When it comes to legal disputes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Even the best laid plans can end with a dispute. Nobody enjoys dealing with them, but if you are in business long enough, it’s bound to be your turn to address disputes from time to time.  The best way to handle a dispute differs from situation to situation. The possibilities include litigation, arbitration, and mediation.

But, first, when your rights are being ignored under a contract, the best place to start is to have an attorney draft a demand letter on your behalf. This crucial first step should always be explored before resorting to lawsuits. A demand letter is a letter addressed to the individual or business harming you that states the issue clearly, explains why there is an issue under the law, and asks for a resolution. Typically, the letter gives a deadline for a response and then lays out what will happen if the issue is not amicably resolved.

A demand letter is especially useful when there has been a breach of a contract. An attorney can put the letter on his/her letterhead to show that you are serious about resolving the issue.  In many instances, this sends the message that you aren’t willing to put up with the unfair treatment, and the person or business causing the harm may ultimately decide to stop their behavior and remedy the situation before a lawsuit is filed.

If the dispute persist, litigation should be a last resort. This is true because it relies on the court, is often very expensive, and takes a long time, sometimes years, to prepare for and have a final trial. Additionally, lawsuits are public record and business owners may not want details germane to their business made public.

There are two other primary methods used to resolving disputes: arbitration and mediation. Although mediation and arbitration do not hold the same power as a decision from a judge following litigation, both preserve relationships and save time and money.

Arbitration and mediation are two tools used to avoid litigation, and they differ in significant ways. In arbitration, an arbitrator listens to all sides of the argument. Based on what they hear, they make a decision for all parties involved. Many times, certain contracts contain provisions that require arbitration rather than litigation. Most, if not all times, the arbitrator’s decision is final.

Mediation, on the other hand, does not involve a mediator making a final decision. Mediation is completely voluntary and completely confidential. It is important to find a mediator well versed in the legal area of your dispute. A skilled mediator who is seasoned in the area concerning your particular dispute is priceless because they will have a better grasp of the nuances involving your matter. The mediator is there to help parties collaborate and come to a decision on their own. A good mediator can offer opinions and advice, but they do not make the final decision. The parties make all decisions freely, and notably, either party can decide to stop mediation and file a lawsuit or continue to pursue the current active lawsuit.