Contract disputes are about as common and normal as the sun coming up every morning. The parties do all they can to think of every possibility that may arise during their relationship and then—two years into a five year contract—there is a problem that nobody expected. The contract is either silent on the issue or does not address it adequately—or each side thinks that their interpretation is the only correct one. Now what? The two organizations have been working well for 2 years and have come to depend on one and other but now there is a problem.
The first step is to go to the contract and see how it guides the parties to settle their disputes. The contract may call for mediation, arbitration, or litigation or it may be silent with regard to dispute resolution. All of these solutions are expensive and the parties may not want to put the funds at risk to solve the particular dispute. There is nothing that really prevents the parties from solving disputes among themselves—the dispute resolutions section is only for disputes which the parties cannot settle.
So what is the alternative? The parties can agree to discuss their dispute with a neutral third party present who can facilitate a discussion. That third party is not there to make a decision as to who is right or wrong or how the dispute is to be settled. The third party is just there to lay the ground rules for the discussion, enforce those ground rules, and help keep the parties on track. At some point in the process, if the ground rules permit, the third party may speak separately to the parties and may call for an adjournment until another day to allow both sides to consider their opinion and that of the other side.
At the Tull Law Firm, we know that our contract dispute resolution practice is not for “bet the company” disputes, but rather for those simple contract disputes where the parties want to find a solution and have thus far been unsuccessful. Many lawyers out there would cringe at this process because both sides are showing their hands and if a solution is not found there may be an advantage lost. In this day of wide-open pretrial discovery, that is not necessarily true—modern, expanded pre-trial discovery reveals most, if not all, potential surprises to both sides (and if something truly is a surprise, the judge may not allow it in the trial). The same is true in binding arbitration. If the matter is big enough that the parties are worried about an open and frank discussion of the issues, they need to follow the contract and go to arbitration or court.
The techniques we use as lawyers at the Tull Law Firm, PLLC are the same as those used in every organization to settle internal disputes. We are merely applying those same techniques and principals to disputes of equals who are not employees of the same organization. It is a rather simple process and usually only takes a few hours to find a settlement or to determine the parties need to move on to more formal dispute resolution.
If you have a contract dispute that you feel might be a candidate for this informal means of resolution, please give us a call at 615.530.5719 or use any of the other means on the Contact Us page.
Certifications in Mediation and Arbitration are available to Tennessee lawyers and other professionals. The Tull Law Firm’s Dispute Resolution Practice does not perform formal mediation or arbitration as classified by the Supreme Court of Tennessee. We are not certified in these areas and do not provide these services. We do represent clients in mediation and/or arbitration conducted by those who are certified in these areas. Our process is less formal and not intended as a replacement for either mediation or arbitration and we refer some disputes to those who are certified in these areas. Nothing contained herein should be construed as dispute resolution being either mediation or arbitration.