Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



"[An incompetent attorney can delay a case for years, while a competent attorney can delay it for even longer."'

This oft-repeated joke illustrates the public perception of the delays and expense that accompany courtroom litigation. Indeed, growing frustration with crowded courts and exorbitant legal costs fuels the widespread Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") movement. Notwithstanding the dramatic increase in its use, ADR, defined as "procedures for settling disputes by means other than litigation," is not a novel idea. In fact, ADR was present in America as early as the seventeenth century. In certain parts of colonial America, voluntary arbitration was a common way to settle disputes; judicial enforcement was largely unnecessary because of the trust inherent in a society in which survival depended on cooperation. By the early 1700s, however, rapid population growth and increased migration triggered a drastic change in the nature of dispute resolution. No longer able to rely on purely voluntary arbitration, people increasingly resolved disputes in court.

Years later, the Civil Rights struggles and Vietnam War protests of the 1960s and 1970s discouraged tolerance for traditional courtroom disputes, while, ironically, generating new statutory causes of action. The confluence of these trends triggered the modern ADR movement. Since then, the use of ADR has increased dramatically.? Today, ADR is used in virtually all fields, including labor and employment disputes, small civil disputes, family disputes, consumer problems, environmental complaints, prisoner grievances and international conflicts."