Beyond Dispute: How to Avoid Costly Court Action in 2024

It’s no secret that the cost of legal action can run into tens of thousands of pounds. In fact, in many cases, the costs of court action can totally outweigh the value of the claim.

Conflict Avoidance

Parties should be looking at how to avoid conflict from the very beginning. The legal sector can assist with negotiating and drafting agreements from the beginning in such ways to reduce future conflict.

We see a trend in disputes from parties who have not taken initial advice or entered into a written agreement at the start. That’s not to say disputes only arise if you do not have an agreement in place, but generally the agreement will be a good starting point to assess how the dispute can be settled.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

If you do find yourself in a dispute, you may wish to explore alternative options to court action to avoid the extensive costs and uncertainty of trial.

Technological advancements have made Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) even easier now, for example allowing ADR to take place virtually.

Below are some examples of ADR and what you can expect from them:

  • Negotiation

This is the most common form of ADR and involves the parties trying to reach a settlement by way of written or oral negotiations, without any assistance from third parties. This is the cheapest and most flexible way to try to reach a settlement and can be used at any stage of a dispute. Negotiations are usually ‘without prejudice’ which means that it will not affect any future court proceedings if the negations fail. The disadvantage of negotiations is that parties can find themselves in a deadlock position, or can become difficult if one party is not willing to cooperate. It will only succeed if both parties are willing to compromise.

  • Mediation

This is where parties voluntarily and confidentially come together in front of an impartial person who will try and aid a settlement. The mediator will remain completely neutral and will not impose a ‘decision’ on the parties. The parties have control as to whether an agreement is reached or not.

This can be an appealing method of ADR because the control of negotiation and settlement remains with the parties.

  • Conciliation

This is similar to mediation except the third party will take active steps to assist the parties to reach a settlement, for example, they may suggest settlement options/figures, but their suggestions are not binding and the parties still have overall control of the final settlement.

  • Arbitration

This is an alternative method to court where an arbitrator, or a panel of arbitrators, are appointed by the parties to make a binding decision. Similarly to court, the decision is imposed on the parties and is binding. Parties may stay away from arbitration as the control of the decision is taken out of their hands.

  • Early Neutral Evaluation

This is a non-binding form of ADR where a neutral third party is appointed, who will likely be a judge, retired judge or Kings Counsel. The parties will give submissions to the ‘neutral’, like they would in court proceedings and then the neutral will provide his/her opinion on the likely outcome at trial. This is a ‘without prejudice’ opinion and is not binding, but it will have a big influence on future settlement negotiations.

The future of disputes

We are seeing a big shift in how disputes are resolved, with more disputes attempting ADR, like mediation. This is even more common now technology allows discussions to be conducted virtually.

The legal sector will continue to aid dispute resolution, but it’s prudent for parties to take steps to avoid conflict from the outset.

To discuss this or any other related matter, please contact the dispute resolution team on 01483 887766, start a live chat or email us at

*This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.


Lucy Penfold

Associate, Dispute Resolution

Lucy is an Associate in the Dispute Resolution team here at Hart Brown and specialises in property litigation and contentious trusts and probate. Lucy completed...

Lucy-Senior Solicitor in the Dispute Resolution

Associate, Dispute Resolution

Lucy Penfold

Lucy is an Associate in the Dispute Resolution team here at Hart Brown and specialises in property litigation and contentious trusts and probate.

Lucy completed her law degree at Kingston University before completing the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law in Guildford (now the University of Law). Lucy qualified in 2012 and brings with her general commercial litigation experience from Central London and Surrey law firms.

A member of the Property Litigation Association, Lucy deals with all areas of property litigation including varied landlord and tenant disputes, evictions, neighbour disputes, boundary disputes, commercial property disputes, property disrepairs and dilapidations.

Lucy also deals with various contentious probate matters, including interpreting the terms of wills, brining or defending claims to contest wills or trusts, and executor removal disputes.

Lucy’s general commercial litigation experience allows her to have a pragmatic and commercial approach to any legal issue faced.

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