Arbitration at FINRA has long been known as a quicker, more efficient alternative to court litigation of disputes eligible for submission to FINRA’s Dispute Resolution forum. This continues to be true, to an even greater extent, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many courts at the federal and state levels, both in New York and across the US, have indefinitely suspended the filing of new nonessential cases during this time. Courts have also frozen the commencement of trials and the perfection of appeals in pending cases. And conferences, depositions and other in-person court appearances cannot take place where social distancing and large-group gathering guidelines are in effect. Thus, both new and pending court cases are in large part on hold until further notice, to protect the safety of parties, court personnel and the public.
At FINRA, however, the processing and handling of arbitration cases is primarily done electronically, with very little need for in-person contact until the final hearings on the merits. Even during the current unprecedented situation, parties can still file new cases at FINRA using the Dispute Resolution Portal, and can choose arbitrators and engage in discovery. Because FINRA arbitration does not allow for depositions except in extraordinary circumstances, the discovery process and exchange of documents and information can be done completely remotely and electronically, and without delay. Parties or potential parties should be reassured that their new or already-pending cases will continue to be administered as they were before the current pandemic.
Currently, the only thing being postponed by FINRA is the conduct of in-person arbitration hearings. As of the date of this writing, FINRA has administratively postponed all in-person arbitration and mediation proceedings scheduled through July 3, 2020. For parties who wish or need to proceed to hearings sooner, FINRA is also offering virtual hearing services by agreement of the parties or by Panel order, using secure teleconference or Zoom services. The full description of FINRA’s response to the COVID-19 situation is available here: Coronavirus Impact on Arbitration & OHO Hearings. Most in-person hearings are currently only being postponed to the fall of 2020, a matter of a few months which may not be very detrimental in most cases.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you have a potential FINRA securities fraud or employment-related case in the securities industry. Now is as good a time as any to file at FINRA with the knowledge that your claim will proceed as usual, despite these difficult times.