Law: Arbitrate, don't litigate: Skilful solicitors can assist a process aimed at settling disputes more cheaply and quickly, says Sharon Wallach

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The Independent Online
SOLICITORS should make greater use of arbitration, according to Michael P Reynolds, a consultant solicitor with the Holborn, London firm Saunders Sobell Leigh & Dobin.

The advantages of arbitration to a range of businesses are not widely understood, nor is it considered often enough as a alternative to litigation. The legal profession has a strong role to play in making arbitration more effective in appropriate circumstances, Mr Reynolds contends. He is a professional indemnity arbitrator, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and has recently published a book on the subject in the Lloyd's List practical guides series. He wrote it in part, he says, to set right the perception of arbitration within the construction industry - that it takes too long and is too expensive. 'This contradicts the whole purpose of arbitration,' he says. 'A skilful arbitrator will cut through costs and time and diminish them considerably.'

The process can be aided by skilful solicitors who not only understand the law but are also experts in the relevant field. Work in arbitration brings positive benefits to solicitors too, Mr Reynolds says. With an eye on the forthcoming grant to solicitors of rights of audience in the higher courts, it is a good way for them to demonstrate their advocacy skills, he suggests. And because an arbitrator has the power of a High Court judge, he or she also gains experience of judicial skills. This would in some measure counter the oft-heard complaint about the dearth of solicitor judges.

Solicitors are also excellent managers of documents, he says, whose skills are useful in document-only arbitration. 'Why not then have oral hearings only on particular issues where the expert evidence is totally contradictory,' Mr Reynolds proposes. 'This would undoubtedly cut down on both costs and time.'

The impetus for future growth of the use of arbitration must be with lawyers, he says. 'We must do something about it. We virtually invented arbitration in this country and we certainly invented the procedures. The construction industry is crying out for ways of settling its disputes behind closed doors.' The answer is for lawyers to take arbitration on board as a friend, not an enemy. One way of facilitating this would be to spread its traditional net.

Arbitration has a long tradition in the construction and maritime industries, as well as in the international arena. It is, however, rarely used in other industries, although it could be a useful alternative to litigation for many: Mr Reynolds' suggestions include the newspaper industry, medicine, commodities, sale of goods, and information technology. Bearing in mind the Lord Chancellor's support for methods of alternative dispute resolution, Mr Reynolds believes arbitration could also take some of the economic burden off the courts system.

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