Arbitation, Part 2: Cost
First, unlike in traditional litigation, the parties are required to pay the "judge" (i.e., the Arbitrator), whose fees per hour will rival or even exceed his attorney counterparts. While from a purely abstract libertarian perspective, I like the idea that the parties to a dispute pay the full costs of the legal proceedings rather than burdening the taxpayers through tax-funded courts and personnel, as a practical matter, this can sometimes end up being more costly for a client than simply going through the state- or federally-funded litigation process.
Second, in my specific case, the costs were trebled through legal maneuvering from the other party's attorneys. The case at issue involved an owner/contractor disagreement, involving three different properties the contract was constructing for my client. Instead of filing one lawsuit or one arbitration, the contractor filed three. In traditional litigation, a judge likely would have combined all three into one case for the sake of judicial efficiency. In this case, however, the arbitrator assigned to rule just on this motion (whom had to be paid separately) ruled against it. That meant my client was required to ante up money for three different arbitrators, assigned to three distinct cases, when one paid arbitrator could have decided it in about the time it would cost to hear one case. It was an interesting tactic, because I believe my client was more able to absorb the costs than his opponent.
We estimated that the case, if consolidated, would take about a week to try, but unfortunately, because each arbitrator would be hearing his particular case anew, each time we'd need to spend a few days simply laying out the facts. Instead of paying for one week's arbitration, we would now pay for approximately three. Do the math on arbitrators who charge about $300 per hour, assume eight hour days, times 21 days. It's not cheap. Now add in attorneys for each side who will also be litigating for three weeks.
Finally, even though trial litigation can be expensive, the reality is many cases never make it that far--not because of settlement (which of course happens often)--but because the case is disposed of earlier by motions. I've litigated numerous cases for this particular client, but more than half of them never made it to trial because I got them dismissed early on. Because the arbitration procedure does not typically rule on such dispositive motions, and simply lets it go to a hearing (and if you think about it, it's in the arbitrator's financial self-interest to keep the case going so he can be paid), my client would have spent far more if those cases had been arbitrated than it did by litigating them.
Although I am sure each arbitration varies on its merits, my experience thus far is that arbitration has not been less expensive than litigation, and in fact has been more so.