Early Active Intervention

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Mediation is often touted as the panacea for dispute resolution. It's not, and it suffers a bit from idol worship. I'm a mediation evangelist myself, but it's just a tool and it has many limits.

The goal for dispute resolution should be to find methods with the substance and flexibility to help resolve any dispute in the fastest, cheapest, fairest method possible. I have an idea on this that I call Early Active Intervention, and I'd appreciate comments, critical or otherwise. But before describing it, I point out some limitations on mediating franchise disputes.

In 2009, at the American Bar Association Forum on Franchising, I presented a seminar that covered mandatory mediation clauses in franchise agreements.

The participants (roughly 2/3 franchisor counsel, 1/3 franchisee) were split on the issue. About half looked on the clauses favorably because mediation is very successful in resolving disputes, and they found that mandatory mediation worked in practice to resolve their disputes promptly and fairly.

The other half didn't like mandatory clauses. Franchisor attorneys said that mediation makes sense only at a certain stage of a case, not necessarily the beginning, and that mediation has a chance to succeed only when both parties want to mediate. Good lawyers will know when a case is ripe for mediation. And if one side doesn't have a good lawyer, mediation probably won't succeed. So there's no reason to force mediation in the beginning of a dispute.

Franchisee attorneys expressed dissatisfaction that too often franchisors used the requirement to force the franchisee to take the time and spend the money to go to a mediation in the franchisor's home city with no intention of resolving the case short of franchisee surrender.

My sense is that all these are very good points. Mediation is very successful in resolving disputes, which is why I'm a mediation evangelist. Most mediation providers provide success rates at 65% - 85%. But it's not clear what those rates really mean. Did the cases resolve early or late, in one session or in many over time. Was there an expensive initial session that one side abused in bad faith? And, perhaps a question that can't be answered, would the cases have resolved without mediation? After all, probably fewer than 10% of business cases go to trial regardless of whether they're mediated. So if you count any case that settles before trial as a mediation success if the parties tried mediation at some point, then the success numbers will naturally be very strong.

Breaking it down further to the franchising area, I'm unaware of any statistics on the success of mandatory mediation requirements in franchise agreements. But the anecdotal evidence of dissatisfaction is strong. And most lawyers agree that mediation makes no sense when one party does not want to participate in good faith.

It's clear that resolving franchise disputes early and before they become lawsuits or arbitrations is a worthwhile goal for franchisors and franchisees. Both save time and money by resolving the dispute early, and they can return to focusing on their business rather than their disputes. Also, a new incentive for pre-filing resolution is that, since Item III of the FDD now requires disclosure of settlement terms, franchisors have far greater flexibility in settling suits before a complaint or arbitration demand is filed.

To address some of these issues, and to focus on speed, cost ,and fairness, I've come up with a process I call Early Active Intervention (EAI). It involves a voluntary effort on both sides to resolve the dispute as early, quickly and inexpensively as possible. The parties use a facilitator, but the facilitator is much more active than in standard mediation . Primarily, if a dispute is not ripe for resolution, the facilitator can structure a limited information exchange to allow the parties to obtain the information they need to form a reasonable judgment as to how to reasonably resolve the dispute. Then the mediation resumes.

Because EAI is voluntary, parties not wanting to participate won't. Because the tools are broader than standard mediation, early intervention is always appropriate. Because the facilitator is expected to take a more active role, the facilitator has more flexibility to address issues related to parties or counsel who appear to be proceeding in bad faith. And because the rules are spelled out, expectations for the process are shared.

Here's my proposed clause for a franchising agreement:


Early active intervention. If either of us has a claim against the other, either of us may invoke early active intervention ("EAI") against the other before filing [suit or arbitration]. EAI is subject to the following rules:

1. Notice. EAI is triggered by the initiating party's sending notice (the "Notice") to the responding party that states that the initiating party is initiating EAI, and that provides a concise statement of the initiating party's claim.

2. Tolling. Initiation of EAI tolls the statute of limitations on the initiating party's claims. The responding party may terminate tolling on 14 day's notice.

3. Response. Within seven days of receiving the Notice, the responding party shall send the initiating party a concise statement of its defenses or counterclaims (the "Response") to the initiating party's claim.

4. Preliminary negotiation. Upon receipt of the Response, you and we may (but are not required to) begin negotiations within three days pursuant to effective negotiation principles, which shall be as follows:

i. Parties with authority. You and we will have at the negotiation the person who has the authority to resolve the dispute.

ii. Principles and goal. The goal of negotiation will be to seek a business resolution of the dispute through cooperative communication in which we focus on each other's interests and seek to generate options to satisfy those interests, using objective standards to evaluate interests and options.

iii. Need for further information or documents. If the dispute is not resolved by negotiation, you and we shall seek to determine whether either needs further information or documents to develop reasonable judgment to evaluate reasonable resolution of the dispute. If either side needs further information or documents, we shall seek to agree on how to share information and documents no later than 30 days after the date of our agreement.

iv. Further negotiation. If you and we agree to continue negotiation following information and document exchange, negotiations shall begin with fourteen days after completion of the information and document exchange.

5. Selection of EAI facilitator.

i. Timing. If you and we do not agree to negotiate, then within seven days of the initiating party's receipt of the Notice, you and we shall mutually select an EAI facilitator. If we do choose to negotiate, either side has the right to invoke selection of an facilitator at any time.

ii. Failure to agree on facilitator. If you and we are unable to mutually select an facilitator in seven days, the EAI process shall terminate.

iii. Fees. You and we will each be responsible for half of the facilitator's fees.

6. Case facilitation conference. Within seven days of the facilitator's selection, the facilitator shall hold a case facilitation conference by telephone. The conference shall address the following topics.

i. Information and document exchange. If you and we have not agreed on exchange of information or documents, the Facilitator may decide on the appropriate scope of information and document exchange. The presumption shall be to allow only that discovery necessary to make the process fair in the sense of giving you and us enough information to reasonably evaluate the merits of our respective positions. The facilitator shall set a short time limit, no longer than 30 days after the case facilitation conference, to finish exchange of information and documents.

ii. Facilitation schedule and site. The facilitator shall set a date for a personal case facilitation conference with you and us. The conference shall be scheduled no later than 30 days after the end of information and document sharing. The facilitator shall decide the place of the conference.

iii. Facilitation conference. The facilitator may require you and us to submit materials to the facilitator that we send confidentially to only the facilitator or that we share with each other. You and we will have at the facilitation the person who has the authority to resolve the dispute. The facilitator's role will be to actively mediate the dispute to seek resolution by using suitable facilitative, evaluative, and transformative mediation principles.

iv. Litigation management. If you and we are unable to resolve the dispute at the facilitation conference, the facilitator shall assist you and us in developing a litigation management agreement to cover discovery, time limits, and other matters to seek to limit the cost and time of [suit or arbitration].

v. Flexibility. The facilitator shall have the discretion to alter these rules as the facilitator sees fit.

7. Method of written communication. All written communication shall be by e-mail. For purposes of calculating dates, receipt of written communications will be deemed contemporaneous with sending.

8. Voluntary termination. Either you or we may terminate the EAI process at any time by sending three-days notice to the other.

About the Author: Peter Silverman is a franchise lawyer, mediator and arbitrator. You can reach him at [email protected] Any thoughts he offers are his personal opinion and are not legal advice.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Peter Silverman published on May 13, 2015 7:43 AM.

What is an Area Developer in Franchising? was the previous entry in this blog.

Are You Prepared to be a Subfranchisor? is the next entry in this blog.

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