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Civil ADR Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

If you need more information on your ADR options, please see our general ADR information. This page addresses procedural questions related to the court's Civil ADR program.

    Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a general term for different methods of resolving disputes. These methods give parties alternatives to traditional lawsuits.

    Types of ADR:

    • arbitration,

    • mediation,

    • neutral evaluation,

    • mini-trials,

    • settlement conferences,

    • private judging,

    • negotiation, and

    • combinations of these methods.

    These types of ADR offer partial or complete alternatives to resolving disputes in court.

    ADR has many advantages over traditional court litigation:

    • ADR can save time. Even in a complex case, ADR can help resolve a dispute in months or weeks. A lawsuit can take years.
    • ADR can save money. With ADR, settlements usually happen earlier. This can save you and the court money on things like lawyers' fees and court expenses.
    • ADR provides more participation. Traditional litigation focuses only on each party's legal rights and responsibilities. With ADR, you have more opportunity to express your interests and concerns.
    • ADR provides more control and flexibility. You can choose the type of ADR that is most appropriate for your particular situation. You can also choose the one that will work best for your particular needs.
    • ADR can reduce stress and provide greater satisfaction. Unlike traditional court litigation, ADR encourages cooperation and communication. And surveys show that people who have gone through ADR are highly satisfied with the process.

    ADR can have some disadvantages. For example:

    • You may give up some rights in binding arbitration (only). In binding arbitration, you give up your right to go to court and ask a judge or jury to decide your case. You also lose your right to appeal the arbitrator's decision.
    • You may have to go to court anyway. If you can't solve your case with ADR, you will have to spend more time and money on a lawsuit.
    • ADR is not free. The ADR provider may charge a fee. But the San Mateo Court's ADR program can help you pay the fee if you qualify for financial aid.
    • Time may run out. The law gives you a certain amount of time to file your lawsuit. This is called a "statute of limitations." Be careful not to let the statute of limitations run out while you are in the ADR process.

    As shown above, there are many different types of ADR. But California state courts most commonly use the following three types:

    1. Binding and Non-Binding Arbitration. In arbitration, an arbitrator:
      • hears evidence from the parties,
      • makes legal rulings,
      • determines facts, and
      • makes an arbitration award.

      If the parties agree with the award, arbitrators may enter it as a judgment. If the parties do not agree, arbitrators enter the award according to California statutes.

      Arbitrations can also be:

      • binding (enforceable by the court; parties cannot appeal the arbitrator's decision) OR
      • non-binding (either side can reject the arbitrator's decision and the case moves to trial).

      The parties must agree, in writing, if the arbitration is going to be binding.

    2. Mediation. Mediation is a voluntary, informal, and confidential process. In it, the mediator (a neutral third party):
      • helps negotiate settlements.
      • improves communication by and among the parties, and
      • Help the parties:
        • clarify facts,
        • identify legal issues,
        • explore options, and
        • arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution of the dispute.


    3. Neutral Evaluation: In neutral evaluation, the parties present their case to a neutral third party with subject-matter expertise. This person may:
      • give an opinion about the case,
      • identify the strengths and weaknesses of each party's position,
      • determine the potential verdict, and
      • give a possible range for damages.

      Note that for each of these options, the Multi-Option ADR Project offers pre-screened panelists with the appropriate experience and training.

    Anyone who files a civil lawsuit in San Mateo County will get a Civil ADR Information Sheet. The person who files the lawsuit (the Plaintiff) must include the ADR Information Sheet with the Complaint when serving the Defendant.

    If you and the other parties decide to use ADR to solve your case, you must fill out and file a special form, called a Stipulation and Order To ADR form.

    You and the other parties can agree on your own ADR provider. You can also go to the Panelist List to see all the ADR providers in the court's ADR program. Clicking on the names will let you review their résumés.

    You (or your lawyer) must fill out a Case Management Statement before each of your Case Management Conferences ("CMC"). You can download the Case Management Statement from this website or look for it in the complaint packet that is served on all parties.

    You must file this Case Management Statement at least 15 days before your CMC.

    While it is your decision to use ADR, judges in California encourage parties to use some form of ADR before they go to trial.

    If you and the other parties agree to ADR, you must file a Stipulation and Order To ADR at the Clerk's Office.

    If you decide to do ADR and you file a Stipulation and Order To ADR at least 12 days before your first CMC, the court will automatically continue (postpone) it for 90 days.

    The Clerk's Office will send you a notice with your new CMC date. The 90 days will give you time to resolve your case using ADR.

    Yes. You and the other parties will pay the neutral (the arbitrator, mediator, or evaluator) directly. You do not have to pay the court for voluntary and mandatory settlement conferences that the court provides.

    Ask the ADR staff if you qualify for financial aid for ADR. You will have to fill out an income information sheet or Financial Aid Application. We will review your application. If it is granted, you will receive help in paying the ADR fees.

    Yes. Within 10 days of completing ADR, you must fill out a Client Evaluation . If you have a lawyer, he or she must fill out an Evaluation by Attorneys. Mail or email the completed evaluation to the ADR office at:

    ADR Project
    400 County Center,
    Redwood City, CA 94063

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