Caldwell & Kearns, P.C.
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What is a mini-trial?

Mediation and arbitration are two techniques commonly associated with alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Today we’ll examine a less known form of ADR called a mini-trial—a technique commonly used in large-scale business disputes.

A mini-trial has some similarities to mediation hearing. In both scenarios, each party’s case is presented, the results or non-binding, and it’s possible that no resolution will be reached. A key difference is that with mediation, the mediator is a neutral third party—who can be an attorney. The mediator acts as a facilitator to help both parties reach an agreement. With a mini-trial, each party has it’s own mediator—also typically an attorney—who acts as an advocate on their client’s behalf. The attorneys present their cases to a panel, which is often comprised of both parties involved in the dispute as well as a neutral intermediary. After the case is presented, the parties then try to reach an agreement. If this is not possible, they may permit the intermediary to put forth an opinion describing the likely result of pursuing litigation.

It’s worth noting that a mini-trial (in contrast to other forms of ADR) is not bound to follow the above sequence of events. While a mini-trial can occur prior to—or as a means of preventing—litigation, it can also occur after litigation has begun. In some cases, litigation proceedings may be put on hold, and a mini-trial may be conducted in an effort to settle the matter without involving a drawn-out trial.

A mini-trial can often be more effective than more direct forms of negotiation, because it gives the involved parties the opportunity to step back and view the relative strengths and weaknesses of their case more objectively. It also tends to enable them to focus in on the core aspects of the case rather than wasting time arguing over smaller details.

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