Alternatives to Resolving Disputes

Snow Glitter-Copyright Carolyn E. Wright

These days, we’re quick to threaten or actually to sue others when we have a dispute. But filing a lawsuit is expensive and can be taxing in many ways, including demanding a significant amount of time and causing stress. Therefore, many organizations, including courts, are encouraging resolution of claims through alternative methods — referred to as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). ADR takes many forms, but primarily is done through arbitration or mediation:


Arbitration is similar to what happens in court, but is less formal and takes much less time.  You present your case to one arbitrator or to a panel of arbitrators, who issues a decision.  Arbitration can be binding or non-binding. If it is binding, you are stuck with the decision of the arbiter. If it is not binding, you still have the right to pursue your claim in court if you don’t like the arbiter’s decision.


Mediation is a common way of settling disputes. It involves an unbi­ased, court-appointed or privately-hired mediator who attempts to get the parties to resolve their differences by coming to a mutual agreement. Since mediation is not binding, you commit only your time and usually the shared cost of the mediator. It can be a civilized way to reach a settlement. If the mediation is not successful, you retain your ability to go to court.


The California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA) started its Arts Arbitration and Mediation Services (AAMS) in 1980, which was “the first alternative dispute resolution program in the country to specifically tailor its services for the arts and entertainment communities.”

Christina Duran, the Program Director for AAMS in the San Francisco office, was kind enough to answer some of my  questions about the program:

Q.  Where are you located?

A.  The AAMS has program coordinators in the CLA’s San Francisco (415-775-7200 x101), Los Angeles (310-998-5590) and Sacramento (916-442-6210) offices to help artists throughout the state. 

Q. What services do you offer?

A.  In addition to mediation and arbitration services, we provide meeting facilitation and conciliation services. Conciliation is done by a AAMS staff person through phone calls and/or correspondence. It works well for parties that are physically distant from each other or the issues are limited, such as the return of art or payment of royalties, that don’t need a full mediation or arbitration. Meeting facilitation endeavors to help a group of individuals to work together to reach possible conclusions or decisions. A meeting facilitator does not listen to the parties as individuals, but rather facilitates a group of individuals with varying interests, by setting an agenda, guiding the meeting, and providing a safe environment for brainstorming ideas. 

Q.  What do you charge?

A.  All of AAMS’ fees are charged on a sliding basis and are low cost. The AAMS’ arbitration program is unique by offering a low-fee arbitration program, when other arbitration programs can cost thousands. 

Q.  What one thing do you want my blog readers to know about your program?

A.  If you think of conflict on a ladder, the lowest rung is when the parties resolve a dispute between themselves. The highest rung is when a party sues the other and the case is resolved by a judge or jury. It’s easy to go up the ladder, but it’s usually hard to come down. So even when an agreement isn’t reached by the parties using our services, the artists report that they see value in participating in our alternative dispute resolution programs.  

Thanks, Christina!


While AAMS is for California residents, other states may offer similar programs, such as New York’s MediateArt, Texas’ Dispute Resolution/Arts Mediation, and Missouri’s Arts Resolution Services. Check your state’s Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts organization.

I recently completed the AAMS’ Mediation Training for Intellectual Property Matters, which was an interactive 40 hour professional program utilizing simulation, coaching, lectures and demonstrations. I now can be a mediator for AAMS and look forward to helping with the program.

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