Y2K Group urges mediation over litigation

When it comes to resolving business disputes related to the dreaded millennium bug, about a dozen major companies in the US have decided that mediation beats litigation.

Tomorrow, the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution will launch a campaign to get even more companies to sign a pledge agreeing to first negotiate -- and, as a last resort, to mediate -- year 2000 disputes. A dozen large companies, including General Mills, Phillip Morris, McDonald's and Bank of America, have signed that pledge so far.

In addition to saving a bundle in legal fees, James Henry, the nonprofit group's president and founder, said the pact's signatories stand to preserve business relationships that would otherwise be put at risk if subjected to cut-throat litigation.

"Mediation gives them the ability to resolve a business problem in a businesslike way as opposed to the 'I win, you lose' decision of a court or a third party in arbitration," he said.

Mediation also resolves a dispute considerably faster than a lawsuit would. "In an era when product life cycles are measured by months and litigation is measured in decades, the ability to resolve a dispute in a matter days is obviously beneficial," Henry said.

Mediators will be tapped from the organisation's 700-member stable of lawyers and retired federal judges, he added.

Henry said the organisation's 250 corporate members, as well as more than 2000 other companies and law firms in North America and Europe, are expected to sign up for the mediation plan this month. Companies of all sizes are encouraged to participate.

"We want every company in America and the industrialised world to sign the pact, not simply the large companies," Henry said. "We also want very much for them to pass this on to their business associates -- their suppliers or customers or dealers -- because it is these disputes that are particularly important in terms of preserving business relationships."

National trade organisations that support the institute's year 2000 drive include the Information Technology Association of America, the Chemical Manufacturers Association and the National Association of Manufacturers.

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