Proactive Pre-dispute and Pre-escalation Techniques to Strengthen Business Relationships

Jim Groton

Jim Groton is a retired partner of the law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan LLP, where he formerly led the Construction Practice and Dispute Prevention and Resolution practices of that firm. 

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Allen Waxman Interviews Jim Groton

Waxman considers Jim Groton “the father of the modern Standing Neutral concept.” (FORBES MAGAZINE)




Two Minute History of Construction Law

In a playful tongue-in-cheek address in Biblical language to the American Bar Association’s Forum on the Construction Industry in 1994, Professor Thomas Stipanowich, a prominent construction industry and dispute resolution scholar, undertook to describe how the field of construction law had developed during the past generation, with humorous references to some of the lawyers who were principally involved in that history. 

Professor Stipanowich’s article  was originally published at 14 Constr. Law. 28 (Aug. 1994), and was reprinted in the Bruner and O’Connor Treatise on Construction Law, with bracketed notes added by the authors of the treatise that explain some of the names in the article that readers who are not intimately familiar with the construction industry might not recognize. 

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The purpose of this website is to inform the business world about the use of pre-dispute and pre-escalation processes in business dealings, not only to prevent disputes but because they strengthen relationships.  In this website we collect the very best writing in this field, report on significant developments, and encourage further research and experimentation to advance the field.  


Among the dozens of dispute resolution processes that exist today, there are a number of relatively new pre-dispute and pre-escalation processes that can be used to prevent disputes before they become so intractable that they have to be dealt with through traditional “resolution” processes.  These processes are most effective when instituted proactively, at or near the beginning of a relationship.

The philosophy behind these processes can be illustrated by the following expressions:  “It usually costs less to avoid getting into trouble than to pay for getting out of trouble” (Professor Lewis Brown, 1950).  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” “A stitch in time saves nine.”  “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”  “Fix the problem, not the blame.”  “Be prepared.” “be proactive, not reactive,”  “The highest and best form of dispute resolution is dispute prevention.”

These processes are all practical, common-sense practices and techniques, invented by users of dispute resolution services. They acknowledge that problems and unexpected events are likely to occur in any relationship, and they are based on such principles as mutual cooperation, collaboration, early attention to problems as soon as they develop, prompt action to deal with problems on a “real time” basis, avoidance of adversarial attitudes, reliance on pre-selected experts, participation in reaching solutions to problems and disputes, and direct party control over the outcome of a dispute.

Categories of pre-dispute and prevention processes:  

Pre-dispute and pre-escalation processes can be grouped under the following two broad categories: 

  1. Prevention and cooperation techniques that help to avoid problems and disputes. 
  2. Dispute de-escalation, control, and “real time” resolution techniques to prevent disputes. 
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Chart of Dispute Resolution Stages and Steps:

Today, because of the flexibility, adaptability and versatility of ADR, Users of dispute resolution processes have available to them a wide variety of techniques that can be used to prevent, control and resolve disputes. New techniques are constantly being developed to deal with the wide variety of potential disputes that can occur in any kind of relationship, and at any stage in the development or escalation of a problem or dispute.

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