A Look-Back on an Arbitration Effort to Remember
On July 15, 2022, Jason Freeman and I concluded a five-day long arbitration. Not between ourselves; rather, we served as counsel for long-time clients in a business dispute that, by agreement with an opposing party, required resolution of disputes by private, confidential arbitration. Thus, the details of the dispute and proceeding are, well, private and confidential and so shall they remain. But, my high-level thoughts on the process involved are ripe for an Insights post.
Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution. Arbitration is a way to resolve disputes outside the public eye that looks upon the courts of law. A dispute submitted to arbitration is usually decided by one or more persons who are selected by the parties to serve as the arbiters or arbitrators. Basically, the parties to the dispute consent to allow the arbiter—usually an attorney or expert in the matter in dispute—to render an award in arbitration, just like a judge might enter in a court of law.
An arbitration decision or award is legally binding on the parties involved and then becomes enforceable in a court of law otherwise having jurisdiction (if or as necessary for enforcement of the award). Usually, there are no or very few rights of appeal, which is a disadvantage to arbitration. But, the parties to an agreement to arbitrate disputes may stipulate to just about any term, condition, or process to be used in or applied to the arbitration.
Flexibility, privacy, and expediency are probably the three most attractive characteristics of arbitration over litigation in a court of law.
Arbitration is not necessarily an inexpensive alternative to litigation in a court of law. In many ways, arbitration is (or could seem to be) more expensive than litigation in a court of law because the arbitration fees and legal expenses are usually compressed into a far shorter time frame than a case that works its way through the court system. The arbitration matter that stirred this blog went from soup-to-nuts (submission to arbitration trial) in less than seven months. It involved thousands of records that spanned over 15 years, dozens of potential witnesses, just as many fact issues, and unique state and federal questions of law.
In advance of the arbitration trial, the entire Freeman Law Team dedicated tremendous effort to prepare the facts, law, witnesses, exhibits, and arguments for arbitration. We had staff dedicated to document identification and management. We had practically all of our lawyers dedicated to unique legal issues involved in the case. We were in constant contact with our clients and their representatives who were instrumental in helping us understand the businesses involved and how to best protect their interests.
Frankly, I did not sleep much during the three weeks leading up to or through the arbitration. Fortunately for me, my family was on vacation throughout all of it, and I was able to dedicate pretty much every waking moment and ounce of energy to preparing for the arbitration while also managing my other clients’ matters, as best I could.
Speaking of sleep, my friend and colleague, Jason Freeman, did not. He was laser-focused at all hours, and the rest of the Freeman Law Team locked arms and advanced along his side. It really was spectacular. We went all-in, together, for the clients knowing that there might be “sunk costs” or fees incurred that would not be collected but which were necessarily incurred in order to protect the clients’ best interests.
In closing, this experience proved to be one of life’s real treats—I entered an arbitration arena alongside a 35-plus year friend, well-prepared and fully supported by the Freeman Law Team, to present a complex case for clients whose professional and personal lives were at stake but fully entrusted to our professional advocacy and care.