CONFLICT is inevitable in the world of business. As in many walks of life, relationships can be damaged, or broken down entirely, when parties believe their differences are irreconcilable.
What we do have control over, in any dispute, is how we strategically handle the conflict – an area in which our team of dispute resolution lawyers has many years’ experience. In business, no matter the nature or scale of the commercial dispute faced, there are always options as to how to tackle it.
There are several possible ways of successfully dealing with a dispute other than a lengthy and costly court battle. Whilst rarely an enjoyable experience, conflict resolution can act as an impetus for growth and, ultimately, greater long-term co-operation.
We need only look towards the Good Friday Agreement for evidence that ground-breaking progress can be achieved in circumstances where resolution seemed impossible.
Dispute resolution need not be time-consuming, eye-wateringly expensive or irreparably damaging to your business long-term. Nor does it always need to be complex and adversarial. In fact, litigation may in certain circumstances be viewed as the last resort option rather than the first. It is the role of a strong legal team to help a business determine which mode of dispute resolution is most appropriate in the circumstances of the case.
The spectrum of options include:
:: Negotiation - this is a familiar concept to most businesses. It is flexible, informal and the resulting agreement should reflect a cost-effective resolution where all parties feel their interests have been represented. This is often the first method utilised by parties and if this proves unsuccessful, other options are considered.
:: Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – describes all dispute methods other than court proceedings and arbitration. It can take various forms including arbitration, mediation, early neutral evaluation and expert determination.
Mediation is the most used form of ADR locally. A neutral third party, acting as mediator, helps parties work towards a negotiated settlement of their dispute. Even where court proceedings are issued, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service actively encourages parties to engage in ADR.
This is particularly evident in the High Court where the commercial hub was created in 2019 to provide for the effective management of cases involving commercial issues and replace time consuming and costly litigation. Similarly, there have been recent developments in the industrial tribunal whereby early conciliation and judicial mediation process have been implemented.
:: Adjudicative processes – this involves court proceedings and arbitration.
We advise and guide our clients through unchartered waters when difficulties arise. Our support is rooted in experience and pragmatism. A place of conflict is not where any business wishes to find itself - so we aim to bring clients to an end solution as quickly and simply as possible through straightforward recommendations and negotiations.
We present the most appropriate, time and cost-effective course – and set about achieving a satisfactory outcome quickly, so our clients can go on to thrive.
If you are experiencing or anticipate a period of commercial conflict, seek and listen to early legal advice – and make sure you are being given the options that are best suited to your particular circumstances.
Remember that with the right guidance, stormy seas can be navigated and overcome.
:: Caroline Prunty is a director at Millar McCall Wylie