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Small Claims and Arbitration - Parallel Alternative Methods of Dispute Resolution

NCJ Number
Pace Law Review Pages: 183-201
H B Evans; W A Bulman
Date Published
Two parallel methods of judicially resolving small civil actions for money only -- the small claims procedure and the alternate method of dispute resolution by arbitration -- are compared.
Small claims and arbitration seek to resolve disputes in society; however, they perform different functions in the legal and judicial system. Small claims parts were designed primarily for pro se litigants, while arbitration has often been called 'trial by lawyer.' Small claims proceedings are heard before judges in courtrooms; arbitration hearings are held routinely in lawyers' offices. Small claims part is an integral part of court, and a small claims hearing is a real, albeit informal, in-court judicial hearing. In contrast, arbitration is essentially a program for diverting actions out of the court system; judges' roles in arbitration are minimal. One procedure cannot replace the other. As a practical matter, arbitration might not be able to handle an avalanche of small claims if small claims parts were established. Lawyer arbitrators also might find it difficult to process pro se actions in their offices because of the problem of keeping order without court security personnel. If, instead, arbitration were abolished, small claims procedures would be ill-equipped to cope with the variety of cases processed by arbitration. Neither procedure should supplant the other; both should be improved, strengthened, and expanded because both are needed. Fifty-four references are included.