September 19, 2019 Feature

A Brief History of Arbitration

By Daniel Centner and Megan Ford

Arbitration has been used as a dispute-resolution tool for thousands of years. It has deep roots across a variety of settings, particularly in international and commercial contexts, and counts among its proponents luminaries from King Solomon and George Washington to Rodger Goodell. For much of its history, arbitration existed in an uneasy tension alongside courts of law, which were generally slow to embrace—and sometimes outwardly hostile to—the concept of private-party dispute resolution. However, beginning in the early 20th century, countries around the world started to embrace arbitration, enacting laws requiring their courts to enforce arbitration agreements and severely circumscribing judicial review of arbitrators’ awards. Over the past 100 years, a strong proarbitration policy has emerged, and arbitration has become prevalent in commercial, consumer, and even professional sports disputes—although some would argue that arbitration has come to resemble traditional litigation, losing some of the time and cost savings that make it appealing to its proponents. This article explores these trends and provides a high-level overview of how the “law of arbitration” came to exist in its modern form.

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