At the opening of the Law Term 2019-2020, Dean of the Law Faculty at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine sent shockwaves through the legal fraternity in voicing her opinion that lawyer fees in the Trinidad and Tobago “are too high”. While there remains much debate in the fraternity about the validity of Professor Antoine’s assertion, not up for debate is the cost-prohibitive nature of some litigation. As Professor Antoine noted, some people, in spite of the merits of their cases, are unable to seek justice because they simply cannot afford to do so.
While there is certainly a need for the litigation afforded by a courtroom scenario, there is a more cost-effective answer to certain cases, offered by a few highly specialised companies like Dialogue Solutions. - Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Dialogue Solutions’ Chief Executive Officer, Seeraj Gajadhar, said the issue is not so much the cost of lawyers, but the choices that people make in resolving disputes. Litigation is not always necessary and is often the most costly and time-consuming approach.
Furthermore, Dialogue Solutions’ Chairman, Reginald Armour, S.C. pointed out that ADR in Trinidad and Tobago has the potential to positively impact the bottom line of both local and international businesses. According to the World Bank’s 2019 Cost of Doing Business study, in Trinidad and Tobago it takes, on average, a staggering 1340 days (3.6 years) for a contract to be enforced through the High Court at a cost of 33.5% of the value of the contract that a company is seeking to enforce. This not only impacts negatively on the investment climate in Trinidad and Tobago, the cost of litigation is a major deterrent for all parties seeking recourse through the courts. During commercial litigation, attorney fees can carry a heavyweight of 30.4% of the value of a claim, with court and enforcement fees still to be paid.
The Honourable Chief Justice Ivor Archie, in his speech at the Law Term opening also made reference to an increased use of alternative dispute resolution strategies at the Family Court level, where almost 300 matters were referred for this alternative approach versus through the traditional court system.
But what is alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and why is it finding more popularity in the business community, legal fraternity and society at large?
In a nutshell, ADR is a process whereby parties try to settle a dispute using the assistance of a neutral third person who acts as the mediator or arbitrator, one of the many services offered by Dialogue Solutions. Unlike the case of a judge in a courtroom scenario, the mediator or arbitrator does not take the approach of imposing a decision on the parties but adopts a more balanced and problem-solving approach, helping parties come to a mutually acceptable ‘win-win’ resolution.
In addition to an approach intended to empower the parties involved in the dispute, ADR strategies also give rise to more practical benefits to individuals, institutions and nations in contrast to the traditional court system. ADR moves disputes from the public courtroom, which is subject to external scrutiny and system backlogs, to the privacy of a boardroom or neutral meeting space. In a less adversarial environment and with the help of trained mediators, parties are more likely to come to a mutually beneficial resolution of their own making, particularly as they are more able to vent their grievances directly rather than through their lawyer as they would in courtroom litigation. They have a better sense of having earned and therefore own the resolution. ADR specialists are trained to solve complex problems and listen to both sides of parties’ arguments and assist in reaching a solution in an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and co-operation, as opposed to imposing a judgment that necessarily puts the party on the losing side.
As an alternative to the costly lawyer’s fees mentioned in Professor Antoine’s address, ADR matters are concluded in shorter order than their courtroom counterparts, vastly reducing the cost of resolving disputes.
Alternative Dispute Resolution and the specialized companies like Dialogue Solutions Ltd that provide this service prove not only an answer to reducing legal fees in this country but also shorten the pathway to justice and resolution; a better business proposition all around.