American Arbitration Association Calls For Muscular Arbitration

March 20, 2012

       Last week I attended the American Arbitration Association\’s Neutrals Conference, held this year in Scottsdale, Arizona. Over 300 AAA neutrals (arbitrators and mediators) from across the country and overseas attended the event. The AAA uses the Neutrals Conference as an opportunity to present a topical educational program and to impart some “common wisdom” thought to be vital to the entire AAA community.

       A dominant theme throughout the Neutrals Conference was the perceived belief among users of arbitration services that arbitration has lost its way – that a process designed to be faster, less expensive and more effective than conventional litigation is often too slow, too costly and no better than going to court. While pointing out statistics to demonstrate that this perception is not well founded, the AAA acknowledges that for providers of arbitration services, user perceptions are reality.

       Continuing a theme introduced through a number of AAA educational programs in 2011, the 2012 Neutrals Conference promoted the concept of “muscular arbitration.” In essence, muscular arbitration refers to an arbitration process that is designed and administered by AAA and its arbitrators to minimize or eliminate unnecessary litigation-like efforts by arbitration parties and their counsel. “Trimming the fat” requires a comprehensive and well-run preliminary hearing, minimal and time limited discovery and a creative approach to the presentation of evidence at the hearing. This approach closely follows the guidance provided by the College of Commercial Arbitrators\’ 2010 Protocols for Expeditious, Cost-Effective Commercial Arbitration.


       For the most part, the speakers at the Neutrals Conference were preaching to the converted, although learning more techniques on how to run a muscular arbitration was worth the trip. The real challenge for the AAA and all proponents of arbitration will be getting the other stakeholders in the game (i.e., parties/in-house counsel and their outside counsel) to “buy in.” The same folks who may have the perception that arbitration has become no better than litigation must acknowledge they have some share of the responsibility for that result.

       Lawyers who want arbitration to be quick, inexpensive and fair cannot insist upon taking 5 depositions per side and conducting 10 days of hearings in every case. The AAA and its arbitrators can recommend the most efficient process possible, and attempt to persuade the parties and their counsel to accept it, but they can\’t force them to agree. Thus, every arbitration is both an opportunity for the arbitrator to deploy muscular techniques and an educational moment that shouldn\’t be missed.

[Image: SRD Posing Bodybuilder, July 24, 2004]