In the California legal system, “arbitration” means resolving disputes before a private judge or panel of judges. The word “arbitration” is generally, although not always, used to refer to dispute resolution, which is binding, as opposed to mediation, which is not binding. When a dispute is referred to arbitration, the parties usually have to pay the fees of the arbitrator, who usually charges by the hour.
Depending upon the circumstances, arbitration can be done before a wide variety of different types of decision-makers. Perhaps the best-known arbitration association is the American Association of Arbitrators (“AAA”). The AAA has offices all over the United States. It has a large number of arbitrators associated with it. Some of them are lawyers or retired judges, but many others are non-legally trained experts, such as construction experts, commercial experts and so forth. By way of comparison with other arbitration services, the AAA is older, better established, more formal, relatively expensive and not necessarily very similar to litigation.
There are a number of other arbitration associations in California, most of which also offer mediation services. Some of the better know such services in California are the Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (“JAMS”) and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Services (“ADR”). JAMS, ADR and other similar services, such as Judicate West, offer arbitrators who are primarily retired judges.
Many other services can be used for arbitration. For example, within the Orthodox Jewish community, disputes can be referred to a bet din, or panel of rabbis.