Approximately 40 million lawsuits are filed in state and federal courts every year. With the big backlogs in the courts, it can take from many months to several years for a case to go to trial. The process is not only long and arduous, but it can also be expensive.

While our Constitution guarantees every litigant his “day in court,” that’s not always in your best interest. So, if you find yourself embroiled in litigation and you don’t have the time or money to see it through the trial process (and possible appeals thereafter), there are options.

Often referred to as “alternative dispute resolution,” pre-trial settlement conferences within the court system, mediation conducted in the private sector, and binding arbitration are some of the available alternatives. In fact, research shows that less than 10% of lawsuits ever reach a judge or jury for a final adjudication. Most cases end up settling out of court, and for good reason.

Alternative dispute resolution offers many benefits compared with taking a case to trial. Perhaps the primary advantage is that the parties can decide the fate of their suit without the risk of relying on a judge or jury. Resolving the case by way of settlement often results in significant savings, due to the sheer expense of the fees and costs required to go to trial. Also, an out-of-court resolution of your legal dispute can be decided in far less time than it takes to get to a final ruling in the court system. For these reasons, alternative dispute resolution is practically the norm in civil litigation today.

These alternative means of handling a lawsuit still typically require formal and sometimes extensive discovery, motion practice, and other pre-trial work that can only be processed through the judicial system. But an astute attorney and pragmatic client should recognize when the time is right to negotiate an acceptable outcome and forego the risk and cost of trial. Of course, every case cannot be settled, and the trial process is sometimes the only means through which your legal matter can be handled.

Daniel J. Hoerner is a maritime attorney with Mouledoux, Bland, Legrand & Brackett LLC. Contact him at 504-595-3000 or [email protected].