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Alternative dispute resolution by the Department of Justice – data from a large survey

On Dec. 3, 2003 Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum remarked that at the Department of Justice, for every civil case taken to trial, about one hundred others are resolved before they go to trial. Many of those settled cases relied on some form of alternative dispute resolution.

To evaluate the effectiveness of its use of ADR programs, the DOJ surveyed Assistant United States Attorneys after they had used ADR, “examining almost one thousand cases over a four-year period.”
The study “found that ADR achieved settlements about two-thirds of the time it was used. Even in those cases when a settlement did not occur, about half the time our lawyers reported ADR was beneficial for other reasons, such as improving the relations between the parties.”

Those same trial lawyers “estimated that, in the average case, ADR saved about six months of litigation time. They reported that ADR resulted in savings of about $10,000 per case in litigation costs. Finally, they stated that the settlements achieved through ADR were better tailored to meet the parties’ needs and helped preserve the relationships between the people involved in the dispute.”

On a methodological note, since the DOJ represented the government during those years in approximately 100,000 civil cases each year, the ADR subset studied amounted to a tiny portion of all the cases. It’s hard to see that ADR was stunningly successful if less than half a percent of the cases invoked it.