Mediation vs. Arbitration: What’s the Difference?

Two women signing a document

Conflict is a part of everyday life whether it occurs in business or in personal matters. Often, conflict results in litigation, which is costly, time-consuming, and draining for all involved. For many, litigation is synonymous with high attorney fees, long waits, and adversarial wrangling which most clients prefer to avoid. That’s where mediation or arbitration can be beneficial.

Mediation vs. Arbitration

Both mediation and arbitration are forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). ADR provides a substitute for pursuing litigation through a backlogged court system. Whether through mediation or arbitration, ADR achieves resolution without court intervention at a significantly lower cost.

But what is the difference between mediation and arbitration, and how do you choose mediation vs. arbitration?


Mediation is an informal process in which the mediator conducts meetings with both parties together, as well as confidential meetings with each party, and in some cases, their attorneys separately. Only the parties, their attorneys, and sometimes their insurance company representatives may be present during mediation sessions unless otherwise agreed by the parties and the mediator.


Arbitration, while more formal than mediation, still occurs outside of the courtroom. Unlike mediation where the parties come to an agreement to resolve their matter, in arbitration, the arbitrator renders a decision that is binding on the parties. During the arbitration, each side may present witnesses and exhibits. Each side is permitted to cross-examine the opposing witnesses and make a closing argument. Upon completion of the arbitration hearing, the arbitrator will deliberate and prepare a decision and award, which may then be converted to a judgment.

Choosing a Mediator or Arbitrator to Hear Your Case

Unlike in litigation, in both mediation and arbitration, the parties often have the ability to choose the decision-maker for their case. If the relationship between the parties is governed by a contract, the contract may set forth who the mediator or arbitrator will be, or set forth the method for choosing who will decide their case.

When deciding to use alternative dispute resolution it is important to choose mediators and arbitrators who are trained and experienced in managing disputes fairly and efficiently and who are familiar with the jurisdiction where your case is located. Your choice of neutral can make an immense difference in how the negotiations are facilitated and in the outcome of the case.

Our neutrals are all practitioners or former jurists who are experts in their fields and who have experience with the mediation or arbitration process. Find a mediator or arbitrator for your case here.