McGeorge School of Law

Pathways | Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative Dispute Resolution pathway image

Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") includes a variety of methods of resolving legal disputes without actually going to court. These methods include arbitration, mediation, and negotiation, among others. All are designed to be less formal, less expensive, and less time-consuming than court, and generally leave the dispute out of public record.

Other benefits of using ADR instead of the court system include: parties often feel that they have more control over the process and the outcome than they do at trial; and because it is a less adversarial process, it can preserve the relationship between parties. ADR can also benefit the attorneys involved. Clients can come away feeling like there has been a win-win resolution where the attorney was the problem solver, which increases client satisfaction and creates repeat business and referrals.

Arbitration and mediation are the two most common types of ADR; however, negotiation is almost always attempted first to resolve any dispute and is seen as the preeminent ADR method. Mediation can be used in almost any kind of legal dispute; mediators bring the parties together and attempt to work out a solution or agreement that both parties can accept or reject. Meanwhile, arbitration is very similar to a courtroom trial: evidence is presented, witnesses are called and questioned, and arguments are made. However, many of these aspects of arbitration are streamlined and made simpler in order to expedite the process. Following the hearings, the arbitrator or panel of arbitrators will deliver a ruling to the parties within a specified time period. Depending on the type of arbitration, the ruling may be final or there may be an option to appeal.

The difference between arbitrators and judges is also an important consideration. Courts do not allow parties to choose the judge that will preside over their matter. However, in arbitration, parties often have the ability to choose who their arbitrator will be. Additionally, arbitrators may be required to be experts in the field, whereas judges may or may not have any knowledge of the underlying matters in dispute.

Historically, ADR has been met with resistance by both parties and their advocates; however, with the rising cost of litigation and severe backlog in civil courtrooms, ADR has gained widespread acceptance from both the general public and the legal profession. Many courts now require parties to resort to some sort of ADR before allowing their case to be tried in a courtroom, and forty-nine states have adopted the Uniform Arbitration Act (1955), which was revised by Congress in 2000 mandating that all states adopt their own version of the act.

ADR is a growing field with opportunities in most government agencies, the private sector, public interest organizations, as well as internationally at entities such as the World Bank, Permanent Court of Arbitration, and many others.




  • Arbitration Advocacy and Practice (801)
  • Mediation (526)
  • Negotiating Disputes into Deals (826)
  • Negotiations and Settlements (802)

Breadth and Depth

  • Alternatives to Litigation in Family Law (442)
  • Conflict of Laws (515)
  • International Negotiations (631)
  • International Dispute Resolution (694)

Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning | Clinics
  • Housing Mediation Clinic (916)
  • Prisoner Civil Rights Mediation Clinic (909)
  • Semester in Practice (961)
  • Special Externships (958)
Experiential Learning | Externships
  • Semester in Practice (961)
  • Special Externships (958)


In speaking to attorneys who have primarily ADR practices, they all stress that, while there is no defined set of skills which make them successful, generally all ADR practitioners possesses a few of the same skills.

Although ADR is an alternative to formal litigation, attorneys who work in the field must be well versed in litigation because their clients often want to know about the consequences if ADR does not work out. Additionally, attorneys who work as arbitrators or mediators must be capable of remaining neutral. Many practitioners in this field explain that, in order to be effective, it is crucial to maintain a judicial temperament at all times. Finally, mediators and arbitrators must be willing to work with many different types of people.

Skills often found in ADR attorneys:

  • Judicial temperament
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem solving abilities
  • Creativity
  • Tenacity
  • Patience
  • Negotiation
  • Teamwork


Participating in any of the below-listed activities will not only offer you valuable insight into alternative dispute resolution practice, but will put you at a competitive advantage in your post-graduate job search.

  • Mock Trial
  • Moot Court
  • Participate in the McGeorge Alternative Dispute Resolution Club
  • Compete in the McGeorge Negotiation competition
  • Attend monthly luncheons of the Sacramento County Bar Association ADR Section

Practice Setting & Clients

Practice Settings

Practitioners of ADR work in a variety of practice settings:

  • Government (Federal, State, and Local)
  • Private Practice
  • Courts
  • Public Interest Organizations
  • Advocacy Organizations


An ADR practitioner’s client base depends on the type of ADR or area of law that he or she specializes in. Clients can include businesses, both large and small, government agencies, for profit and not for profit organizations, classes of people (as in a class action), and individuals.