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Appropriate Dispute Resolution Information Sheet

Mediators, the court requests that you provide a copy of this information sheet to your client.

Appropriate Dispute Resolution Information Sheet for the Superior Court of California, County of San Mateo

Parties can often resolve civil disputes without the time and expense of traditional court litigation. For this reason, the court strongly encourages parties in civil cases to explore and use Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR). The ADR options explained here are in addition to the court-provided voluntary and mandatory settlement conferences.

1. What is ADR?
2. What are the advantages of using ADR?
3. What are some disadvantages of using ADR?
4. What types of ADR do litigants use in California?
5. What are the ADR procedures for the San Mateo County Superior Court?
6. More Information

1. What is ADR?

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.


2. What are the advantages of using ADR?

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.


3. What are some disadvantages of using ADR?

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.


4. What types of ADR do litigants use in California?

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.


5. What are the ADR procedures for the San Mateo County Superior Court?

  1. When you file a Complaint, you will receive this information sheet from the Superior Court Clerk. You must include this information sheet when you serve the Complaint on the Defendant(s).
  2. You and the other parties to the dispute may agree to take the matter to ADR. You and the other parties must choose and contact your own ADR provider. A Panelist List is available online. You may use it to help you find an ADR provider.
  3. If you and the other parties do not agree to use ADR, the court will schedule an initial Case Management Conference ("CMC"). The CMC will occur within 120 days from when you filed the Complaint. You must complete the Case Management Conference Statement and provide the original and a copy to the court clerk no later than 15 days before the scheduled conference.
    The San Mateo County Superior Court Case Management judges will strongly encourage you, the other parties, and the lawyers to consider and use ADR and/or to meet with the ADR Director and staff where appropriate.
  4. If you and the other parties agree to ADR, you must sign and file a Stipulation and Order to ADR.
  5. If you and the other parties file the Stipulation and Order to ADR at least 12 days before the CMC, the court will issue a notice to vacate (cancel) the CMC. The court will continue (postpone) any ADR stipulated cases (except arbitration) for further ADR case management/status review in 90 days. If you and the other parties resolve the case through ADR, AND the court receives a dismissal or judgment, the court may also vacate the status review date. Upon review of case information, the court may also suggest an ADR referral to both parties to discuss matters related to case management, discovery, and ADR.
  6. You and the other parties must pay for any private ADR services. Usually parties split the fee, unless they reach a different agreement about the fee. If a party is low-income, that party may make a request for Financial Aid.
  7. Local Court Rules require you to evaluate the ADR Project. You must complete a brief Evaluation by Client and submit it within 10 days of completing ADR. If you have a lawyer, have them also complete the Evaluation by Attorney.


6. More Information

For ADR forms, go to the Local Forms section of the court's website: For more information, contact the Multi-Option ADR Project:

Address: 400 County Center, Redwood City, CA 94063
Phone: (650) 261-5075 or (650) 261-5076

The Multi-Option Appropriate Dispute Resolution Project is a partnership of the court, community, and Bar Association.


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