When you sign an agreement with your brokerage firm, you are almost always waving your right to go to court and instead must agree to arbitration through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Filing stockbroker arbitrations with FINRA has advantages and disadvantages. While you do not have the benefit a group of peers hearing your case, the FINRA arbitration system is typically a faster process.
We kind of have a joke in our office that, when it comes to litigation, we don't like to use the "f-word" — fair — and that's because none of the process is fair. You've come into a situation where you've been either defrauded or been stolen from or lied to, you've lost a significant portion of your investment that you've had, maybe that you were counting on for your retirement. And so having to go through a protracted and sometimes contentious process to get that money back is not fair and is never going to be fair.
When we talk about the forum itself, being in FINRA arbitration versus, say, being in court in front of a jury of your peers, there are some upsides and downsides. The downsides are, in my opinion, you don't get as much of a, well, a peer group to evaluate your claim. You get instead professional arbitrators, who are often lawyers, sometimes have worked in the industry, depending on the type of claim, who are the ones deciding your case.
The advantages are it's a lot faster than court. There's a lot less for the investor, the claimant to have to do because there's no depositions or written interrogatories. These are things that are part of discovery that can take a lot of time and effort and money from a claimant, and they don't exist in a FINRA arbitration. And the end process is usually faster, in the sense that most of these hearings can be done within four or five days. That's not always true if you're in court. It can take a lot longer than that.