, ADR can become a “tool for diminishing the judicial development of legal rights for the disadvantaged.” Assuredly, “issues of justice are more salient when the federal government is a litigant.” Despite the rising popularity of alternate dispute resolution, various areas of law require trial to create precedent and protect certain civil rights. Scholars and academics have asserted various concerns about whether negotiation and mediation are an appropriate alternative in areas such as family law, labor law, civil rights, and environmental law.

by Mikita Weaver

[1]  See Harry T. Edwards, Alternative Dispute Resolution: Panacea or Anathema?, 99 Harv. L. Rev. 668, 668 (1986).  Although alternate dispute resolution was once considered a cultish following of a few offbeat scholars, the movement has attracted a significant number of adherents “with the rise of public complaints about the inefficiencies and injustices of our traditional court system.”  Id.  
[1] Marc Galanter, A World Without Trials? (2006) J. Disp. Resol. 7.
[1]  Edwards, supra note 1, at 679.  If all civil rights cases had been mediated in the 1960’s and 1970’s, civil rights law would have been “impoverished.”  Id.  Furthermore, “[t]he wholesale diversion of cases involving the legal rights of the poor may result in the definition of these rights by the powerful in our society rather than by the application of fundamental society values reflect in the rule of law.”  Id. 
[1] Lisa Blomgren et. al. Dispute Resolution and the Vanishing Trial: Comparing Federal Governmnet Litigation and ADR, 5.
[1]  See Andre R. Ibrogno, Using ADR to Address Issues of Public Concern: Can ADR Become an Instrument for Social Oppression?, 14 Ohio St. J. on Disp. Resol. 855 (1999) (asserting that society is threatened when familial matters such as child abuse and domestic violence are resolved using private dispute resolution instead of public adjudication; suggesting private dispute resolution may further victimize and isolate already vulnerable victims).
[1]  See Betty D. Robinson, Considering Grievance Mediation, Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal Vol. 5 No. 2 (2005) (suggesting that the shift from formal arbitration towards grievance mediation in labor law fails to recognize the uniqueness of individual labor-management and the necessity of formality).
[1]  See Wayne D. Brazil, Should Court-Sponsored ADR Survive?, 21 Ohio St.J. on Disp. Resol. 241, 276-266 (2006) (advocating for court ADR programs generally; suggesting different standards for civil rights cases and cases with a party proceeding in forma pauperis).
[1] Although Judge Wald suggests that the nation’s complicated toxic waste disputes can only be resolved through negotiations rather than litigation, private environmental negotiations that bypass federal and state agencies may not serve the public interest if the negotiations result in weaker standards that compromise strict government standards.  Edwards, supra note 1, at 677-78.  A community with little resources—often the case in toxic waste cases—will have relatively little bargaining power.  See Amber McKiney, The ACLU and the Propriety of Dispute Resolution in Civil Rights Controversies 6 Pepp. Disp. Resol. L.J. 109, 121-122 (2006).  Because each case is dealt with on a case-by-case basis in negotiations or mediation, the community cannot benefit from precedence and uniformity that typically accompany judicial decisions.  See id. at 122.  Negotiations also focus on the individual nature of the dispute instead of on the overall pattern of discrimination of the offender; furthermore, negotiations lack procedural safeguards to protect the rights of minorities where negotiation proceedings are confidential in nature and executed without a formal record. Id.
[1] Id.
[1] Id. at 17.
[1] Lisa Blomgren et. al. Dispute Resolution and the Vanishing Trial: Comparing Federal Governmnet Litigation and ADR, 3.
[1] Id. at 1.
[1] Id.
[1] Id.
[1] See Id.  “Analyses of various macrojustice outcomes show that ADR outcomes were not significantly different from litigated outcomes, indicating that the process was neutral, favoring neither private parties nor the government. While these statistics are descriptive, a final analysis shows that the earlier a case is referred to ADR, the shorter its time to disposition.”  Id.
[1] Id.

Mikita is the Editor-in-Chief of ADR Times. She is also an attorney at Seastrom Seastrom & Tuttle focusing solely on Family Law . Before that, she worked predominantly in litigation and arbitration in the field of construction and business litigation insurance defense. She received her Juris Doctorate at Pepperdine and a Masters in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute. Mikita has been published in the Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal and worked at the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in London. As an avid traveler, she continues to explore various dispute resolution issues and how they vary from region to region.