Litigation, Arbitration, Mediation…What’s the Difference? - Hackstaff, Snow, Atkinson & Griess, LLC

Litigation, Arbitration, Mediation…What’s the Difference?

Litigation, arbitration, mediation  When it comes to resolving disputes, there are several methods to try depending on the situation. Litigation, arbitration, and mediation are three of the main avenues for dispute resolution. Below, we explain each option, then discuss how to choose the right method.


Litigation is the most formal process of resolving disputes, and the most notorious. Typically, a judge or jury will hear the details of the case and then decide the outcome based on evidence and legal arguments presented by both sides.

Litigation is considered the most adversarial method, since both parties are fighting to win conclusively. Trials and proceedings are publicly recorded, meaning that the details of the case might also be made public (Note this is an important consideration if there are delicate or embarrassing details that could hurt someone’s reputation or standing in the community).

Litigation is also time-consuming and costly, and oftentimes there are multiple legal professionals and other experts involved. 

Finally, litigation is uncertain, as you are completely reliant on the judge and jury’s interpretation of the facts and their final decision.


A less aggressive form of dispute resolution, mediation is a facilitated negotiation between two parties. A neutral third party mediator listens to and works with both sides of the dispute to arrive at a solution that is amenable to both, usually involving some compromise.

Mediation is a more cooperative process of finding common ground between both sides in the hopes of finding a solution that is acceptable to both parties. It’s also confidential, and not part of the public record.

Mediation is typically a faster and less expensive resolution option because it avoids the courtroom. Mediation is less time-consuming and less time means lower legal fees.

Unlike litigation, the outcome can be decided by the parties. Mediators guide the process, but the parties must ultimately agree on the resolution for it to be binding. However the solution reached in mediation is known and not left up to a jury or judge.


Arbitration is another option for resolving disputes that involves a third party, called an arbitrator. The arbitrator will hear both sides of a case and then make a binding decision. 

Arbitration is similar to litigation in that it’s slightly more adversarial than mediation, but much less formal and confrontational.

Like mediation, disputes and discussions in arbitration are completely confidential. The arbitration process is typically faster than litigation, but can be more expensive than mediation. Unlike mediation, the arbitrator decides the final outcome and that decision is binding (though subject to appeal).

Which option is right for you?

Although you typically have no choice after the dispute has arisen, preemptively choosing a dispute resolution method is dependent on several factors, starting with the nature of the dispute and how complex it is. Emotional and financial factors are a big influence, as are your time and cost constraints. Is it worth going to court for a lengthier process, and can you afford it? Also consider your willingness to compromise and how the outcomes might affect your relationships, personal and professional, and how open you are to a small (or large) concession.

Here’s a quick guide to help you choose:

  • Litigation: Complex disputes that have higher stakes, such as financial settlements, and when a legally binding and publicly enforceable outcome is necessary.
  • Arbitration: Moderately complex disputes that need faster resolution and confidentiality, and slightly more control over the process.
  • Mediation: Less complex disputes where both sides are willing to compromise without damaging a relationship, and where privacy is also important.

If you’re facing a potential dispute and looking for advice, the experienced attorneys of Hackstaff, Snow, Atkinson & Griess’s Litigation practice can help you choose the option that will serve your needs best.

Contact us today for a free consultation.