Setting the bar for more affordable dispute resolution

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Two Hamilton lawyers have launched a new legal service for people looking for an affordable and meaningful way to resolve disputes without going to court.

The legal service, which is being called Setting the Bar, involves offering fixed priced mediation and/or arbitration.

Melanie and David O’Neill, both experienced barristers, have developed their product because of what they believe is a gap in the market between the Disputes Tribunal jurisdiction and full-blown court proceedings.

“From our work and previous experience in this area we see many people who have disagreements where there is a financial amount in dispute greater than the $20,000 limit set by the Disputes Tribunal, but the amount is still low enough where it is not viable to undertake a full court trial, which can often cost up to $50,000 per party,” says David.

The Setting the Bar service would be offered at a maximum fee of $10,000 with the process completed within a day. Any arbitration decision would be provided within two weeks.

“A key part of our concept is to first offer a mediation service, with the dispute only being escalated to arbitration if agreement can’t be reached at this first stage,” says Melanie.

As well as providing a streamlined service to give greater affordability, Setting the Bar is also designed to be carried out without lawyers or representatives present, and in many circumstances via internet video conferencing using platforms such as Skype.

“A key part of de-escalating the mediation and arbitration process is for it to be carried out without representatives or lawyers present. This helps make the process faster and more affordable for everyone.  The on-line conferencing also provides savings on travel for parties but has another benefit in defusing any tension between disagreeing parties, who don’t necessarily have to sit in the same room as each other,” says David.

Melanie and David are keen to promote their service as being another tool for lawyers to recommend to clients rather than a disruption to the legal profession.

“Our aim has been to develop a legal product from the viewpoint of the client rather than from the court or legal profession. If you have a sizeable dispute but don’t have the time or financial means to go to court for a fully-fledged trial, then up until now, your options have been limited. We are hoping that Setting the Bar will save both time and money and give a much more straight forward, cost effective access to dispute resolution,” says Melanie.

For people wanting further detail on how to access the service, it is available on-line www.settingthebar.co.nz

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