Since the start of COVID-19, I’ve spoken to thousands of lawyers and dispute resolution practitioners about online dispute resolution (ODR). For most people, the focus is on Zoom. Zoom has been invaluable during the pandemic and ensures lawyers can continue to operate. However, the coupling of ODR and Zoom is only the beginning of the story. ODR is more than Zoom.
With continuing travel restrictions and development of vaccines looming, your practice or organization can benefit from various forms of ODR. Zoom, a synchronous technology, allows us to resolve issues in real time. Synchronous dispute resolution works for many disputes and organizations. There’s also asynchronous technology that can be highly effective. You can use text-based software, without fancy artificial intelligence or machine learning, to diagnose problems, create collaborative spaces for parties to work out issues, and construct spaces for conflict coaching. One example is email. Imagine if you had an online portal that helped parties figure out their issues, and maybe even resolve it, without your intervention. It would make your inbox much cleaner! Meeting outside of Zoom with limited tech intervention can educate parties of their rights, receive preliminary proposals, and avoid lengthy meetings.
These tools are not hard to come by for individuals or organizations. Tech companies are looking to help and empower your practice to save time and money. This is another powerful form of ODR that is not only Zoom.
Here are a few other things to consider as you advance your firm or organization.
Cementing Online Processes
These skills and processes you’ve established over the past months are not a band aid?—?let them create a competitive advantage. Continuing to offer these services: increase your hourly rate to match your newfound skill, mentor younger lawyers and mediators, and pitch online mediation to old and new clients. Consider taking your tech skills to a new level by moving intake and collecting payment online (if not already done).
Speak with tech developers. Learn what they can build for you, from streamlining client management to building your own asynchronous system. Existing tools are also available such as this legal tech directory.
Continuing Learning New Tools
As I’ve written about previously, finding alternatives to Zoom continues to be important. It’s an ethical obligation to identify and prepare backup options (whether video or phone based). There are also other tools integrated into alternative platforms that will make life easier.
It’s also critical we also adhere to the International Council of Online Dispute Resolution (ICODR) guidelines set forth for both video mediations and arbitrations. These rules help protect providers and clients. Focused on accessibility, competency, confidentiality, impartiality, and security, these rules should be uniform. In the same vein, if a person with disabilities participates in a session, we need to do our part to welcome everyone. Visit David Allen Larson’s article regarding considerations and best practices for disability accommodations in ODR processes.
And I always encourage checking out alternatives to Zoom (like Legaler, a company I love that I recently started working for them!).
Championing Online Processes at Local and State Courts
We can support powerful efforts to increase access to justice, while maintaining core tenets of our justice system and social distancing rules, by moving dispute processes online. Small claims, family issues, and landlord-tenant conflicts are prime for creating efficient and powerful online systems removed from archaic systems. One of the most spectacular examples is Michigan?—?the home of MI-Resolve. MI-Resolve works to resolve small claim and landlord-tenant dispute cases with or without the help of a mediator. They work with local mediation centers across to resolve issues without a court date.
Other localities (you can see an entire list of courts using ODR here) are already in the future. Despite these efforts, counties and states across the United States still do not provide critical functions online. Not only does it endanger the health of people in a pandemic but deprives citizens of a core function of our democracy. Sharing your experiences and insights helps convince skeptics of ODR.
If you have stories or examples of using ODR during COVID-19, I’d love to hear them. Please email me.
Simon Boehme works at the intersection of dispute resolution and legal innovation. As a tech entrepreneur and mediator, he has founded and advised multiple legal tech companies, along with writing and teaching online dispute resolution for the past 10 years. Simon is currently Vice President of Partnerships for Legaler. He was also appointed to serve on the State Bar of California’s Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS) Task Force. He most recently served as Head of Operations and Chief of Staff, Trust & Safety at Lime. Simon was previously Co-Founder and COO at Disputly (formerly LegalWin). He also founded Magnify, a contract company summarizing terms and conditions of popular websites (recently acquired). He also was a member of the Accord Project Dispute Resolution Working Group (building guidelines and open source code for smart legal contracts). Simon was appointed by the Obama Administration to serve on the U.S. Department of Education's National Advisory Committee for Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). He served on NACIQI from 2013 to 2019. Simon formerly served as an advisor for NeuCourt, TermScout, BadData, and Bonayo. He also served as a mediator with Conflict Intervention Service aiming to reduce homelessness in San Francisco (along with creating the first online dispute resolution system for landlord-tenant disputes). Simon started Disputes+Blockchain (first-of-its-kind newsletter regarding all things dispute resolution and blockchain). He is a Truman Scholar, Coca-Cola Scholar, and Bezos Scholar. Simon studied at Cornell University (BS in Industrial and Labor Relations) and Mitchell Scholar at Maynooth University in Ireland (MA in Mediation and Conflict Intervention). In 2010, he led his hometown high school to win the first Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, resulting in President Barack Obama speaking at graduation (the first sitting President to do so). He currently lives in San Francisco, California.