Difference Wiki

Litigation vs. Arbitration: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on November 6, 2023
Litigation is the process of taking legal action in court, while arbitration involves resolving disputes outside of court through a neutral third party.

Key Differences

Litigation and arbitration are both methods employed to resolve disputes. Litigation is the conventional method wherein disputes are resolved in a court of law, overseen by a judge, and possibly a jury. Parties involved present evidence, argue their case, and a verdict is eventually reached. Arbitration, on the other hand, is a method where disputes are settled outside of courts, typically in a less formal setting, overseen by one or more arbitrators chosen by the parties involved.
One stark distinction between litigation and arbitration lies in their procedural formality. Litigation, being court-based, often follows strict rules and procedures set by the legal system. Parties are bound by the decisions of the court, and there's potential for appeal. Arbitration can be more flexible, with procedures agreed upon by the parties, and the decision, called an award, is generally final with limited grounds for appeal.
In terms of cost and duration, litigation can be lengthy and expensive due to its procedural complexities, potentially taking years before a resolution is reached. Arbitration can be faster and might be less expensive, as it sidesteps some of the bureaucratic aspects of court proceedings. However, the costs of arbitrators and the proceedings themselves can also be substantial.
Privacy is another difference between the two. Litigation is often public, with court proceedings and judgments accessible to the public. Arbitration is usually private, and parties can agree to keep the proceedings and outcomes confidential. This confidentiality is sometimes preferred by businesses or individuals seeking discretion.
Lastly, the outcome's enforceability varies. Litigation results in a court judgment, enforceable by law. Arbitration awards may require additional steps to become enforceable but are recognized and enforceable in many jurisdictions under specific arbitration laws or treaties.

Comparison Chart


Court of law.
Outside of courts, often in private settings.

Decision Maker

Judge (and possibly a jury).

Appeal Potential

Generally possible.
Limited appeal options.


Public, accessible records.
Private, with potential confidentiality.

Procedural Rigidity

Strict legal procedures.
Can be more flexible, based on agreed procedures.

Litigation and Arbitration Definitions


Judicial contest to determine and enforce legal rights.
The litigation process can be long and tiresome.


A method of settling disagreements without litigation.
Arbitration can be a cost-effective alternative to court battles.


The process of resolving disputes in court.
The company is facing several litigation cases this year.


A process of resolving disputes outside of court using a neutral third party.
They agreed to settle their differences through arbitration.


Legal proceedings initiated between opposing parties.
The ongoing litigation has strained their relationship.


An alternative dispute resolution method, bypassing courts.
They achieved a satisfactory result thanks to the arbitration process.


The act or process of taking a case through court.
They chose litigation instead of a peaceful negotiation.


A procedure in which contention is settled by an arbitrator.
Arbitration can offer a faster resolution than traditional court cases.


A lawsuit or legal action.
The threat of litigation made them reconsider their position.


The process by which the parties to a dispute submit their differences to the judgment of an impartial person or group appointed by mutual consent or statutory provision.


To prosecute or defend (a lawsuit or legal action); pursue (a legal case).


The act or process of arbitrating.


To bring a lawsuit or defend against a lawsuit in court.


A process through which two or more parties use an arbitrator or arbiter in order to resolve a dispute.


(legal) The conduct of a lawsuit.
There is ongoing litigation in this matter.
This law firm is known for its litigation practice.
That attorney has been chastised for his litigation behavior.


In general, a form of justice where both parties designate a person whose ruling they will accept formally. More specifically in Market Anarchist (market anarchy) theory, arbitration designates the process by which two agencies pre-negotiate a set of common rules in anticipation of cases where a customer from each agency is involved in a dispute.


The act or process of litigating; a suit at law; a judicial contest.


The hearing and determination of a cause between parties in controversy, by a person or persons chosen by the parties.


A legal proceeding in a court; a judicial contest to determine and enforce legal rights


(law) the hearing and determination of a dispute by an impartial referee agreed to by both parties (often used to settle disputes between labor and management)


The act of deciding as an arbiter; giving authoritative judgment;
They submitted their disagreement to arbitration


The act of referring a dispute to an impartial entity.
Their contract specifies mandatory arbitration for any disputes.


Who decides the outcome in arbitration?

An arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators determines the outcome in arbitration.

Can arbitration be forced on someone?

Parties often agree to arbitration in contracts, making it mandatory for disputes arising from that contract.

Is litigation always public?

While most litigation is public, some proceedings or documents may be sealed or kept confidential under certain conditions.

When is arbitration preferred?

Arbitration is preferred for contractual disputes, international matters, or when privacy is a concern.

Is arbitration similar to mediation?

While both are alternative dispute resolutions, arbitration results in a binding decision, unlike mediation, which seeks mutual agreement.

Is arbitration always faster than litigation?

Arbitration can be faster, but it depends on the case, the arbitrators, and the parties involved.

How long can litigation last?

Litigation can last from months to years, depending on the case's complexity and jurisdiction.

What is the primary purpose of litigation?

Litigation aims to resolve disputes by taking them through the court system.

Can litigation decisions be appealed?

Yes, litigation decisions, in most cases, can be appealed to a higher court.

Who pays for litigation costs?

Typically, each party pays its own costs, but the court can order the losing party to pay the winner's costs in some instances.

Are arbitration decisions internationally recognized?

Yes, many countries recognize and enforce arbitration awards under the New York Convention.

What types of disputes are suited for litigation?

Complex disputes, those needing precedent, or ones involving public interest often go to litigation.

Is the arbitration process formal?

While less formal than litigation, arbitration can still have structured proceedings based on the agreed rules.

What's the role of evidence in litigation?

Evidence is crucial in litigation to prove or disprove claims and defenses presented in court.

How is an arbitrator chosen?

Arbitrators are typically chosen by mutual agreement of the parties or through an arbitration institution.

Can a litigation judgment be enforced internationally?

Enforcing litigation judgments internationally can be challenging and depends on treaties or agreements between countries.

Can evidence be presented in arbitration?

Yes, parties can present evidence in arbitration, but the process might be more streamlined than in court.

Can a third party intervene in litigation?

Depending on jurisdiction, third parties with a vested interest might intervene in litigation.

Can outsiders participate in arbitration?

Typically, arbitration is restricted to the parties involved, but some rules might allow third-party participation.

Can you switch from litigation to arbitration?

Yes, parties can agree to move from litigation to arbitration if they mutually consent.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons