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Mediation and/or arbitration clauses in your contracts. Understand how each option works before signing your next contract.

When you enter into a contract you will often see that the initial terms are the most important ones describing the goods or services, prices, quantities and other matters that two parties have negotiated.  These are the material terms that contain the purpose of the contract. As you move towards the end of the contract, you will find miscellaneous boilerplate terms that a lot of people tend to glance over for a split second before signing the agreement. Miscellaneous terms tend to include provisions such as:

  • Jurisdiction. This paragraph describes which state laws will be used to interpret the terms of the contract.
  • Severability. This paragraph states that if any provision is determined invalid, the rest of the contract’s terms will be enforceable.
  • Assurances. This paragraph states that one party or the parties will take necessary actions necessary to carry out the terms of the contract.
  • Attorney’s Fees. This paragraph describes how and whether any attorney’s fees will be enforced if attorney’s are required in enforcing the terms of the contract.

The above are only a few examples and basic descriptions of the miscellaneous types of terms within a standard agreement. There are many others that should be reviewed thoroughly to understand the entirety of the transaction.

Well-written contracts also include a paragraph describing how any future disagreements related to the contract will be resolved. This paragraph is usually titled after your options – Mediation, Arbitration and/or Dispute Resolution. Understand that by signing the agreement, you are binding yourself to these resolution options in the event there is a problem in enforcing the contract in the future regardless of whether the enforcing party or not. It is a very important paragraph to review which will affect your future and should not be taken lightly.

  • Mediation is typically a 1 day negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party, usually a retired judge, with the goal of resolving the matter jointly between the parties.
  • Arbitration is a longer process similar to a lawsuit in court, except that it is managed outside of court using 1 arbitrator or a panel to make a decision. The process involves presenting evidence, arguments, calling witnesses and questioning by the parties, and so forth.

Both options are made available as more time- and cost efficient solutions towards resolving legal problems related to a contract rather than going to court for resolution.  The above descriptions are extremely basic and should be explored carefully. Well-written dispute resolution paragraphs describe in detail how the process will work.  Seek legal advice to interpret the paragraph if it is written in legal jargon.

BEFORE you sign an agreement, we recommend taking your contract to an attorney to discuss whether a dispute resolution option is best over the other option, Of course, this all depends on a few variables:

  • the type of transaction
  • the relationship between the parties
  • whether mediation is a practical option between the parties
  • your available funds towards resolving problems should they arise
  • whether you have a true option in negotiating the terms or simply have to adhere to the terms as written

KNOW that mediation, arbitration, and other alternative dispute resolution options apply to a wide variety of contracts. These include:

  • cable bill
  • internet bill
  • new car purchase and lease
  • mortgages
  • employer/employee contracts
  • furniture purchase contracts
  • car service agreements
  • rental car contracts

Practically, all well-drafted and complete contracts include this type of provision. If your contract does not include such provision, seek legal advice before signing the contract.