The work of a solicitor is often focused on preventing disputes from arising in the first place, whether this is through drafting an air-tight financial agreement or ensuring that a property conveyance proceeds smoothly. This preventative legal work is an investment in avoiding future pain.
However, despite everyone’s best efforts and intentions, disputes do arise. When this happens, our work as your solicitors is to help you to reach a resolution with the other party. You will naturally wish to do this as quickly and inexpensively as possible, so we will usually start with what is known as alternative dispute resolution. Litigation is almost always a final resort, but it is a powerful tool to enforce your legal rights.
What is Dispute Resolution?
It is a safe bet that you use dispute resolution skills every day, whether by settling a fight between family members or negotiating with a tricky colleague to get a project finished. Some people are experts at deescalating conflicts and reaching consensus with others, and these people are often the most successful in both their personal and professional lives.
This extends to legal conflicts. If you resolve an issue by having a chat with your neighbour over the fence, you are using negotiation as an alternative to other formal legal processes around property law. While we would always encourage you to seek legal advice to know your rights, sometimes you do not need to involve an outside party to reach an agreement that works for everyone. This is the most informal version of alternative dispute resolution.
We would sound a note of caution here. If there is a power disparity, informal negotiation can mean that you give away your legal rights. This is often the case in family law matters where there is a history of domestic and family violence. If you do not feel able to negotiate on an equal footing with the other party, you may need to have someone on your side from the very beginning.
If you cannot resolve a matter through informal negotiation, the next step might be for your solicitor to negotiate on your behalf. Usually, the other party will also have a solicitor, and the two solicitors will have the equivalent of a chat over the fence, trying to get their client what they want quickly and inexpensively.
If an informal chat does not work, then your conflict may be so ingrained or complex that you need outside help to reach a resolution. Mediation, for instance, is a process where two parties meet with an impartial person who is an expert in helping people to reach an agreement. The mediator does not sit in judgement or make a decision for you, but they can help you to see the options and the other person’s point of view. It is important to know that trying alternative dispute resolution does not give away any of your legal rights.
Your solicitor can walk you through all of the alternative dispute resolution avenues, their strengths and weaknesses, and make a recommendation about which is the best option for your situation.
What is Litigation?
Litigation is the process of enforcing your legal rights through the court system. Litigation often starts because one party wishes to stop someone from doing something that will cause them damage, or they are seeking compensation for damage that they have already experienced.
Litigation starts with a “claim”, often a demand for payment of money or for the rectification of some form of agreement. If the other party does not comply with the request, the matter goes to a court for a judge (or other judicial officer such as a magistrate) to make a decision on who is right. The court can make orders to enforce its decision, such as garnishing wages to pay a debt.
There may be a time when litigation will be your best and only option to resolve your conflict. In that case we will fight hard for you to enforce your legal rights. However, we always try to avoid litigation, or even to resolve the conflict after the litigation has commenced. It is very common for parties to reach what is called a “court steps” agreement, because it allows the matter to stay in their hands, rather than the hands of the courts.
How can we help with your legal dispute?
Our solicitors have earned a reputation, as much for their ability to avoid disputes, as for their enviable track record when the dispute becomes unavoidable.
At Somerville Laundry Lomax Solicitors, we advise on contract and regulatory disputes in core areas such as technology, fraud and financial services, insolvency, and arbitration. Our expertise extends to claims relating to product liability, professional negligence, company and partnership matters, employment, property, and media disputes.
We advocate a range of alternative dispute resolution services if we believe that avenue will deliver the best outcome.