The Dispute Resolution Partnership


The Dispute Resolution Partnership

David Richbell and Oliver Richbell

believes in helping clients to resolve disagreements quickly, efficiently and cost effectively.

We harness our collective legal, mediation and facilitation experiences to assist clients in bringing about early and common sense conclusions to commercial and workplace disagreements.

In bringing an early end to disagreements legal costs, commercial risk and lost management time are kept as low as possible and future business relationships are preserved.

By focusing on the needs of clients and their businesses we are providing exceptional levels of service and delivery by placing the client at the centre of the advice and support we provide.

This is how The DRP can help you avoid disputes:

In our work, Oliver as litigator (8 years qualified) and David as commercial mediator (22 years qualified) we have not only helped people in dispute to settle without going to court (or arbitration) but also seen so many times how the dispute could have been avoided if only…..

  • they had said (or not said) something at a critical moment;
  • they had taken (or not taken) a course of action at a particular time;
  • they had not become defensive and/or aggressive when the problem occurred,

and so on. It is all very well being wise after the event but we have seen too many disputes that need not have reached us as litigator or mediator and this programme has been devised to help parties avoid the requirement for litigation or mediation

Effective Communication

Most disputes arise out of ineffective communication and modern electronic communication has made the chances of miscommunication even greater. Research shows that the most effective form of communication is face-to-face, the least effective being the written word. The former has voice tone, pitch and pace, non-verbal communication (i.e. body language) and the opportunity for eye contact and touch. The latter has none of these and the reader may well interpret what is meant by the written words differently to the writer. We help improve this situation by highlighting the principles of good communication and strengthening the skills needed to make them effective.

Helping people to have difficult conversations

Building on effective communication we help people to develop ways to avoid their instinct of ‘fight or flight’ when confronted with a difficult situation and to develop ways of using conflict positively as a catalyst for understanding and co-operation. Even if this does not lead to resolution it enables people in conflict to disagree well and so avoid animosity and the demonising of the offending party.

Coaching people to negotiate intelligently

The need to ‘win’ usually involves getting the better of another person, so therefore is a loser. We help people work more co-operatively to shape better outcomes, which result in deals with dignity. We highlight the core principles of negotiating intelligently, from the basics of getting the ‘headlines’ right to dealing with incompatible negotiation styles.

Managing complaints with empathy

Whether internal or external, complaints need to be handled quickly, seriously, personally and with empathy. This is even more significant because of the significant power of social media. We highlight the key principles for effective complaints handling.

This is how The DRP can help you manage your dispute:

Using escalating resolution

The most efficient and cost-effective way of dealing with disagreements is to deal with them early and personally. The people involved at the start need the confidence and authority to work out solutions to difficulties they encounter. The least efficient and most costly way is to polarise the disagreement by involving lawyers at this stage.

Escalating resolution means starting with the individuals, if they cannot sort the problem then involving more senior management to attempt settlement; if that doesn’t work then involving an independent third party as a facilitator of meetings or as Mediator to help find a resolution. Beyond that stage the means of resolution moves out of the individual’s control and to a third party (adjudicator, arbitrator, expert or judge) will imposes their finding.

The DRP helps businesses avoid this final stage and so you retain control of the process, the outcome and the costs.

Involving neutral third parties

Facilitation and mediation are effective means of resolving differences without losing control of the issues, the time, the cost and the outcome.

A facilitator just provides an independent presence in both private and general meetings, to help people to communicate effectively, when together they become deadlocked. Often this is enough for the problems to be resolved before they become unmanageable

If a resolution is not achieved lawyers often become involved and the dispute becomes formalised. A mediator uses a more structured process to help people resolve difficulties that have grown into a dispute. This is usually done in a single day and the parties usually reach a binding settlement. The Mediator helps them reach their solution but does not impose one.

The DRP provide, or recommend, both facilitators and commercial and workplace mediators.

Preparing a persuasive case

Once problems go beyond the discussion and facilitation stage, they inevitable enter a more formal, often legal process. Time needs to be spent on assessing risk, exploring the strengths and weaknesses, reviewing the various possible outcomes, estimating the cost of management, experts and advisors time and deciding on the process that will best achieve resolution.

The DRP have the specific knowledge and skills to provide cost-effective advice in all these areas and to assist in without prejudice settlement discussions where appropriate.

Finding co-operative solutions

The experience of DRP undoubtedly demonstrates that finding co-operative solutions (working with the other parties not against them) yields the best outcomes. Understanding each other’s needs and finding ways of meeting them, where possible, will always result in the best deals.

This is never easy, not least because most people adopt an adversarial stance in negotiation assuming its what they need to ‘get what they want’, but the co-operative approach works, and The DRP have the experience to make it so.

Retaining key business relationships

A damaging side effect of being in dispute (whether this is within your business or involving a third party) is the effect it has on valuable working relationships. An important benefit of direct negotiation, facilitation or mediation is that fractured relationships can often be repaired, or at least the process may be started. Parties are often so pleased to have achieved a settlement, and so relieved that the dispute is in the past that they can get on with life again and working together again becomes possible. This never happens when cases go to court.

Even if a solution is not achieved, working in a co-operative process such as facilitation or mediation can mean that the parties are able to disagree well, leaving no residual bitterness or enmity and although not resolved an end is achieved without the need of going to Court.

At the very least the DRP can help parties learn from the unhappy experience of being in dispute and ensure that there is no repeat in the future.

This is how The DRP can help you resolve your dispute:

Choosing the appropriate process

If problems have grown to the point that a formal resolution process is required, The DRP can advise on the various options and their relative advantages and disadvantages.

Our preference is always to avoid Court, not only because it is a lengthy, expensive and time-consuming route with an outcome dependant upon the interpretation of law, but also because the parties in dispute lose control of the process, cost and outcome.

Nowadays parties to disputes are expected (and in some cases ordered by the Court) to utilise ADR (usually mediation) before going to Trial. It is therefore a matter of ‘when?’ rather than ‘if’.

One big advantage of mediation is that it is a party-focussed process, so the discussions are about commercial outcomes rather than legal points. Indeed, the outcome may have no relevance to legal rights and be centred on the commercial and personal needs of the parties and can include a multitude of items that are outside the Court’s powers (e.g. delayed, staged or discounted payments, future business, property exchange and so on).

There are of course alternatives to mediation:

  • Early Neutral Evaluation where a (usually retired) Judge or respected legal figure gives an informal, non-binding assessment of the likely outcome if the case goes to Trial.
  • Adjudication where a neutral third party will give a (usually binding) decision on the legal case based upon either a written submission or oral hearing.
  • Arbitration, which is a formal process that is little different to a hearing in front of a Judge although the arbitrator(s) will be expert in the field of the dispute and their decision will be binding on the parties
  • Expert determination where an expert in the field of the dispute will examine the case and make a (usually binding) decision.

All of these are based upon the individual’s interpretation of the relevant law or contract and so do not (cannot) take personal and commercial considerations into account. The outcome is likely to be a money payment and/or an injunction and/or the undertaking of certain action by one party.

Assessing risk sensibly

Assessing risk is key at every stage of a disagreement. People in dispute should regularly consider and update predictions of best and worst-case scenarios, the cost in external fees and internal management time, the effect on the business in reputation, cash flow and so on. There is always a personal cost, which is very difficult to quantify, for few people can so separate problems at work that they do not impinge on home and social life. Being in dispute often feels like a huge cloud of negativity hanging over the people involved and that inevitably affects performance at work and at home.

There are some very sophisticated methods of assessing financial risk, particularly decision trees, which we are able to include in our services.

Developing effective strategies

Alongside the assessment of risk we are able to work with a business in developing strategies in dealing with a dispute in order to get the best outcome in different scenarios. Our extensive business experience ensures a realistic and commercial approach.

Devising creative solutions

As mentioned above, we work towards co-operative solutions that achieve the best outcomes for all parties. This often involves solutions that just are not possible in Court or Arbitration, where a decision is imposed based upon the their intrepretation of the law or contract. Which is why The DRP believe the best solutions can be obtained through co-operation, recognising that the dispute is a joint problem that deserves a joint solution.

Rebuilding fractured relationships

We mentioned in What we do: Dispute Management, about retaining key business relationships. There is no doubt that an adversarial approach to disputes aims for the minimum settlement. Parties want to give as little as possible in any deal, regardless of the frustration and animosity it creates; whereas working together in shaping a solution can generate generosity and respect, rebuilding the trust that disputes often lose. Co-operative outcomes frequently help to rebuild business relationships which can only benefit the business in the future.

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