So what's arbitration like? After the initial period of requesting documents, the attorneys for each side write a brief summarizing their cases. The parties each have a chance to approve the arbitrators assigned to the case-typically a panel of three. At the proceeding, witnesses are examined and cross-examined under oath. But because the arbitrators are already experts in the field, there's less need for explaining background than there would be for a jury. Questioning of witnesses is more direct and focused, and the arbitrators may ask questions directly.
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After closing arguments, the arbitrators typically have 30 days to issue their ruling, but you can get a decision on the same day if you make arrangements in advance. If the parties request a written finding of facts with legal reasoning and conclusion, the arbitrators provide one. Otherwise, their ruling simply states who the winner is and who gets what.
"The great thing about arbitration is that the parties control the process," says Schwartz. "They set it up ahead of time to meet their needs."
Bridgesmith notes that in recent years, the arbitration process offered by the major associations, including Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS) and the American Arbitration Association, has become more like litigation, with more discovery required and more stringent guidelines designed to make the process acceptable to both sides.