Last week I wrote Part 1 of this blog on the problems I have encountered with arbitration. Please see that post if you have not read it. What follows is Part 2 of the reasons that I advise my franchise and business clients why they should be wary of automatically including an arbitration clause in any franchise agreement or other contract that they execute:
4. Judges are generally more experienced, more versed in the law, and otherwise more qualified to hear disputes than most arbitrators. While not every judge is equally qualified, most judges have been vetted by their local and state bar organizations, and either elected by voters or appointed by politicians. Judges have a track record that can be reviewed and relied on. Judges in most courts serve on a rotational basis, hearing different types of cases and thereby gaining differing experiences. Judges have resources like law clerks to research the law for them. So while judges may lack technical expertise in a certain area, they make up for that my relying heavily on the attorneys and evidence presented in a given matter. Whatsmore, judges must construe existing law to base their rulings on, or else risk being overturned on appeal. Arbitrators, on the other hand, are in most cases practicing or retired attorneys with a specific area of expertise who have asked to be appointed to serve. Many times, an arbitrator will have only a peripheral knowledge of the subject of the arbitration, yet without the experience, knowledge of the law, or resources to ensure that his or her ruling is correct on the law. This set of circumstances can often times lead to inconsistent or downright baseless arbitrator’s decisions.
5. Judges produce formal opinions reciting the law relied on and applying the law to the facts to reach a decision. Many arbitrators, meanwhile, can issue awards without including their specific legal reasoning for an award. For purposes of appeal, judges are required to produce formal opinions citing the issues, facts, law and conclusion in an orderly fashion. This allows parties to focus many times on a distinct area for appeal, and allows appeals courts to easily review the court’s basis for a decision. Conversely, many arbitrators are required to issue only a narrowly written award unless otherwise agreed to by the parties. Even then, an arbitrator issuing a “reasoned award” may not satisfactorily explain the evidence relied on, the law used and how the arbitrator’s conclusion was arrived at. This not only makes it difficult for the parties to decipher how a particular arbitration award was arrived at, but more importantly, makes the record for appeal nearly impossible.
6. Even if an arbitrator issues a reasoned award, the right to appeal an arbitration award is extremely narrow when compared to a party’s ability to appeal a court ruling. In most instances, losers at trial have the right to appeal the merits of a court’s decision to a higher court “de novo”, using almost any substantive or procedural issue available to them. The basis of an appeal of an arbitration award however is severely limited, and many times requires the appealing party to clear such high hurdles as proving fraud, corruption of the arbitrator, or the arbitrator exceeding his or her powers. The difficulty of appeal, when combined with the erratic decisions of some arbitrators, is another reason to forego arbitration in favor of litigation, except in a specific set of circumstances discussed with and approved by my client.