Arbitration is a private method of dispute resolution in which the parties select the individual or individuals who will finally decide the matters at issue following a process agreed upon by the parties. There are five main stages to the arbitration process:
- initial pleadings;
- panel selection;
- trial prep; and
- Final hearing.
After initial meetings, we will prepare a Statement of Claim (“Claim”), which will describe how you have been harmed, who harmed you, and the damages you are seeking. We will then work with you to revise and edit your Claim until you are comfortable that it accurately presents your claims in the best possible light; and then we will file it with the FINRA.
After FINRA receives your Statement of Claim, it will send a copy of it to the parties you are suing (e.g., your brokerage firm, broker, etc.). They will then be provided an opportunity to prepare and file their respective Answers.
After the Statement of Claim and Answers have been filed, FINRA will send the parties a list of 10 proposed arbitrators for each arbitrator who will ultimately sit on the arbitration panel that will decide their dispute. In disputes involving claims of $100,000 or less, one arbitrator will usually be appointed to the panel, which means that FINRA will provide the parties with 10 proposed arbitrators from which to choose. In disputes involving claims of more than $100,000, three arbitrators will be appointed to the panel, which means that FINRA will provide the parties with 30 proposed arbitrators. The parties can each strike up to four proposed arbitrators for each arbitrator to sit on the panel and must rank the remaining arbitrators in order of preference. FINRA will match the parties’ lists and then appoint the highest ranked arbitrators to the arbitration panel.
After an arbitration panel has been appointed, FINRA will convene an initial pre-hearing conference (“IPHC”). The arbitrators and the parties’ attorneys will attend the IPHC, usually by telephone, and agree on a date for the final hearing and any necessary preliminary deadlines (e.g., to request and produce relevant documents, to file motions, etc.). You are not required to attend the IPHC, but you may do so if you wish.
Discovery is the pre-trial (or pre-arbitration) phase during which the parties attempt to identify and track down all of the relevant documents, information, and witnesses they will need to present their claims and defenses at the final hearing. At Jacobson Law P.A., our attorneys will work with you to collect whatever relevant documents and information you might have and determine whether they need to be produced. Additionally, we will prepare detailed requests for documents and serve them on the other side; and we will identify and subpoena any third parties who might have relevant documents. We will also work with you to prepare responses and objections to any document requests opposing counsel serves on you. And in the event the parties cannot resolve a particular discovery issue, we will prepare, respond to, and argue any discovery motions that might be filed.
The goal of the Trial Prep stage is to prepare for — and remove — any possible surprises at the final hearing so that you can focus all of your energy on presenting your claims (or defenses) in the best possible light. Approximately one month before the final hearing, our attorneys will start meeting with you to begin preparing for the final hearing. We will review with you all of the documents we obtained during the discovery phase; we will work with you to identify and prepare the exhibits and witnesses we will use at the final hearing; we will prepare lines of examination for any witnesses who might be called; and we will help you to prepare your own testimony so that you will be able to testify honestly and accurately to the best of your recollection.
Final hearings can last anywhere from half a day to a week or longer. They typically start at 9:00 am and run through 5:00 pm, with an hour break for lunch and additional breaks as needed. You should be prepared to attend every day of the final hearing. On the first day, before the hearing actually begins, the arbitrators, attorneys, and parties will introduce themselves, the Panel Chairperson will explain the procedures, and any preliminary issues will be resolved. After that, hearing will begin. The parties will make their opening statements, and then the Claimant will be permitted to present his (or her) case by calling witnesses and submitting evidence. After that, the Respondent will be permitted to present his defenses by calling his own witnesses and evidence. When the Respondent is finished, the parties will make their closing arguments, and then the Panel will deliberate and issue an Award. It can take anywhere from a day to a month receive the Panel’s ruling.