The mini-trial became popular in the 1980’s in response to the growing volume of business litigation in the United States. It became especially useful in matters involving complex technologies, patent disputes, financial accounting, or disputes which the parties wished to resolve confidentially because like other ADR variants, the mini-trial is confidential. The process involves counsel, limited evidence, and the optional use of experts. Counsel for the parties work out a format which might include three or four hours for each side to present their positions at a neutral location, relying on limited evidence central to the dispute, including expert reports where appropriate or even abbreviated expert testimony.
In business cases, the “jury” is often comprised of the senior business decision-makers from each side who listen to the presentations which are intended to give them a meaningful insight into the issues and challenges of the case. Usually a neutral is chosen, typically a lawyer, to oversee the process although he or she does not initially play an active role. After the parties’ presentations, the principals and counsel adjourn for a separate negotiation which might take the form of mediation. At this point, the neutral might serve as the mediator. If the parties fail to reach a settlement or fail to make progress towards settlement, the neutral may in some cases also be recruited to offer a case evaluation in the hopes of stimulating settlement or further productive negotiation.