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Arbitration vs. Litigation: Choosing the Right Path

Arbitration vs. litigation

Choosing between a career in arbitration vs. litigation is a pivotal decision that will influence your trajectory in the legal field, impacting your professional development, work-life balance, and the nature of your contributions to the law. 

Understanding the advantages and challenges associated with each path is crucial for making an informed decision. It requires a thorough examination of your personal strengths, interests, and the professional lifestyle each path entails. Whether you're drawn to the intricate, specialized world of arbitration or the dynamic, precedent-setting arena of litigation, your decision will set the foundation for your career in law.

When considering which path is best for you, take into account the scope of practice, the pace of work, and the level of public engagement you seek in your legal career. Reflect on how each option aligns with your professional aspirations and personal values. 

We’ll break down the key differences between the two and offer some tips for how you can decide which path is right for you.

What is Arbitration?

Arbitration vs. litigation

Arbitration is often the choice for sorting out issues such as business disputes. Here, everyone involved agrees to have a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, hear their case. During the arbitration hearing, each side lays out their points and presents the evidence they have. But unlike the typical courtroom setting, the procedures are different, and the arbitration proceedings stay confidential.


  • Quicker Resolution: One of the biggest benefits of arbitration is how quickly disputes can be settled. Without the need for a drawn-out litigation process, parties can expect a faster resolution.

  • Lower Cost: Arbitration is generally considered less expensive than going through the courts. This is particularly beneficial for parties looking to manage their budgets while resolving legal disputes.

  • Confidentiality: Unlike public court hearings, arbitration proceedings are private. This is often an important factor for those who want to keep the details of a dispute confidential.


  • Limited Appeal Options: One of the most significant downsides of arbitration is that it offers very limited options for appeal. Once the arbitrator makes a decision, it's usually final unless there was a substantial legal oversight.

  • Potentially Less Oversight: The informal nature of the arbitration process could lead to less regulatory oversight, making it crucial to choose a reputable arbitrator.

What is Litigation?

Litigation is the traditional method of settling legal problems. It involves taking the case to court, where a judge or jury makes the decision. Both sides present their arguments, evidence, and witnesses in a structured setting.


  • Legal Precedent: One of the benefits of litigation is legal precedent. Similar cases in the future can refer to these rulings, which creates predictability in law.

  • More Structured: The litigation process offers a structured environment that follows specific rules and protocols. This can be beneficial when dealing with complex legal matters.

  • Opportunities for Appeal: Unlike arbitration, the litigation process provides a more expansive avenue for appeals. If any party disagrees with the court's decision, the case can be elevated to a higher court.


  • Time-consuming: A significant downside of litigation is how long the process can take. Especially for business disputes, time is often of the essence, and the lengthy court process could be detrimental.

  • More Expensive: Litigation usually requires more resources, from attorney fees to court costs, making it a pricier option for resolving disputes.

  • Public Records: Since the proceedings are public, all of the case details become public record. The lack of privacy can be a concern for some parties.

What is the Difference Between Arbitration and Litigation?

Arbitration vs. litigation

Decision-Making Process

When dealing with specialized fields such as intellectual property or commercial disputes, arbitration has an advantage because it allows parties to choose an arbitrator with extensive experience in that area. With litigation, judges are randomly assigned, which means the judge might not have specialized knowledge of complex or technical cases. This is especially important in contract disputes, where a sound understanding of the contractual terms can make a significant difference in the outcome.

Speed of Resolution

Speed can be a decisive factor, especially in business settings where a drawn-out legal process can slow down operations. Arbitration is known for quicker resolutions, often wrapping up within a few months. Litigation, on the other hand, can stretch over years due to court schedules and the multiple stages involved, including discovery and trial.


In most cases, arbitration tends to be more cost-effective. While arbitrator’s fees can be significant, the overall expenses are generally lower because of limited discovery and quicker resolution. Litigation can become expensive not just because of legal fees, but also due to the extended time it takes to reach a conclusion, which racks up costs.


If the dispute involves sensitive information, arbitration provides a confidential setting where details are not disclosed to the public. Since litigation is public record, this method doesn't offer the same level of privacy, which can be a concern in cases such as commercial or real estate disputes where confidential business information may be exposed.

Rules and Procedures

In arbitration, the rules, especially those around evidence, are usually less stringent, which can make the process less daunting. On the other hand, litigation has a strict playbook of procedural rules, which makes the process more structured.


The arbitration process provides more room for flexibility, including the timing of hearings and even the rules that govern the proceedings. Litigation is much less accommodating, with strict court schedules and little room for parties to tailor the process.

Binding vs. Non-Binding

One important aspect to consider is whether or not the decision must be binding. Arbitration decisions can be either binding or non-binding. This depends on the terms in the arbitration agreement. On the other hand, the results from litigation are always binding. Decisions can, however, be appealed under specific circumstances..


When it comes to enforceability, court judgments often carry more weight. Court judgments can be enforced, even in international jurisdictions. This aspect can be particularly important if a business often crosses borders, like international trade or multinational business.

Arbitration decisions can be harder to enforce, particularly when different countries are involved. Even though some global agreements aim to make enforcement easier, the process can still be more complicated and less certain. If a business is frequently involved in cross-border disputes, keep this in mind when choosing between arbitration and litigation.

Appeal Options

If there's a chance the parties will want to appeal the decision, litigation offers more opportunities. Procedural or substantive errors in the trial can be grounds for appeal. Arbitration offers limited appeal options, usually only if there was an error or misconduct by the arbitrator.

Understanding these key differences can help you make a more informed decision, particularly when facing a contractual dispute or any other complex issue requiring legal resolution. Whether you lean towards arbitration over litigation or the other way around, knowing what each option offers can help you choose the method that aligns best with the nature of the dispute.

How to Choose Between Arbitration and Litigation

Choosing between a career in arbitration or litigation involves introspection about your desired impact in the legal field, your working style, and your interests. Whether you're drawn to the private, nuanced world of arbitration or the public, dynamic arena of litigation, both paths offer rich opportunities for professional growth and fulfillment. 


As you contemplate this decision, consider not just the legal skills you wish to hone, but also the type of legal journey you wish to embark on. Your choice will shape your legal career, the lives of those you represent, and potentially the legal landscape itself.

Specialized Knowledge vs. Broad Legal Practice

Arbitration requires a thorough understanding of specific sectors or legal issues, as arbitrators often specialize in areas like international trade, intellectual property, or employment law. This path suits those who are drawn to becoming experts in a niche area and who enjoy the idea of a more intimate, focused practice. For those intrigued by the intricacies of a particular field, arbitration offers a rewarding opportunity to become experts in a specific subject matter, fostering an environment where specialized knowledge is not just beneficial but essential for success.

Litigation offers a broader scope of practice, encompassing a wide range of legal disputes. Litigators must be skilled at navigating complex legal frameworks and thrive in the dynamic environment of a courtroom. This path is ideal for those who seek variety in their cases and enjoy the challenge of public speaking and robust argumentation. The vast landscape of litigation ensures that every day brings new challenges and learning opportunities, appealing to those who crave diversity in their work and wish to hone a wide array of legal skills.

Pace and Lifestyle

The arbitration field typically promises a quicker resolution of disputes, which can translate to a more predictable schedule and potentially less stress. Arbitrators enjoy the flexibility of setting their own pace and often have more control over their work-life balance. The ability to manage one’s schedule allows for a more tailored approach to work, enabling professionals to dedicate time to research, continued learning, and personal interests, thus fostering a well-rounded lifestyle.

Litigation can be more demanding, with unpredictable hours and the pressure of court deadlines. Litigators often face long hours, especially during trial periods. This path suits those who thrive under pressure and find motivation in high-stakes environments. Despite its demands, litigation offers the exhilaration of courtroom victories and the satisfaction of advocating for clients in pivotal moments, making it a compelling choice for those who are energized by challenge and impact.

Impact and Influence

Arbitrators have a direct impact on the resolution of disputes, often in a more collaborative and less adversarial setting than the courts. This role appeals to those looking to facilitate agreement and understanding between parties, often preserving business relationships. The personal satisfaction of guiding parties to a mutually agreeable resolution can be immense, offering a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that one’s work promotes harmony and understanding.

Litigators influence the development of law through the establishment of legal precedents. This career path is suited for those who are passionate about justice and wish to play a part in shaping the legal landscape. The ability to effect change on a grand scale, whether by protecting individual rights or influencing industry standards, grants litigators a powerful role in society, underlining the significance of their work and its lasting impact on legal principles.

Educational Pathways

Future arbitrators and litigators must both pursue a legal education, but their paths diverge when it comes to specialization. Aspiring arbitrators might seek out advanced degrees or certifications in dispute resolution while aspiring litigators could benefit from moot court experiences, internships, and courses in trial advocacy. 

The specific educational focus you choose will not only prepare you for your chosen career path but also offer you the specific skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. For arbitrators, this might mean a deeper understanding of negotiation techniques and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, whereas litigators might focus more on procedural law, evidence, and courtroom tactics, ensuring they are well-equipped to face the challenges of their profession.

Ready to Learn More? Apply to the Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law Today

Over 95% of cases don't end up in a courtroom. Most often, they're settled through alternative dispute resolution like arbitration or mediation. Professionals from various walks of life are recognizing the need for specialized skills in these areas. This makes the Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR) program increasingly important for those at the forefront of conflict management.

If you're passionate about helping others successfully resolve disputes, Pepperdine Caruso Law's MDR program may be the next step in your legal career. This program is designed for anyone looking to become an expert in modern conflict resolution. 

Pepperdine Caruso Law offers hands-on learning experiences that can give you a competitive edge. The program includes a number of clinics and externships that allow you to apply your theoretical knowledge in real-world settings. Whether it's participating in actual arbitration proceedings or mediating a business dispute, you'll gain valuable experience that goes beyond textbooks and lectures.

The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Caruso Law is a leader in the field, continuously setting the pace for what modern dispute resolution education should entail. The faculty consists of professionals with extensive experience. Including both traditional litigation and alternative dispute resolution methods, so you're sure to get a well-rounded education.

If you're serious about becoming a skilled negotiator, don't miss the opportunity to enhance your education and career path with the Straus Institute. Applications are open, so take the first step toward mastering the skills needed to handle the disputes of tomorrow.