The construction industry has been a leader in the use of arbitration to resolve disputes. In the past 30 years, it is fair to say that arbitration has outpaced litigation as the dominant method of dispute resolution. The protracted time for a construction case to get to trial and the attendant cost and expense has led the construction bar away from the courthouse and into the arbitration room. It not unusual for a lawyer bringing a construction case to court to receive a frosty reception from the judge, whose first remark is often akin to “why are you not in arbitration?” In other words, sitting through a construction trial is not among the court’s favorite pastimes.
The decision to arbitrate is made most typically, although not exclusively, by the parties’ agreement. The American Institute of Architects’ templates of construction agreements include an arbitration option wherein the parties agree that all disputes arising out of the agreement shall be determined in an arbitration to be administered pursuant to the Construction Industry Rules of the American Arbitration Association. These rules, well known to construction lawyers, provide for the orderly administration of an arbitration. Most construction lawyers, out of either lassitude or ignorance, pay scant, if any, attention to the arbitration clause. This is a mistake, perhaps a significant one, that can affect the outcome of the arbitration in numerous ways that cannot be predicted when the underlying contract is signed.