The Meaning of Alternative Dispute Resolution

AuthorAndrew J. Pirie
ProfessionFaculty of Law. University of Victoria
Alternative dispute resolution might just as easily be referred to as allur-
ing dispute resolution. Even the popular acronym ADR, which regularly
replaces alternative dispute resolution in conversations would not need
to be changed. Whether it is the ADR practitioner, the legal profes-
sional, the academic, the student, or even the critic, there continues to
be a complicated fascination with what lies behind these three words.
The allure may be what brought you to these pages in the first place,
looking for something more about a modern phenomenon that is often
referred to as the ADR movement. But the attraction to ADR and ADR’s
significance must depend on the answer to a single question: What is
the meaning of alternative dispute resolution?
The answer to the question, which is the focus of this book, can be
difficult to grasp. In a short period of time, alternative dispute resolu-
tion has become a field of study and an area of practice of enormous
magnitude. In the legal profession alone, ADR has quickly gone from
being viewed with some suspicion by many lawyers to being widely
accepted as an integral part of the modern study and practice of law.
Outside of law, diverse disciplines continue to contribute to the great
variety of ideas and skills that collectively constitute ADR’s body of
knowledge, and myriad voices worldwide clamour for a say in educat-
ing about, or endorsing, ADR procedures and products. Alternative
dispute resolution is also a subject matter that is experiencing rapid
growth, with almost daily examples of new and far-reaching develop-
ments, initiatives, and experiments, not only locally but also globally.
Many of these ADR efforts are said to be profound, educational, and
transformative, or just more efficient when compared with existing dis-
puting methods. Academic and popular literature on ADR proliferates
and seems incapable of convenient collection except in select or partial
bibliographies. Internet links can now be made to an increasing num-
ber of sites boasting access to ADR services or information. Describing
what ADR is can be an imposing task.
What is the meaning of ADR? In its theories and practices ADR has
become the accumulated answers to a widening web of questions. The
questions go to the complex nature of disputes (and disputants) of
every shape and form; to the many ways in which disputes are or can
be facilitated, mediated, managed, resolved, negotiated, prevented,
avoided, or otherwise processed; and to the practical skills that help
disputes move along while avoiding the pitfalls that make matters
worse. The study and practice of ADR covers a lot of ground.
To complicate matters, few of these ADR questions stand alone. A
tug on one line of inquiry is inevitably felt elsewhere. Consider where
the following questions might fit on an ADR web, how the answer to
one question can depend on, or be affected by, several others, and how
more ADR questions can easily be asked.
What is a dispute?
Is a conflict the same as a dispute?
What causes disputes or conflicts?
Can disputes be prevented or managed rather than resolved?
Is there a difference between dispute resolution and dispute processing?
Why are certain disputes so difficult to deal with and others so easy?
Why do some disputes never get raised at all?
What part does power play in dispute resolution?
What is alternative dispute resolution or ADR?
What is ADR an alternative to?
Where did this expression come from?
What are the methods or processes of alternative dispute resolution?
Is one ADR method or process better than another?
What are the practical skills needed to work in ADR?
Are some individuals better at disputing than others?
How can I become proficient in ADR?
Is ADR a profession or part of the legal profession?
Is there a place for the average person in the ADR field?
Do ADR theories and practices work in different cultures?
The Meaning of Alternative Dispute Resolution
Is ADR an idea whose time has come or is there a dark side to the
ADR movement?
Who determines what is ADR and what is not?
Why do we have ADR now?
The materials that follow help answer these and other questions
about alternative dispute resolution. Although the book is directed pri-
marily to the legal profession — lawyers, judges, legal academics, and
law students — the content should be of interest to anyone first study-
ing alternative dispute resolution or seeking to better understand or
improve his or her work with disputes. I hope even the expert and sea-
soned ADR practitioner will learn something new. The materials guide
you to current and practical information about ADR and its relevance
to you, pointing not only to the promise of ADR but also to its peculiar
and often political problems. The book’s information will assist you in
identifying important dispute resolution skills and in recognizing those
ADR attributes that you might already possess. Above all, this book
will enable you to become more informed about ADR and better
equipped to make ADR decisions when the need arises.
Although the focus of the book is on the practical — the doing of
ADR — the book tries to build a bridge between ADR practices and
their theories. Wherever possible, practical examples and problems
are used to illustrate how theories work in real-life situations. In chap-
ter 9, for example, several case studies are used to illustrate how the
ADR ideas and skills presented in the book can be applied to problems
that people encounter in their day-to-day lives. However, the theoret-
ical foundations and concepts that have been responsible for ADR
developments cannot be overlooked. They help one make more sense
out of actual ADR practices. This underlying knowledge base pro-
vides the essential frameworks for policy makers and practitioners
alike to rely on when deciding how or whether to use ADR processes
or techniques in various dispute settings. At the end of each chapter
there are references to other ADR publications, which either expand
on the materials presented here or offer other perspectives for more
in-depth thought and success in working with ADR. While the
emphasis of the book is on consensual approaches to dispute resolu-
tion, such as negotiation, mediation, and their hybrids, the widest
ranges of ADR territory are also explored from both intellectually
inquiring and practically useful viewpoints.
However, before going any further, a cautionary note is necessary.
Behind the allure, as ADR enthusiasts know, lies a demanding field of
study. The demands are due, in part, to the sheer scope of ADR’s cover-

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