In This Issue: Alternative Dispute Resolution: A Business (and) Communication Strategy. (Business Practices)

By Netzley, Michael | Business Communication Quarterly, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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In This Issue: Alternative Dispute Resolution: A Business (and) Communication Strategy. (Business Practices)

Netzley, Michael, Business Communication Quarterly

LITIGATION COSTS in America's legal system are estimated to start at $100 billion annually with some estimates exceeding $300 billion. These estimates capture direct costs such as legal fees, jury awards, copying and organization costs, and expert witness fees. Indirect costs, which can be difficult to measure, such as being distracted from day-to-day management responsibilities or damage to corporate reputation, will substantially increase the total costs of conflict. In response, many corporations have turned to alternative forms of dispute resolution (ADR) in hopes of containing legal costs. The results have been mixed. When participants effectively and fairly truncate the dispute process, ADR can have a very positive impact on business practices and relations. ADR processes that become long and drawn out like formal litigation, however, can cost just as much as a trial and leave everyone feeling dissatisfied. It would appear that ADR might be most effective when a truncated process outside of a courtroom offers decreased direct and indirect costs.

Currently, ADR does not have a strong foothold in business schools. ADR is a scholarly and practical topic that ABC members can embrace, research, and easily teach. The topic is particularly relevant because effective ADR, including arbitration and mediation, requires effective communication skills. Many of these skills such as listening, managing the meeting process, identifying motives in spoken messages, managing and reading nonverbal signals, and seeking common ground we already teach. To state this point another way, ADR can serve as a vehicle for teaching communication theory and practices while also enriching students' management education experiences.

ADR can be advantageous to ABC members in several other ways. First, it may be one of a few remaining topics relevant to business that has not been eagerly embraced by our colleagues. Thus, there are opportunities for ABC members to become the ADR experts in their institutions. ADR expertise can provide the foundation for building working relationships with the business community, an opportunity for conducting and publishing management research, and a source for establishing research relationships with business and law school colleagues.

Finally, ADR is a topic that students can take with them after graduation and apply on the job. Whether it is mediating a dispute between two colleagues or preserving an important customer or supply-chain relationship, ADR offers our graduates strategies for resolving serious disagreements while minimizing legal fees, court proceedings, and costs.

Interview with Experts on ADR

To develop an understanding of ADR and its potential as a topic for business communication practice and research, we interviewed two attorneys with expertise in this field.

Michael Landrum, J.D., is a founding partner of Burk & Landrum, a labor and employment law practice representing management. He also serves as the Director of Americord, a conflict management consulting firm providing mediation, arbitration, and system design services. Previously, Landrum was a professor of law at the William Mitchell Law School in Minnesota. Landrum earned his J.D. from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has practiced law and ADR for 25 years. Landrum currently serves on the State of Minnesota's ADR Review Board and is listed in the National Association of Securities Dealers' Roster of Mediators.

Cynthia Waters, J.D., is an attorney, mediator, and the Program Manager for the Ramsey County District Court Cooperation (Minnesota) for the Children Program, a pilot program offering non-adversarial methods for resolving custody and parenting-time disputes on a sliding fee basis. Waters has served as an adjunct professor of ADR and mediation advocacy at Hamline University School of Law. She practiced family law as co-founder and staff attorney for Limited Income Legal Assistance, a nonprofit legal corporation that provided legal services to persons who were legal-aid eligible or were among the "working poor.

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