For more than 20 years, Gus Richardson has worked as a civil litigation lawyer. Now he is running Nova Scotia’s first mediation and arbitration firm: ADR Private Court. “My service is really geared at the middle class — people who can’t go to court because they can’t afford it,” says Richardson.
It’s also geared to lawyers. In fact, it’s lawyers who currently make up the bulk of Richardson’s business, seeking him out on behalf of their clients. The University of Toronto graduate expects that to change as more people hear about his mediation, arbitration, and “med-arb” services. “I’m hoping that by advertising ADR Private Court lay people will [hear about] it and suggest this to their lawyer.”
The idea is a novel one in Nova Scotia, in fact, in most of Canada, but it is an approach common south of the border. “In the U.S., arbitration and mediation is big business there, and every city has firms that are solely arbitration,” says Richardson, who practised with what is now Ritch Durnford in Halifax for more than 15 years. He believes it could be big business here as well. “I want to reach out to lawyers and their clients. I’m trying to get people aware of these processes as options. There are lots of cases that could benefit from ADR.”
However, he adds, legal professionals may not think of ADR as an option. “A lot of lawyers are aware of this peripherally, but they’re not taught this in law school. The lawyer’s mindset is the courtroom.”
As a small claims court adjudicator for 10 years, Richardson saw firsthand the need for mediation and arbitration. “Generally there is not a huge difference between the parties on the facts. It is the interpretation of the facts.”
Litigation, he notes, is expensive and time-consuming. At ADR, a private court hearing can usually be booked within weeks and heard in a day. The hearing is private. There is no embarrassment of a public court document or ruling. It’s also less expensive than litigation. A two-party mediation that lasts a day rings in at $3,000, split between the parties. A one-day arbitration costs $5,000.
ADR also engages participants, says Richardson. “Arbitration and mediation keep people closer to the process.”
That process is streamlined, something that is difficult for the court system to achieve, he adds. “The only tool the court system has is more rules and procedures. That perpetuates the problem.”