HOW WE GOT HERE
The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of 2020. Courts worldwide largely suspended their operations for weeks while determining safe paths forward. Many courts adapted alternative methods, such as video conferencing platforms, to continue providing court services during that time. With the rollout of mask mandates, social distancing guidelines, and other safety precautions, courts in many jurisdictions slowly reopened while still relying heavily on tools such as video conferencing as another way to deliver services. While the pandemic may have been the catalyst for increased online usage for legal proceedings, the digitization of the 21st century gave online dispute resolution a home long before COVID-19 emerged.
The usage of technology to resolve disputes virtually is known as online dispute resolution (ODR). Today’s popular video conferencing services provide an alternative gathering location for the parties to convene during the mediation or arbitration. Like in-person proceedings, online video conferencing platforms offer the opportunity to give and hear testimony and provide evidence, mirroring courtroom proceedings.
“ODR allows people to participate from anywhere. This means that even if a party or attorney is travelling, the mediation can proceed and time does not need to be spent coordinating a time and location that is geographically desirable for all parties.”-Meredith McBride, American Bar Association
Before ODR gained notoriety, mediations and arbitrations primarily took place in person offering the comfort of being in a location outside of a courtroom, making for a much less stressful experience. Still, depending on the ADR professional and the provider administering the services, the process was lengthy and costly, mainly when clients and lawyers must travel for the meeting. ODR is the next-generation platform for providing ADR services, offering clients the opportunity to experience similar outcomes to in-person sessions while also benefiting from potential cost savings and the comfort of meeting in their preferred location.
While ODR offers ease and convenience, a lack of access remains a primary shortfall in the current era of increased digitization and the growing use of online platforms. All parties may not have access to the digital devices needed to participate in ODR. Additionally, rural areas may lack the broadband infrastructure to support virtual meetings, which can also impede digital access. There are also socioeconomic barriers to access, according to a survey conducted by Pew Research, roughly a quarter of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year (24%) say they don’t own a smartphone. About four in ten adults with lower incomes do not have home broadband services (43%) or a desktop or laptop computer (41%).
ADR professionals who use ODR must take these accessibility obstacles into account before their meetings. It is also important for mediation and arbitration sessions to be accessible to individuals who may have physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities. For example, a client challenged by visual impairment may need materials in large print, or Braille to access documents. Similarly, a disputant who is deaf or hard-of-hearing may want to take advantage of closed captions during the video conference meeting. Great ADR providers understand how to fully optimize their client’s time by including pre-mediation and arbitration training sessions for participants to help prepare and hopefully lead to seamless sessions. You can learn more about the importance of accessibility in ADR in our blog post here.
In addition to the challenges posed by accessibility, data privacy concerns are also a concern when accessing ODR. Improper cybersecurity protocols can increase the risk of sensitive information falling into deceptive hands. The data stored or transmitted during the ODR process should be protected and protecting both your system and data is everyone’s responsibility.
To help you implement cybersecurity measures, we have created a checklist of resources for you to protect your system and make the transmission of your data more secure. To receive this resource, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Alterity ADR, our expert mediators and arbitrators are well versed in the acceleration of ODR, and they are well equipped to help navigate any challenges that may arise. In addition, our panelists understand the value of an online forum providing greater efficiency, fairness, and ultimately a better chance for resolution— which are all outcomes that can enhance a client’s confidence in the overall dispute resolution process. Although ODR is a fairly new approach gaining traction, it has compelling reasons for being the primary mode of delivery of ADR services. Even if you are already headed to the courtroom, it’s never too late to consider ODR, and if you are faced with a dispute, no matter what stage, we can help. To discuss a potential, pending or existing case, please contact us at email@example.com.