Mediation vs. Arbitration – What is the Difference?

By : Travis Brenner

Mediation and arbitration are two forms of dispute resolution methods that parties may elect to use.  Additionally, some contracts may contain a mediation or arbitration clause which requires parties to mediate or arbitrate any disputes prior to filing a lawsuit. Although they are both types of dispute resolution, mediation and arbitration have distinct differences.

Mediation is a process that is led by a mediator who will attempt to assist the parties in reaching a fair and mutual agreement.  Although the mediator is usually a lawyer, the mediator will not provide legal advice to the parties.  The mediator’s role is neutral and should avoid taking sides with either party.  Mediation is a non-binding process.  This means that a resolution will only be reached if the parties can mutually agree. The parties cannot be forced to accept a resolution when mediating.  If a settlement is reached between the parties and they execute a settlement agreement, that agreement will become legally binding on the parties.  If no agreement is reached during mediation, the parties retain the option to arbitrate or initiate litigation.

Arbitration is a process that is led by an arbitrator. The arbitrator plays a role similar to a judge in a typical court proceeding. The arbitrator will hear the evidence and legal arguments from each party and decide the outcome of the dispute. Unlike mediation, arbitration is a binding process on the parties.  This means the parties are required to comply with the decision made by the arbitrator.

Mediation and arbitration are attractive alternatives to litigation because the processes are faster and generally less expensive than formal court. If you have questions or concerns regarding mediation or arbitration, the attorneys at Hartung Schroeder are available to help.


Travis has been a law clerk at Hartung Schroeder for the past year and will join the firm as an associate attorney upon completing his JD and MBA at Drake University. Some of his experience includes assisting clients with forming nonprofit organizations and other business entities as a student attorney in the Drake Legal Clinic. In the future, he hopes to develop a real estate practice that will complement the firm’s diverse areas of practice.