Arbitration, in the law, is a form of alternative dispute resolution - specifically, a legal alternative to litigation whereby the parties to a dispute agree to submit their respective positions (through agreement or hearing) to a neutral third party (the arbitrator(s) or arbiter(s)) for resolution.

Arbitration may also serve a distinct purpose: as an alternative to strikes and lockouts as a means of resolving labor disputes. Labor arbitration comes in two varieties: interest arbitration, which provides a method for resolving disputes about the terms to be included in a new contract when the parties are unable to agree, and grievance arbitration, which provides a method for resolving disputes over the interpretation and application of a collective bargaining agreement.

Species of arbitration

Commercial and other forms of contract arbitration

Agreements to arbitrate were not enforceable at common law, though an arbitrator's judgment was usually enforceable (once the parties had already submitted the case to him or her). During the Industrial Revolution, this situation became intolerable for large corporations. They argued that too many valuable business relationships were being destroyed through years of expensive adversarial litigation, in courts whose strange rules differed significantly from the informal norms and conventions of businesspeople (the private law of commerce, or jus merchant ). Arbitration appeared to be faster, less adversarial, and cheaper.

The result was the New York Arbitration Act of 1920, followed by the United States Arbitration Act of 1925. The USAA is now known as the Federal Arbitration Act. Thanks to the subsequent judicial expansion of the meaning of interstate commerce, the U.S. Supreme Court reinterpreted the FAA in a series of cases in the 1980s and 1990s to cover the full scope of interstate commerce. In the process, the Court held that the FAA preempted many state laws covering arbitration, some of which had been passed by state legislatures to protect their consumers against powerful corporations.

Since commercial arbitration is based upon either contract law or the law of treaties, the agreement between the parties to submit their dispute to arbitration is a legally binding contract. All arbitral decisions are considered to be "final and binding." This does not, however, void the requirements of law. Any dispute not excluded from arbitration by virtue of law (e.g. criminal proceedings) may be submitted to arbitration.

Other forms of contract arbitration

Arbitration can be carried out between private individuals, between states, or between states and private individuals. In the case of arbitration between states, or between states and individuals, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) are the predominant organizations.

Arbitration is also used as part of the dispute settlement process under the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding. International arbitral bodies for cases between private persons also exist, the International Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration being the most important. The American Arbitration Association is a popular arbitral body in the United States. Arbitration also exists in international sport through the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

A growing trend among employers whose employees are not represented by a labor union is to establish an organizational problem-solving process, the final step of which consists of arbitration of the issue at point by an independent arbitrator, to resolve employee complaints concerning application of employer policies or claims of employee misconduct. Employers in the United States have also embraced arbitration as an alternative to litigation of employees' statutory claims, e.g., claims of discrimination, and common law claims, e.g., claims of defamation.

Labor arbitration

Arbitration has also been used as a means of resolving labor disputes for more than a century. Labor organizations in the United States, such as the National Labor Union, called for arbitration as early as 1866 as an alternative to strikes to resolve disputes over the wages, benefits and other rights that workers would enjoy. Governments have also relied on arbitration to resolve particularly large labor disputes, such as the Coal Strike of 1902.

This type of arbitration is commonly known as interest arbitration, since it involves the mediation of the disputing parties' demands, rather than the disposition of a claim in the manner a court would act. Interest arbitration is still frequently used in the construction industry to resolve collective bargaining disputes. The United Steelworkers of America adopted an elaborate form of interest arbitration, known as the Experimental Negotiating Agreement, in the 1970s as a means of avoiding the long and costly strikes that had made the industry vulnerable to foreign competition. Major League Baseball uses a variant of interest arbitration, in which an arbitrator chooses between the two sides' final offers, to set the terms for contracts for players who are not eligible for free agency.

Unions and employers have also employed arbitration to resolve employee grievances arising under a collective bargaining agreement. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America made arbitration a central element of the Protocol of Peace it negotiated with garment manufacturers in the second decade of the twentieth century. Grievance arbitration became even more popular during World War II, when most unions had adopted a no-strike pledge. The War Labor Board, which attempted to mediate disputes over contract terms, pressed for inclusion of grievance arbitration in collective bargaining agreements. The Supreme Court subsequently made labor arbitration a key aspect of federal labor policy.

Judicial arbitration

Some state court systems have promulged court-ordered arbitration; family law (particularly child custody) is the most prominent example. Judicial arbitration is often merely advisory, serving as the first step toward resolution, but not binding either side and allowing for trial de novo.


Various bodies of rules have been developed that can be used for arbitration proceedings. The two most important are the UNCITRAL rules and the ICSID rules. The rules to be followed by the arbitrator are specified by the agreement establishing the arbitration.

The Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (Done at New York, 10 June 1958; Entered into force, 7 June 1959; 330 U.N.T.S. 38, 1959) provides for the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards on the territory of the contracting parties. Similar provisions are contained in the earlier Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitral Awards (Done at Geneva, 26 September 1927; Entered into force, 25 July 1929; L.N.T.S. ???).

Some jurisdictions have instituted a limited grace period during which an arbitral decision may be appealed against, but after which there can be no appeal. In the case of arbitration under international law, a right of appeal does not in general exist, although one may be provided for by the arbitration agreement, provided a court exists capable of hearing the appeal.

When arbitration occurs under U.S. law, either party to an arbitration may appeal from the arbitrator's decision to a court, however the court will generally not change the arbitrator's findings of fact but will decide only whether the arbitrator was guilty of malfeasance, or whether the arbitrator exceeded the limits of his or her authority in the arbitral award or whether the award conflicts with positive law. The Supreme Court has described the standard of review as one of the narrowest known to Western jurisprudence.


Arbitrators are not bound by precedent and have great leeway in such matters as active participation in the proceedings, accepting evidence, questioning witnesses, and deciding appropriate remedies. Arbitrators may visit sites outside the hearing room, call expert witnesses, seek out additional evidence, decide whether or not the parties may be represented by legal counsel, and perform many other actions not normally within the purview of a court. It is this great flexibility of action, combined with costs usually far below those of traditional litigation, which makes arbitration so attractive.

Arbitrators have wide latitude in crafting remedies in the arbitral decision, with the only real limitation being that they may not exceed the limits of their authority in their award. An example of exceeding arbitral authority might be awarding one party to a dispute the personal automobile of the other party when the dispute concerns the specific performance of a business-related contract.

It is open to the parties to restrict the possible awards that the abitrator can make. If this restriction requires a straight choice between the position of one party or the position of the other, then it is known as pendulum arbitration or final offer arbitration . It is designed to encourage the parties to moderate their initial positions so as to make it more likely they receive a favourable decision.

No definitive statement can be made concerning the credentials or experience levels of arbitrators, although some jurisdictions have elected to establish standards for arbitrators in certain fields. Several independent organizations, such as the American Arbitration Association, offer arbitrator training programs and thus in effect, credentials. Generally speaking, however, the credibility of an arbitrator rests upon reputation, experience level in arbitrating particular issues, or expertise/experience in a particular field. Arbitrators are generally not required to be members of the legal profession.

To ensure effective arbitration and to increase the general credibility of the arbitral process, arbitrators will sometimes sit as a panel, usually consisting of three arbitrators. Often the three consist of an expert in the legal area within which the dispute falls (such as contract law in the case of a dispute over the terms and conditions of a contract), an expert in the industry within which the dispute falls (such as the construction industry, in the case of a dispute between a homeowner and his general contractor), and an experienced arbitrator.


Critics of arbitration argue that contractual requirements to arbitrate can be unfair to employees or consumers who have no power to negotiate what is often a form contract. In these cases, the choice of arbiter may be spelled out in a contract. The arbitration panel may contain industry experts who may be more sympathetic to the industry than to the individual. Also, some have argued that the fact that an arbitration company may handle many cases for a corporation while an individual rarely goes through arbitration twice may bias the arbitrators in favor of the company. On this note, many arbitration companies have these corporations as their sole source of income, further biasing their judgments. The fact that most arbitral procedures are not public, and that there may be no provision for an individual to be represented by counsel, may also work to the disadvantage of the individual. These potential disadvantages make the ethics and professionalism of arbitrators even more important.

Arbitration in the U.S. has has also been critisized because of the unavailability of appellate review. Although the New York and federal arbitration laws were based on the English arbitration law of 1898, they omitted the English provision permitting for de novo review of questions of law. Thus, American courts can overturn arbitral rulings only for extremely gross procedural errors that violate due process, but cannot reverse most substantive errors.

Unlike judicial opinions, arbitration opinions are often confidential. As a result, the law relating to activities (such as reinsurance contracts and certain types of securities industry disputes) where contracts to arbitrate are widespread may develop more slowly because the usual process of creating precedent is not available.

Wikipedia article (the free online encyclopedia) reproduced under the terms of the GNU (General Public License) Free Documentation License.

Contact Us Today

“Dana Taschner provided me with the highest quality attorney services and skills”

“Unmatched portfolio and experience”

“Dana Taschner has the “excellence in his work that is unparalleled”.

Dana B. Taschner
ABA Sole Practitioner of the Year
Lawyer of the Year

Nationwide Litigation & International Arbitration