Not every civil case that goes to court has to be resolved by a judge. In many cases, the parties involved in a dispute can take part in mediation or arbitration. This is referred to as alternate dispute resolution. Mediation is an informal and voluntary process that is entered into by all parties to a dispute.
The mediator does not make any type of decisions for the parties. Instead, the mediator guides the conversation along in the hopes of establishing a dialogue. While the process is voluntary, any agreement that is reached through mediation is considered to be a binding agreement. In the event that no agreement is reached, the parties may pursue other types of legal action.
In contrast, in arbitration the ruling of the arbitrator is final, assuming that the parties have agreed in advance that it is binding. Further legal action may be undertaken if either party fails to abide by the arbitrator's decision. In most cases, the decision reached by an arbitrator cannot be appealed. Regardless of whether a dispute goes through mediation or arbitration, it may be beneficial to go outside of the court system to resolve a case as it may resolved faster than traditional legal methods, and in many cases with less expense.
A case that goes to mediation may be resolved by the parties themselves or with the help of attorneys separately representing them. An attorney can also advise a client going through alternate dispute resolution methods what the consequences of a decision are. Advising a client in such a manner may ensure that the ultimate decision between proceeding with litigation and going through an alternative dispute resolution process is an informed on.
Source: The State of New Jersey, "Alternative Dispute Resolution", December 27, 2014