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Online Dispute Resolution

What You Should Know About Online Dispute Resolution

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What You Should Know About Online Dispute Resolution

 

Hon. Arthur M. Monty Ahalt (ret.)

 

Online dispute resolution (ODR) has all of the advantages of other forms of ADR—and it is faster and more cost-effective.

 

Less than 15 years ago the legal community struggled to implement alternative dispute resolution (ADR) into the case management programs of federal and state trial courts. This effort was largely motivated by overcrowded trial dockets which allowed cases to remain pending four and five years before a trial date. Now ADR is an accepted component of most case management programs of any trial court and reaches into almost every segment of our lives. Schools, prisons, communities, businesses, consumers, and families now have ready access to alternative dispute resolution training and specialists. Many state courts have established conflict resolutions programs such as the highly effective and award-winning Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO) of the Maryland Judiciary. See http://www.courts.state.md.us/macro/.

ADR has been around in commerce since the 1920’s and the founding of the American Arbitration Association. Many date ADR to biblical times and King Solomon. Originally the focus was on providing commercial entities with alternatives to adjudicating their disputes in the court. During the next eight decades many barriers have been overcome; however, the paper- based alternatives of the past that paved the way for ADR have become expensive and time- consuming: in some cases it’s as if a new ADR bureaucracy has replaced the old judicial bureaucracy. Although face-to-face and paper-based alternative dispute resolution is not as time- consuming and expensive as litigation in the courtroom, the time and expense of paper and face-to-face meetings denies many parties the opportunity of a fair and neutral resolution of a genuine dispute.

The ability of technology—especially the Internet—to make many business processes more efficient is now making it clear that online dispute resolution (ODR) is the next frontier of ADR. The internet promises to make more disputes reachable by ADR and to facilitate the resolution of disputes faster and at a lower cost. But like many shifts from paper to technology, a clear strategic pathway has yet to appear.

 

WHAT IS ONLINE DISPUTE RESOLUTION ? • ODR provides the ability for two (or more) disparate parties to settle their dispute using the Internet. Sometimes this involves lawyers and mediators and sometimes it does not. It depends on the vehicle/provider that the parties agree to utilize to resolve their claim.

 

History Of Online Dispute Resolution

The concept of ODR has been discussed in academic circles since the mid 1990’s. See www.odr.info.Professor Ethan Katish was a leading researcher and developer of concepts of ODR. From 1997-1999, Professor Katish mediated a variety of disputes online, involving domain name/trademark issues, other intellectual property conflicts, disputes with Internet Service Providers, and others. In the spring of 1999, he supervised a project with the online auction site eBay, in which over 150 disputes were mediated during a two week period. During the summer of 1999, he co-founded Disputes.org, which later worked with eResolution to become one of four providers accredited by ICANN to resolve domain name disputes. He is also an adviser to SquareTrade.com, an Internet start-up focusing on online ADR. There are over 20 internet companies listed on the ODR.info site which provide ODR online services.

As a Judge of the Circuit Court for Prince Georges County, Maryland in conjunction with my activities directing the nation’s first electronic filing pilot project and managing the courts civil docket I realized that dispute resolution could be aided by the Internet. The ideas were first published in a series of on-line articles by VirtualCourthouse beginning in 1996. See http://montyahalt.com/category/original-virtualcourthouse-articles/.  VirtualCourthouse.com™ was founded in 2001.

The VirtualCourthouse dispute resolution process models a court dispute resolution process delivered on the Internet using Web-based technologies:

A case is initiated and a list of Neutrals is selected and the Neutrals are ranked;

A system generated email is sent to the other party, inviting them to join the case;

The other party joins the case and a Neutral is agreed upon;

The Neutral reviews the case initiation, and sends an email to both parties, confirming the type of proceeding and the fees;

The claimant prepares a case presentation and uploads the scanned documents into the online case;

Once complete, a system generated email is sent to the respondent, advising them the claimant has completed their presentation, and now it is time for them to submit their case presentation;

Once the case presentations are complete, a system generated email is sent to the Neutral advising them to review the evidence and render a decision;

Once reviewed, a verdict is submitted online, and a system generated email is sent to both parties notifying them a verdict has been rendered.

 

VirtualCourthouse creates a marketplace by recruiting the neutrals, administering the electronic case file, and providing access to the system to members of the plaintiff and defense bar, including insurance staff counsel, claims agents, and the parties. It also VirtualCourthouse provides an independent forum by enabling parties to select qualified neutrals (typically judges or attorneys with specific experience), submit digitized materials, schedule an ADR event and track other activities throughout the effort to resolve the claim. Critical to the design of this service is its neutrality: VirtualCourthouse impartially facilitates neutral selection by providing structured communication among parties via a controlled and secure message service. Any party can attach digital exhibits such as digital photographs or scanned images of medical records. The Neutral can use the message service to communicate with parties. VirtualCourthouse streamlines every step in the process and minimizes the need and costs of unnecessary face-to-face meetings, mailing, and copying.

The VirtualCourthouse Dispute Resolution Engine (DRE) is a combination of multimedia technologies and business processes, integrated with a customer-friendly user interface. The DRE replicates the current process of dispute resolution in an online environment, removing constraints of time, expense and distance. The engine is a sequence of events utilizing Internet-based media technologies that are designed to resolve conflicts between two or more parties. The DRE enables the resolution of disputes by functioning as a middleware to connect the disparate business processes of attorneys, claimants and neutrals. The DRE permits the exchange of data between these business processes which would otherwise lack the technology interfaces essential to working together electronically. The engine, centralized through VirtualCourthouse.com™, is the electronic “glue” that binds these users of otherwise unrelated systems into a virtual private data and business process network.

The Internet creates an online marketplace for dispute resolution by bringing together parties with disputes and neutrals seeking a storefront for their services. Registered users are able to visit the “virtual” court 24/7, review the docket and conduct any proceedings under way. Lawyers are able to check on the status of their cases, view documents and make filings at any time. Case administration for the parties and the neutral by a case administrator is minimized as case administration activities are automated through the virtual private data and business process network

 

How Can ODR Help ADR?

ODR promises to enable ADR to become more efficient, faster and less expensive. By achieving those three improvements ODR will make ADR a real alternative to a greater number of disputes thereby bringing all of the advantages of ADR to a greater number of people. An examination of the ADR process and barriers to ADR will allow a deeper examination of the potential of ODR. The ADR process usually unfolds this way:

One party decides to pursue ADR, an existing agreement requires it, or a court or other authority requires it;

A neutral is selected. (This can be by suggestion and negotiation of the parties, identification of the neutral in an exiting agreement, or appointment of the neutral by a court or other authority);

The parties provide the neutral with written documentation of their respective positions;

An ADR session is scheduled;

An ADR session is held and conducted; and

A decision or report is rendered by the neutral.

 

Each of these steps can be automated by technology and the Internet. The goal of ODR is to reduce the time and cost of each step thereby making it available to greater number of people.

 

Change, Not Technology

The adoption of technology by businesses and individuals over the last two decades is astounding. Just 10 years ago managers of the nation’s largest law firms were struggling to get their lawyers to put computers on their desks and then actually use them. One manager of a firm found a creative strategy. He announced at a firm meeting that he was conducting a pilot to determine how best to use a computer in the practice. He was going to conduct the pilot with the 10 brightest lawyers in the firm. Anyone who was interested was advised to call his office. One by one, every lawyer in the firm called, and as soon as they did, a computer showed up on each lawyer’s desk. Adoption of the computer in the everyday life of that firm was well underway.

Today only a few laggards in the legal profession fail to use a computer. Interestingly enough, the leaders are not always the younger generations as many senior lawyers lead the way. Take Judge Richard Rombro, a retired Judge in Maryland (having been forced to retire because the Constitution requires retirement at age 70). Judge Rombro managed the entire asbestos docket for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City using Lexis-Nexis File and Serve—sometimes even from his winter office in Florida. The legal profession has fully embraced technology including the Internet to help become better lawyers. Those who have not embraced technology are losing the competitive battle.

So why is it that disputes are still largely resolved with a dependency on paper and face-to-face meetings? It is all about change. Old ways are not put aside easily. Who hasn’t heard a lawyer say, “I know that is the way it will be done in the future, but I am not going to change now.”

Change requires strong and great leadership. And great leaders always have a vision, a strategy, and they are enthusiastic and work really hard. I learned these attributes of leadership from basketball great Jim Valvano. I was riding in my car to a Maryland basketball game against North Carolina State listening to Johnny Holiday’s pre-game radio show. Johnny was interviewing the State coach Jim Valvano. Valvano had just won a National Championship the year before. Shortly into the interview Johnny ask Coach Valvano what his secret to success was. Coach Valvano said rather nonchalantly and quickly, “Well Johnny you have to have a vision, then a strategy and you have to be enthusiastic, then you have to work like crazy to make sure that you accomplish the vision.” Coach Valvano said that his vision was to win the game on a shot at the buzzer. His strategy was to get to the last two minutes of the game no more than six points down. He was sure that his team could play strong enough defense in the final two minutes to make sure the other team did not score and he was sure his team could execute and score over that relatively short period of time. Sure enough over the years Coach Valvano executed his plan for success and he wound up being one of the most successful coaches. His life was cut short by a tragic and fatal fight with cancer, but the coach never gave up. His lesson and legacy will live on for years. Valvano’s formula for success has four parts: vision, strategy, enthusiasm, and work. In developing a strategy it is essential to identify the barriers. The following are but a few:

The neutral “needs to see the parties”;

Scanning and uploading documents;

“It’s easier to do it the old way:; and

“My computer is too slow.”

 

As VirtualCourthouse approaches the 1,000th case filing it has become obvious that ODR requires adoption by three separate constituencies—the claimant, the respondent and the neutral. Much like a stool, if one leg is absent the stool falls. Thus, the challenge of change is multiplied or as the mathematician might say—“cubed.”

Most all practitioners have successfully overcome the barriers to change which were presented with the advent of court ordered ADR in the 1990’s. The benefits have become obvious: time savings, cost savings and “resolution satisfaction.” Yet the court dockets keep growing so much more remains to be accomplished.

Students of the dynamics of change will testify that change does not occur unless there is leadership, strategy, and management. Over the past four years VirtualCourthouse has demonstrated that technology can elevate ADR to higher levels, but it requires the participation of all three legs of the stool: the claimant, respondent, and neutral. Leadership is key and the leaders in each constituency are stepping forward as the pioneer’s did and they are establishing new territory.

Eric Frye, a lawyer in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, continues to file his cases in VirtualCourthouse before he files in Court. Jeff Wigodsky with Karp Frosh, in Washington, D.C. has successfully adopted the same policy. Several insurance claims department have successfully integrated VirtualCourthouse into their claims examiner training process. The neutrals have had an easier time adopting as Judge Vincent Femia, Alan Feld and Cy Pickens will attest. The common denominator with all of these folks is their ability test the vision of VirtualCourthouse and overcome the reluctance to change.

Most people are risk-averse and they therefore resist change. “I have been doing just fine without all of this technology” is a familiar refrain. However, the evidence now is overwhelming that ODR will pay significant dividends to those willing to give it a try. The VirtualCourthouse team does a formal evaluation on every case filing and the results are truly exceptional. Over 90 percent of those responding are “very satisfied”—a “5” on a five-point scale—with VirtualCourthouse as a method of dispute resolution. About 90 percent are also “very satisfied” with the customer service. Now this does not mean that everyone is thrilled with the result, because as in all dispute resolution, expectations are not always achieved. And yes, there are occasional “technological” glitches and challenges. But that is where the ODR provider excels by its experience in overcoming these challenges. Even in the “paper world” not all is perfect and there are occasional problems and challenges to overcome. Who hasn’t had the experience of a paper file that has been lost or destroyed or a letter that was somehow lost in transit?

 

WHAT WORKS BEST IN ODR? • In developing a strategy to successfully implement an ODR project it is helpful to analyze what has been successful. What is becoming clear is that certain case criteria lend themselves to online activity, while other criteria lend themselves to the physical or “bricks-and-mortar” world.

Online activity works best when there are only two parties and when the substance of the dispute is only monetary. ODR also has been effective when the dispute arises out of Internet commerce. ODR is difficult when there are many parties, the substance of the dispute is emotional or there is a large amount of money in controversy.

Square Trade has handled thousands of disputes which have arisen between the buyer and seller of goods on eBay. Using this online solution a neutral mediates the dispute in an online chat format. While Square Trade no longer offers ODR for eBay it demonstrated that ODR is a viable and effective alternative.

Cybersettle has successfully settled thousands of disputes, mainly involving personal-injury claims. Using the Cybersettle online process, the parties submit blind monetary demands and offers and agree that if they are within certain limits the case is settled at the midpoint of the last demand and offer.

The American Arbitration Association has settled several thousand cases digitally, but it still remains a very small percentage of the AAA caseload.

VirtualCourthouse.com™ has successfully settled hundreds of personal-injury, real estate, construction and contract claims through an online binding arbitration process. The parties select a neutral though an online negotiation. Once the neutral is selected each party presents their case online – uploading supporting medical bills, doctor reports, pictures and other relevant evidence. The neutral then reviews the presentations and renders a binding decision.

Neutral-Focused ODR Providers

Services like VirtualCourthouse.com specialize in providing neutrals a market place in addition to taking the parties through the entire ODR process. VirtualCourthouse.com comes closer to mimicking the actual court process than most of the services outlined above. VirtualCourthouse allow exhibits and supporting materials to be submitted electronically and case information is shared among the parties and the assigned neutral in a secure environment. The lowest cost for a simple case brought to VirtualCourthouse.com is less than $400.When shared by the parties that results in a dispute resolved for $200 a major cost saving to either ADR or court.

Mediate.com is a site that helps one locate a mediator in a particular geographical area and practice type. Unlike the VirtualCourthouse.com outlined above, Mediate.com does not offer a Web interface to enable one’s case to be submitted and adjudicated online.

 

Paper-Based Organizations In Transition

The American Arbitration Association offers a lot of information on their Website, including PDF forms. You have the ability to file your case electronically through AAA Webfile. The AAA offers both mediation and arbitration services and is the oldest ADR organization outside of the courts in the U.S.

JAMS, founded by Hon. H. Warren Knight in 1979, provide mediation and arbitration services across the country. They specialize in a variety of claims including bankruptcy, mass tort and international. The JAMS Website allows the visitor to file an initial claim and select a location and neutral. But beyond that, JAMS does not offer the automated case monitoring that the other services outlined above do.

 

Regional ADR Service Providers

There are several regional ADR providers, like ADR Systems of America, LLC, headquartered in Chicago. ADR Systems has many retired Cook County Circuit Court judges on their roster of neutrals and specialize in complex personal injury cases. The ADR Systems’ Web interface is limited but they focus on being a regional provider and therefore the need for automation is not quite as great as in a case involving geographically diverse parties.

Other ODR Providers

The ElectronicCourthouse.com, run by a Canadian company called iVentures, provides services to companies that must offer dispute resolution. They specialize in companies that manufacture and distribute internationally.

 

Developing A Successful Strategy

Transferring an existing process from the bricks-and-mortar world to the Internet is a daunting undertaking. The process is fraught with barriers of change involving multiple parties and multiple processes. Developing a strategic approach is therefore essential. It is similar to “eating an elephant”: You do not want to plan this event for one meal or you will surely fail. You need to start small but you need to start. It is necessary to strategically identify a starting point where the existing barriers are not overwhelming and where efficiencies of online business will bring the greatest bottom line result.

 

CONCLUSION • The last 50 years have seen enormous growth in the use of ADR. The growth has been championed and led by the judges and the lawyers of the many state courts. Judges have led the way by incorporating ADR in case-flow management, adopting standards and criteria for the certification of neutrals. Lawyers have led the way by forming professional organizations and adopting ethical standards. ODR promises to take ADR to the next level: meeting the dispute resolution needs of a greater number of people in a way that is both faster and less expensive. By using a technologically sophisticated process over which they have substantial control, litigants will have greater confidence in the legal community and experience a higher level of justice.

 

 

PRACTICE CHECKLIST FOR

What You Should Know About Online Dispute Resolution

The ability of technology—especially the Internet—to make many business processes more efficient is now making it clear that online dispute resolution (ODR) is the next frontier of ADR.

 

The VirtualCourthouse dispute resolution process models a court dispute resolution process delivered on the Internet using Web-based technologies:

__ A case is initiated and a list of Neutrals is selected and the Neutrals are ranked;

__ A system generated email is sent to the other party, inviting them to join the case;

__ The other party joins the case and a Neutral is agreed upon;

__ The Neutral reviews the case initiation, and sends an email to both parties, confirming the type of proceeding and the fees;

__ The claimant prepares a case presentation and uploads the scanned documents into the online case;

__ Once complete, a system generated email is sent to the respondent, advising them the claimant has completed their presentation, and now it is time for them to submit their case presentation;

__ Once the case presentations are complete, a system generated email is sent to the Neutral advising them to review the evidence and render a decision;

__ Once reviewed, a verdict is submitted online, and a system generated email is sent to both parties notifying them a verdict has been rendered.

 

The VirtualCourthouse Dispute Resolution Engine (DRE) is a combination of multimedia technologies and business processes, integrated with a customer-friendly user interface. The DRE replicates the current process of dispute resolution in an online environment, removing constraints of time, expense, and distance. The engine is a sequence of events utilizing Internet-based media technologies that are designed to resolve conflicts between two or more parties.

 

ODR works best when there are only two parties and when the substance of the dispute is only monetary. ODR also has been effective when the dispute arises out of Internet commerce. ODR is difficult when there are many parties, the substance of the dispute is emotional or there is a large amount of money in controversy. Providers include:

__ Square Trade;

__ Cybersettle;

__ The American Arbitration Association;

__ VirtualCourthouse.com™ (which comes closest to mimicking the actual court process);

__ Mediate.com;

__ JAMS;

__ ADR Systems of America, LLC;

__ The ElectronicCourthouse.com, run by a Canadian company called iVentures.

 

This Article First appeared in Practical Litigator – March 2009

 

Hon. Arthur M. Monty Ahalt served as an associate judge on the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, Maryland from 1982 until his retirement in 1999. He served that court in many capacities including civil case management coordinator. Since his retirement he has been recalled to sit on specially assigned trials. He also is an active mediator, arbitrator and neutral case evaluator and serves as CEO of VirtualCourthouse.com™. For more detailed information see http://montyahalt.com/aboutmontyahalt.html. Substantial portions of this article have been previously published at the 2008 American Bar Association Tech Show presentation On Line Dispute Resolution Where We Have Been and Where We Are Going, by Judge Arthur M Monty Ahalt (ret.) and David Glynn. See www.MontyAhalt.com.

Unleashing Creative Dispute Resolution by Enabling Neutrals Creativity – Online

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Unleashing Creative Dispute Resolution by Enabling Neutrals Creativity – Online

By Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt (Ret.) and David W. Puckett

“Paving the cow path leads to new cows and new paths” – anonymous

Introduction. If you are a neutral and are not interested in being creative in helping your clients resolve their differences then this article is not for you. The parties are only interested in the most creative and effective neutrals. And it applies to computer aided dispute resolution as well as computer generated dispute resolution.

The dispute resolution universe is enormous and very diverse. After all it encompasses all human undertaking. The importance of resolving a dispute is as old as mankind. It only took 40 days for the Israelites after being rescued from the ravages of tyranny to begin arguing among themselves and seeking Moses’ wisdom in resolving their differences. The key 3,000 years ago is still the key today. Seek a wise person immediately and if necessary stand in line to get the matter resolved. As Barney Fife would say “nip it in the bud”. In today’s’ complicated world disputes find their way into every activity and the wisdom of judges and the courts cannot keep up with the pace of dispute creation. And the traditional institutional forms of dispute resolution of family, church and school have slowly disintegrated. Alternatives to the courthouse – courtroom and juries and judges have thus become a necessity, but the process is still too slow, too time consuming and too expensive. Alternative dispute resolution comes to the rescue but is bound by the same structure and process – buildings, rooms, paper and words. The creative neutral needs to be liberated from the constraints of the physical world. Their creativity is unleashed by the same dynamics that have transformed the business, educational, communication world – the computer – the mobile device -the Internet and now the cloud.
Because of the diverse nature of human activity the subject matter of disputes is likewise diverse. One only needs to take a look at the courts’ docket to see this diversity up close. But the diversity does allow for some logical groupings
1. Family
2. Personal Injury
3. Property
4. Business

Generally speaking different alternative approaches work better than others in each grouping. One size does not fit all. Evolving approaches include
1. Facilitative mediation
2. Evaluative mediation
3. Transformative mediation
4. Neutral case evaluation
5. Arbitration
The communities’ response to festering disputes has been a top down motivation. Disputes fester long enough so the parties resort to lawyers and courts. However there are not enough judges to bring resolution in a timely fashion. Faced with these realities courts command the parties to mediate as a condition to getting a trial date. Knowing this, lawyers coach their clients into pre-court activities or bottom up activities. And bottom up motivation is increasing as parties and their lawyers recognize that sooner is better than later when it comes to dispute resolution.

Typically a neutral (mediator/arbitrator) is trained in the paper -”bricks and mortar” – world where all matters are conducted with the use of paper and face to face communications. A neutral is trained to allow the parties to meet together so that the neutral can explain the nature of the mediating process and set the stage for mediating activities. The neutral then designs a process that allows and facilitates private discussions with each party. The design of the process is the product of the neutrals experience, creativity and the input of the parties. Traditional mediation trains a neutral to hold a series of separate and private face-to-face neutral led discussions.

In the first session the neutral focuses on achieving the following – gather information, identify interests, generate options, anticipate the other parties concerns, isolate areas of disagreement, and explore multiple options.
In the second and subsequent sessions the neutral encourages the parties in separate sessions to focus on the future not the past, test feasibility of solutions, focus on best and worst alternatives. In the final session the neutral makes sure there is a complete, clear, mutual understanding that brings closure to all issues.

Typically the neutral attempts to accomplish these tasks in one meeting lasting several hours to ten plus hours and multiple days. The overall task of the neutral is to keep the parties from drawing lines and to stay engaged in alternative solutions. Once the parties leave the physical meeting place it is extremely difficult to get them back together. The physical nature of the forum becomes a part of the process. It even identifies the process. So when the meeting place is not present the parties struggle to stay focused on the mediation process. It is therefore key to replace the physical conference room as the place of the commencement of mediation. Not that a physical place can’t play a role – it just can’t be THE Role.

Successful neutrals are good at designing creative methods to keep the parties engaged in a process while preventing the parties from “walking out” on the process emotionally and physically. Creative neutrals are constantly coming up with the “what’s new” factor. In the physical world it is difficult to prevent the parties from “walking out” on the process. Not so in the virtual world. The evolving tools available to the neutral in the virtual world however, are difficult to find, to understand and to figure out how to make them available to the parties.
But the parties and the neutrals have not adopted the virtual world and ODR. WHY?

It is All about Change Not Technology – Overcoming Barriers
The adoption of technology by businesses and individuals over the last two decades is astounding. Today only a few laggards in the legal profession fail to make use of the PC. Interestingly enough, the leaders are not always the younger generations as many senior lawyers lead the way. Take Judge Richard Rombro, a retired Judge in Maryland (having been forced to retire because the Constitution requires retirement at age 70). Judge Rombro managed the entire asbestos docket for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City using Lexis-Nexis File and Serve – sometimes even from his winter office in Florida. The legal profession has fully embraced technology including the Internet in order to become better lawyers. Those who have not embraced technology are losing the competitive battle.
So why is it that disputes are still mainly resolved with a dependency on paper and face-to-face meetings? It is all about change. Old ways are not put aside easily. Who hasn’t heard a lawyer say – “I know that is the way it will be done in the future, but I am not going to change now.”
Change requires strong and great leadership. And great leaders always have a vision, a strategy, and they are enthusiastic and work really hard.
In developing a strategy it is essential to identify the barriers. The following are but a few:
The neutral needs to see the parties
Scanning and uploading documents
It is easier to do it the old way
My computer is too slow

As ODR enters its second decade, it requires adoption by three separate constituencies – the claimant, the respondent and the neutral. Much like a stool with three legs, if one leg is absent the stool falls. Thus, the challenge of change is multiplied or as the mathematician might say – “cubed”. Most all practitioners have successfully overcome the barriers to change, which were presented with the advent of court ordered ADR in the 1990’s. The benefits have become obvious – time savings, cost savings and “resolution satisfaction”. Yet the court dockets keep growing – so – much more remains to be accomplished.

Students of the dynamics of change will testify that change does not occur unless there is;
1. Leadership
2. Strategy
3. Management

Transferring an existing process from the bricks-and-mortar world to the Internet is a daunting undertaking. The process is fraught with barriers of change involving multiple parties and multiple processes. Developing a strategic approach is therefore essential. It is similar to “eating and elephant” – you do not want to plan this event for one meal or you will surely fail. You need to start small but you need to start. It is necessary to strategically identify a starting point where the existing barriers are not overwhelming and where efficiencies of online business will bring the greatest bottom line result.

Start Now Before the Technology Overtakes You
The speed of technological change is now “warp speed” . According to Joshua Topolsky editor-in-chief of the Verge “What will happen over the next few years in user interface design and decentralized cloud systems will make the previous 20 years seem tame by comparison. We’ve crossed over from a long, slow evolution to an explosive revolution in what a computer is and how you use it – and there’s no looking back.” But Topolsky is not alone as the financial community is planning ahead and quantifying activity for the next several years. As the biggest maker of networking equipment, Cisco has a good view of what the future of the online data boom looks like. It even employs a “Chief Futurist” to help guide its business.

Right now, Cisco is laying out the numbers for 2015 (less than four years away). By 2015:
• Internet traffic will quadruple, reaching 966 exabytes of data per year. (An exabyte is an amount of data roughly equal to a billion medium-quality movie downloads.)
• There will be a total of 15 billion network-connected devices in the world (two per person).
• Internet users will reach 3 billion – roughly 40% of the global population.
• Average broadband speeds will increase fourfold from current levels.

Those are just the basic “big picture” numbers. Cisco also confirmed the enormous trend in mobile devices… gadgets like smartphones and tablet computers. In 2015, traffic from wireless devices will exceed traffic from wired devices. (Today, wireless makes up just 37% of traffic.)
• Global mobile data traffic in 2015 will be 26 times higher than 2010.

These enormous growth rates are happening because of two factors. First, the entire world is becoming connected. Nearly a billion people in China and India will be using the Internet. Meanwhile, the fastest growth is in Latin America, where traffic is expected to increase at an annual rate of 50% over the next four years.

The second big factor is video. Unlike the average Microsoft Word document, videos are huge files. Internet video is currently about 40% of online traffic. That percentage will rise to more than 60% by 2015. (Does this unequivocally demonstrate the human factor appeal of real time pictures)

Dave Evans, Cisco’s “Chief Futurist,” summed up the explosion in traffic by noting that it took 200 years to fill the U.S. Library of Congress. He pointed out that Internet users now create the equivalent amount of digital data every two minutes.

In February Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, announced “The PC is Dead” – see you tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S80hf4kp25c – and then in August Google purchased Motorola.

How Can Change Help the Mediator/Neutral – Adopting new ways should be natural to the creative neutral that is always searching for a way to keep the parties from drawing lines and reaching an impasse. Creativity equals success in the “case closed/dispute over” statistics column. The successful neutral will immerse themselves into technology in order to help folks reach finality quicker and cheaper.
Direct all Activities Online. Confidentiality demands that all information relating to a dispute to be mediate be segregated in such a fashion that no other individuals have access to any information concerning the mediation. The best place to accomplish this level of confidentiality is in a secure mediation case file, which can only be accessed by the parties counsel and the mediator/neutral. Online dispute resolution providers provide such confidentiality – outside of the firewalls of law firms, businesses and individuals.

Adopt Currently Existing Technology. Even prior to the term Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), practitioners of mediation where using the standard multi-party conference call in the process of mediation. Synchronous and asynchronous discussion web technologies have been successfully employed. But many more technologies are quickly becoming available. Dr. Ted Becker, today a professor at Auburn University, recalls the Community Mediation Center on campus at the University of Hawaii in the early 80’s, using conferencing calls exclusively in the mediation process successfully. Most citizens have likely used the telephone many times to resolve disputes of various types. And video is becoming a common family event with the likes of Skype and Facetime.

The Conference Call. Today, with major technology advances in the world of telephony, IP phones that leverage the Internet for making calls has reduced the cost around national and even international calls to a minimal cost. Phones have very advance features today; even personal computers and smart phones can be leveraged in muti-party conference calls. Just this past semester, the Residential Institute at Nova Southeastern University conflict resolution class held a 3-party conference call with two different tribes in Cameroon, leveraging mediators on campus in Ft. Lauderdale working as neutrals to resolve a complex generational conflict between two tribes.

In the original days of conference calling dedicated equipment was required. It was rare when a board or conference room did not have a big centralize conference phone device in the center of the table. However, today it is much easier and most phones including cell phones enable a conference-calling feature. Conference calling across the state, country or internationally used to involve expensive long-distance charges or dedicated toll-free 800 numbers, however today several vendors offer IP based conferencing for free. Cell phones have all but eliminated long-distance phone bills.
Examples of current conference call providers
1. Free Conference Call.com.
2. Nocostconference.com
3. instantconference.com
4. rondee.com
5. budgetcall.com

Web Based Video Meeting Technology. For more than a decade corporations have been leveraging electronic meeting technology across the Internet for very important internal and external meetings. And, the technology is used for sales and new product announcements. This technology is very easy to access and use. All that is needed is an Internet connection (fixed or wireless) and a web-enabled device like a PC, Pad or Smart Phone. The systems include the ability for multi-party participation and all participants have the ability to talk and see video and/or other documentation on the screen as the conference is being hosted. This technology is so common, easy to use and widespread that nationally focused businesses are using it to reduce corporate travel, extend their reach to their partners and to communicate directly to their customers. The ODR industry is just begining to use this technology today. The business related applications of these technologies are easy to use and can host more than 200 active simultaneous connections – far more than needed in a typical mediation or arbitration secession.

The dispute resolution community has been reluctant to adapt these technologies in the mediation and arbitration processes. This reluctance has persisted for several reasons. First, at least three different users have to have the same technology in order to participate. This at times seems almost unachievable. Second, the quality and stability of the voice or video has not reached a level where the parties feel like Video Conferencing technology is stable. Pad computers have front facing cameras. PC’s have webcams integrated and in the very near future smart phones will have the same front facing camera. Wide spread video conferencing including multiple party video will become common place and there will be platforms offered by most major technology vendors. Just in the last year, we have seen Microsoft acquire Skype. Most industry insider’s project that Microsoft is going to have to develop commercial business applications for the use of this technology to turn a profit. So in the very near future, ODR providers will leverage multiple party video technologies and integrate them into their ODR platforms and services. Major advances will occur over the next several years as the number of people who have broadband, and video enabled phones, pads and PCs increases dramatically.

Examples of currently available video services include the following.

1. Go-to-Meeting
2. Adobe – Connect –
3. Webex.
4. Iocom – Visimeet
5. Skype
6. Accuconference.
7. Logitech – LifeSize
8. ooVoo

These and many others include a growing variety of collaboration tools including white boarding and plug-ins to support Microsoft Office and other documents formats. In the past these types of tools have come at a higher cost, but as competition and technology increase the cost is coming down.

Integration of all Activities. The challenge is combining audio, video and document collaboration/document management in a user-friendly application that easily facilitates the parties to communicate in a fashion that results in an agreement. The goal is to ensure the systems are easy to use and empowers the neutral to control the environment like they might control a conference room today. There is no question that the technology community is up to this challenge.

Conclusion: Stay turned for major new advancements in ODR from the major technology vendors. These systems are likely to be outside the traditional legal or ADR industries. There will be portals, platforms and services with capabilities to bring people together instantly and virtually to resolve conflicts. The practice of bringing the partners together with the neutral is only one part of the process. You will soon see case management, document management, time keeping, billing and accounting for neutrals. But that is a matter for another day and another article.

Expect ODR, to not be a competitor to the traditional legal system, but a partner and an alternative platform for conflict resolution of the future.

How Can Change Help the Mediator/Neutral – Adopting new ways should be natural to the creative neutral that is always searching for a way to keep the parties from drawing lines and reaching an impasse. Creativity equals success in the “case closed/dispute over” statistics column. The successful neutral will immerse themselves into technology in order to help folks reach finality quicker and cheaper.

by By Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt (Ret.) and David W. Puckett – February , 2012

Judge Ahalt is CEO of VirtualCourthouse.com. He is currently recalled as a Circuit Court Judge and serves private parties as a mediator and arbitrator in personal injury, professional malpractice, commercial, real estate, construction and electronic discovery disputes. www . montyahalt .com

 

David W. Puckett is currently a graduate student in Conflict Resolution/Mediation at Nova Southeastern University. He has been a professional in the IT consulting industry for more than 20+ year including founding and managing domestic and international practices for a Big 4 consultancy. As a Technology Evangelist, his primary focus is Corporate Performance Optimization assessments focused on Cloud Computing, SaaS/PaaS/IaaS and Business Transformation Services. http://www.linkedin.com/in/davepuckett

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This Article was first published in the February 2012 Practical Lawyer a publication of ALI-ABA

http://www.ali-aba.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=publications.periodical&pub=PL

Introduction. If you are a neutral and are not interested in being creative in helping your clients resolve their differences then this article is not for you. The parties are only interested in the most creative and effective neutrals. And it applies to computer aided dispute resolution as well as computer generated dispute resolution.

 

What is On-Line Dispute Resolution ? What is ODR ?

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What is On-Line Dispute Resolution ?
What is ODR ?
Online Dispute Resolution provides the ability for two (or more) disparate parties to settle their dispute using the Internet. Sometimes this involves lawyers and mediators and sometimes it does not. It depends on the vehicle/provider that the parties agree to utilize to dispute their claim.

Traditional cases can be settled using the Internet, but the most common use these days involves disputes that have come out of the business of the Internet, e.g., Square Trade, used by eBay to mediate eBay trading disputes online and ICANN, the internet domain registration coordinator, vehicle for settling disputes over rights to domain names.

Outside of the embedded ODR vehicles that eBay and ICANN provide, there are several different models of dispute resolution provided by public and private entities. Some simply assist with negotiation and some completely automate negotiation where an arbitrator or mediator is not required. When arbitrators and mediators are involved, the systems are more sophisticated and many times representation will also take place either before the process starts or during the preliminary stages of the process.

Some ODR systems provide weight balancing mechanisms on terms. This will assist parties with analyzing the disparity between the parties and offer hints as to how the parties can attempt to meet half-way. Sometimes when one sees a more scientific presentation of the facts, it may make it easier to come to terms. This indeed may be one of the strengths of ODR over traditional ADR and will play out as a future feature of ODR systems.

Calculating the BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) for a party after they submit their claim may help to overcome the strongest psychological barrier that drives the party to dispute resolution in the first place. According to de Vries, Berend R., Ronald E. Leenes & John Zeleznikow of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, in their article entitled, “Fundamentals of Providing Negotiation Advice Online: the Need for Developing BATNAs” iv, most parties have an unrealistic view of the potential outcome of their case. Weight balancing of negotiation points could play a key role in the future of ODR.- More Detail

Wikipedia

by Judge Arthur Monty Ahalt – November 19,2009

VirtualCourthouse Overcomes ADR Resistance

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VirtualCourthouse Overcomes ADR Resistance
How Do I Persuade My Opponent to Participate in a Mediation or Arbitration?
Persuading an opponent to participate in mediation or agree to binding arbitration is often very difficult. More times than not, when a party suggests binding arbitration, it is received in an adversarial context. After all, the adversary/opponent has suggested or broached the subject –how could that be good news? Is the suggestion a sign of weakness or fear of litigation? Or, is my opponent trying to get an advantage? For that very reason, the answer is most often no.

To overcome this negative reaction, the VirtualCourthouse team has experienced that time and again, a Neutral party, representing the process, can pave the way. Isn’t that precisely what happens when a Judge suggests that the parties consider an alternative, such as mediation or arbitration, to going to court?

VirtualCourthouse, which represents and advocates for the process and is neutral, can assist you. VirtualCourthouse and the VirtualCourthouse team adds a new element to the persuasion processes. Consider this; the VirtualCourthouse team is a neutral organization representing the values of mediation and arbitration without having a stake in the dispute.

Many VirtualCourthouse attorneys have found that instead of suggesting mediation or arbitration to their opponent, they’ve had success in letting VirtualCourthouse send an invitation for them. It keeps them out of the loop. And your part is easy! The only thing you need to do is start your case with VirtualCourthouse and select three suggested Neutrals from the list. The VirtualCourthouse team does the rest.

10 VirtualCourthouse Values.
1. Sends a formal invitation by letter.
2. Sends a formal invitation by e-mail.
3. Follows up with a telephone call.
4. Explains the benefits of Arbitration/Mediation and VirtualCourthouse.
5. Advocates the advantages of the alternative dispute resolution process.
6. Emphasizes the VirtualCourthouse team’s neutrality.
7. Reduces the opportunity for your opponent to say NO to you in a negotiation.
8. Maintains an official record of your desire to be fair by offering a neutral resolution.
9. Keeps records of all of your offers – to all parties – a value to use over time.
10. Saves money and time for your client; show your client that you are on the cutting edge advocating for them.

You’ve probably been there before. When building a strategy to persuade your opponent, put yourself in their shoes. Consider and address each main factor which motivates a desire to mediate/ arbitrate.
1. Reality of pending court proceedings.
2. Cost of court proceedings – attorneys fees, time away from work or business.
3. Time required by court proceedings – a dispute hanging over a party is emotionally draining.
4. Availability of numerous qualified neutrals from which to choose.
5. Reasonable cost of a neutral and the alternative process.

As you consider each factor quantify the cost. If it is greater fees – how much? If it is more time – How long? Not only will this analysis help you and your client and it will also help your opponent be more receptive to the invitation sent by VirtualCourthouse.

Join VirtualCourthouse Groups on Linkedin and Facebook
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by Judge Arthru M. Monty Ahalt ( Ret.) – November 6, 2009

50 Years of Alternative Dispute Resolution

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50 Years of Alternative Dispute Resolution
A Transition from the 20th Century to the 21st Century

History of ADR

Most judges and lawyers date alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to the early 1900’s with the advent of the American Arbitration Association and other institutional forms of arbitration. However, arbitration dates to early Biblical times with one of the first noted arbitrators King Solomon. Even earlier, arbitration was used as a method to resolve territorial disputes. In England arbitration was a common means of commercial dispute resolution predating the common law as early as the 1200’s.

George Washington, the nation’s first president, had an arbitration clause in his will requiring any dispute regarding an interpretation of the will to be decided by a panel of three arbitrators. His will stated that the decision was as final and binding as any decision of the Supreme Court.

Perhaps the most common form of dispute resolution, arbitration, was used to resolve labor disputes. This form of dispute resolution was codified by acts of congress and many state legislatures and today is incorporated into most labor collective bargaining agreements. Almost every commercial contract contains an arbitration provision. Also, many form contracts produced by industry specialty groups such as boards of realtors contain arbitration or mediation provisions.

Mediation has also been applied to assist individuals and countries resolve disputes for thousands of years. Through many seasons its use diminished and then later became common place.

Remarkably, neither form of dispute resolution was recognized in any consistent definitional form. It was not until the second half of the 20th Century when the legal community began to focus on trial court delay, that the different forms of dispute resolution began to be defined in commonly accepted ways. The acronym ADR did not become commonly used until the 1980s.

Impact of Trial Court Delay

Trial court delay did not begin overnight, but crept into state courts over several decades – beginning in the 1960s and reaching crisis proportion in the 1980s. In many metropolitan courts it was normal for parties to wait 4 and 5 years for a trial. The American Bar Association, the Conference of Chief Judges and the National Center for State Courts responded to the crisis of delay with commissions such as –
1. ABA Commission on Standards of Judicial Administration, Standards Relating to Trial Courts ( 1975)
2. National Conference of State Trial Judges, Court Delay Reduction Standards (1985)
3. Lawyers Conference Task Force of Litigation Cost and Delay, Defeating Delay: Developing and Implementing a Court Delay Reduction Program (1986)
These commissions and many others, after study and broad input, recommended many reforms. Chief among the reforms was the insertion of ADR into case management systems and processes.

Caseflow Management in Trial Courts

As the reforms began to be studied and implemented, experience was gained and some principles evolved. The center piece of the caseflow management principles became measurement. So it was said that a complete caseflow management information system should provide at least the following –
1. Measures of activity
2. Measures of inventory
3. Measures of delay
4. Measures of case scheduling accuracy
5. Evaluation measures; and
6. Individual case progress information.

As trial courts began to measure the key components affecting delay they discovered that a certain percentage of cases were resolved at each step in the process. Steps in the process varied from court to court but usually contained the following –
1. Discovery cut off
2. Settlement conference
3. Pre-trial
4. Trial

ADR in the Trial Courts

Gradually, the court and the organized bar realized that an additional step requiring ADR would further increase the case resolutions before trial – and so the caseflow process took a different look
1. Discovery cut off
2. ADR
3. Settlement conference
4. Pretrial
5. Trial

Many trial courts began to experiment with different forms of ADR and from those early experiments definitions and standards evolved (and are still evolving in some courts).Two of the most successful court ADR programs took different approaches yet have had a very significant impact not only on court based ADR activities but also non-court based ADR activities. First, the Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
Washington, DC and second, MACRO the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office of the Courts of Maryland .
Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division of the Superior Court of Washington D.C. was the result of an experimental program motivated in part by the American Bar Association and the National Center for State Courts in 1985.Today, the Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division maintains a staff of 22 full-time employees to administer its recruitment and training programs, intake and referral program, small claims mediation program, family and community mediation program, child protection mediation program, landlord and tenant mediation program, probate mediation program, tax assessment mediation program and civil mediation, arbitration and case evaluation programs. Most actual mediations and arbitrations are done by 300 independent, court certified neutrals, who are paid by the court. The Division provided a neutral forum for dispute settlement in more than 6,100 matters in 2005

MACRO, a product of the Maryland ADR Commission of 1998 is a court-related agency, which serves as an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) resource for the state. MACRO supports innovative dispute resolution programs, and promotes the appropriate use of ADR in every field. MACRO works collaboratively with many others across the state to support efforts to advance effective conflict resolution practices in Maryland’s courts, communities, schools, state and local government agencies, criminal and juvenile justice programs and businesses.

Types of ADR
Arbitration
Arbitration means a process in which (1) the parties appear before one or more impartial neutrals / arbitrators and present evidence and argument supporting their respective positions, and (2) the neutrals / arbitrators render a decision in the form of an award that is binding. The parties may agree that the decision is not binding.
Mediation
Mediation means a process in which the parties work with one or more impartial neutrals / mediators who, without providing legal advice, assist the parties in reaching their own voluntary agreement for the resolution of the dispute or issues in the dispute.
Settlement Conference Facilitation
Both parties meet with an impartial Neutral, who will facilitate discussions between both parties to help the opposing parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement. The neutral will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case and help the parties analyze the risks associated with a trial. Sometimes, at the request of the parties, the neutral will offer an opinion regarding a likely verdict.
Neutral Case Evaluation
Neutral Case Evaluation means a process in which the parties and their attorneys present in summary fashion, evidence and arguments supporting their respective positions to a neutral. The neutral person renders an evaluation of their positions and an opinion as to the likely outcome of the dispute or issues in the dispute if the action is tried before a jury.

Rules of ADR

Most court rules contain provisions concerning the timing and compulsory requirements of ADR. All court rules and even some statutes mandate that the ADR activity be confidential to the parties and the neutral. Thus the court can never be privy to what the parties said or what their demand or offers were.

Compulsory or Voluntary

Some courts mandate that all parties participate in an ADR activity before a trial date is set – while others allow the parties to volunteer for a court sponsored ADR program. Most courts that mandate ADR allow the parties to petition the court to be relieved of the obligation upon a showing of good cause. The courts maintain a list of qualified neutrals and in most cases require the neutral to meet certain specified minimum qualifications.

Neutral Certification

Largely because the courts began to mandate ADR, a requirement that neutrals be certified evolved. Most courts maintain a list of qualified neutrals in various specialties i.e. family law, medical malpractice, and personal injury, complex civil and commercial litigation. If an individual desires to be placed on a court list of neutrals, most courts require the neutral to demonstrate their experience and successfully complete a 40 hour course on the principles of mediation. Certification requirements and procedures vary widely from state to state and even county to county and in many instances they are largely discretionary with the court although minimum standards are usually established in state wide court rules of procedure.

Private ADR

Bricks and Mortar

In the Internet age, paper based activities are generally referred to as “bricks – and – mortar”. Beginning in the mid 1990s arbitration and mediation began to increase dramatically. There are not any good sources which reliability report the national, state or regional number of ADR activities. It would be difficult to tabulate such numbers in part because of the confidential nature of ADR. Some national organizations, such as the American Arbitration Association do report their total activities – however, they are only a small piece of the total ADR pie.

The dramatic increase of ADR is perhaps best demonstrated by the formation of many professional groups and associations. The American Bar Association formed the Section of Alternative Dispute Resolution in1993 and with 17,000 current members it is one of the fastest growing sections. Most state bar associations and many local bar associations have formed similar sections and committees. Most organizations have By-Law provisions similar to those of the Maryland State Bar Associations Section of Alternative Dispute Resolution which provides –

To act to improve the administration of justice and the use of alternative dispute resolution processes throughout Maryland by study, research, reports and recommendations to the Governor of Maryland, the Maryland Legislature, the Court of Appeals of Maryland or to any other public official, legislative body, judiciary or judge, or any other governmental or public agency or body, and also the Association.

The American Bar Association, The Association of Conflict Resolution and the American Arbitration Association promulgated Model Standards of conduct for mediators.

Following the lead of the organized bar state rules committees have provided standards for alternative dispute resolution and requirements for certification and training.

Most all federal agencies and each branch of the armed services have formal alternative dispute resolution programs.

The Internet – Moving into the 21st Century

The ability of technology- especially the internet – to make many business processes more efficient is now making it clear that online dispute resolution is the next frontier of alternative dispute resolution. Courts have not yet adopted any form of Internet ADR. The internet promises to make more disputes reachable by ADR and to facilitate the resolution of disputes faster and at a lower cost. But like many shifts from paper to technology, a clear strategic pathway has yet to appear.

What is Online Dispute Resolution

Online Dispute Resolution provides the ability for two (or more) disparate parties to settle their dispute using the Internet. Sometimes this involves lawyers and mediators and sometimes it does not. It depends on the vehicle/provider that the parties agree to utilize to resolve their claim.

History of Online Dispute Resolution
The concept of on-line dispute resolution (ODR) has been discussed in academic circles since the mid 1990’s . Professor Ethan Katish was a leading researcher and developer of concepts of ODR. From 1997-1999, Professor Katish mediated a variety of disputes online, involving domain name/trademark issues, other intellectual property conflicts, disputes with Internet Service Providers, and others. In the spring of 1999, he supervised a project with the online auction site eBay, in which over 150 disputes were mediated during a two week period. During the summer of 1999, he co-founded Disputes.org, which later worked with eResolution to become one of four providers accredited by ICANN to resolve domain name disputes. He is also an adviser to SquareTrade.com, an Internet start-up focusing on online ADR. There are over 20 internet companies listed on the ODR.info site which provide ODR online services.

How Can ODR Help ADR?
Online dispute resolution (ODR) promises to enable alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to become more efficient, faster and less expensive. By achieving those three improvements ODR will make ADR a real alternative to a greater number of disputes thereby bringing all of the advantages of ADR to a greater number of people. An examination of the ADR process and barriers to ADR will allow a deeper examination of the potential of ODR.

It is All about Change Not Technology – Overcoming Barriers

The adoption of technology by businesses and individuals over the last two decades is astounding. Just 10 years ago managers of the nation’s largest law firms were struggling to get their lawyers to put a PC on their desk and then actually use it. One manager of a firm found a creative strategy. He announced at a firm meeting that he was conducting a pilot to determine how best to use a PC in the practice. He was going to conduct the pilot with the 10 brightest lawyers in the firm. Anyone who was interested was advised to call his office. One by one every lawyer in the firm called, and as soon as they did, a PC showed up on their desk. Adoption of the computer in the everyday life of that firm was well underway.

Today only a few laggards in the legal profession fail to make use of the PC. Interestingly enough the leaders are not always the younger generations as many senior lawyers lead the way. Take Judge Richard Rombro, a retired Judge in Maryland (having been forced to retire because the Constitution requires retirement at age 70). Judge Rombro managed the entire asbestos docket for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City using Lexis-Nexis File and Serve – sometimes even from his winter office in Florida. The legal profession has fully embraced technology including the Internet in order to become better lawyers. Those who have not embraced technology are losing the competitive battle.

So why is it that disputes are still mainly resolved with a dependency on paper and face-to-face meetings? It is all about change. Old ways are not put aside easily. Who hasn’t heard a lawyer say – “I know that is the way it will be done in the future, but I am not going to change now.”

Change requires strong and great leadership. And great leaders always have a vision, a strategy, and they are enthusiastic and work really hard.

In developing a strategy it is essential to identify the barriers. The following are but a few:
1. The neutral needs to see the parties
2. Scanning and uploading documents
3. It is easier to do it the old way
4. My computer is too slow

As ODR enters its second decade, it requires adoption by three separate constituencies – the claimant, the respondent and the neutral. Much like a stool, if one leg is absent the stool falls. Thus, the challenge of change is multiplied or as the mathematician might say – “cubed”.
Most all practitioners have successfully overcome the barriers to change which were presented with the advent of court ordered ADR in the 1990’s. The benefits have become obvious – time savings, cost savings and “resolution satisfaction”. Yet the court dockets keep growing – so – much more remains to be accomplished.

Students of the dynamics of CHANGE will testify that change does not occur unless there is;
1. Leadership
2. Strategy
3. Management

What works Best in ODR?
In developing a strategy to successfully implement an ODR project it is helpful to analyze what has been successful.
What has become clear is that certain case criteria lend themselves to online activity, while other criteria lend themselves to the paper and face to face world. Online activity works best when there are only two parties and where the substance of the dispute is only monetary. ODR also has been effective where the dispute arises out of Internet commerce. ODR is difficult when there are many parties, the substance of the dispute is emotional or there is a large amount of money in controversy.
Current ODR Providers
Business-to-Business/Online Enterprise ODR Models

Square Trade handled thousands of disputes which have arisen between the buyer and seller of goods on eBay. Using this online solution a neutral mediates the dispute in an online chat format. In May 2008, however, it discontinued its eBay ODR service.
Cybersettle has successfully settled thousands of disputes, mainly involving personal-injury claims. Using the Cybersettle online process, the parties submit blind monetary demands and offers and agree that if they are within certain limits the case is settled at the midpoint of the last demand and offer.

Neutral-Focused ODR Providers
VirtualCourthouse.com™ has successfully settled hundreds of personal-injury, contract and real estate claims through an online binding arbitration process. The parties select a neutral though an online negotiation. Once the neutral is selected each party presents their case online – uploading supporting medical bills, doctor reports, pictures and other relevant evidence. The neutral then reviews the presentations and renders a binding decision.

VirtualCourthouse.com specializes in providing neutrals a market place for their services in addition to taking the parties through the entire ODR process. VirtualCourthouse.com comes closer to mimicking the actual court process than most of the services outlined above. They allow exhibits and supporting materials to be submitted electronically and case information is shared among the parties and the assigned neutral in a secure environment. The lowest cost for a simple case brought to VirtualCourthouse.com is less than $400. VirtualCourthouse provides an independent forum by enabling parties to select qualified neutrals (typically judges or attorneys with specific experience), submit digitized materials, schedule an ADR event and track other activities throughout the effort to resolve the claim.
The VirtualCourthouse.com™ story tracks the experience of a trial judge. The VirtualCourthouse dispute resolution process models a court dispute resolution process delivered on the internet using web based technologies.
§ A case is initiated and a list of Neutrals is selected and the Neutrals are ranked.
§ A system generated email is sent to the other party, inviting them to join the case.
§ The other party joins the case and a Neutral is agreed upon.
§ The Neutral reviews the case initiation, and sends an email to both parties, confirming the type of proceeding and the fees.
§ The claimant prepares a case presentation and uploads the scanned documents into the online case.
§ Once complete, a system generated email is sent to the respondent, advising them the claimant has completed their presentation, and now it is time for them to submit their case presentation
§ Once the case presentations are complete, a system generated email is sent to the Neutral advising them to review the evidence and render a decision.
§ Once reviewed, a verdict is submitted online, and a system generated email is sent to both parties notifying them a verdict has been rendered.
Mediate.com is a site that helps one locate a mediator in a particular geographical area and practice type. Unlike the VirtualCourthouse.com outlined above, Mediate.com does not offer a Web interface to enable one’s case to be submitted and adjudicated online.
Global Arbitration Mediation Association, Inc.’s (GAMA) arbitration and mediation E-Directories of ADR professionals are designed to help disputants find mediators and arbitrators appropriate for resolving their conflicts by permitting searches of the database by years of ADR experience, education, credentials, subject matter expertise, associations, geographic location, video conferencing compatibility and hourly rate.

Paper Based Organizations in Transition

The American Arbitration Association has settled several thousand cases digitally, but it still remains a very small percentage of the AAA caseload. AAA offers a lot of information on their Website, including PDF forms, and the ability to file a case electronically through AAA Webfile. The AAA offers both mediation and arbitration services and is the oldest ADR organization outside of the courts in the U.S.

JAMS , founded by the Hon. H. Warren Knight in 1979, provide mediation and arbitration services across the country. They specialize in a variety of claims including bankruptcy, mass tort and international. The JAMS Website allows the visitor to file an initial claim and select a location and neutral. But beyond that, JAMS does not offer the on-line automated case monitoring that the other services (outlined above) do.
National Arbitration Forum automates domain disputes on the Internet as well as other case types. The Forum is in the process of converting its paper based dispute resolution business to the Internet.

Regional ADR Service Providers

There are many regional ADR providers, like ADR Systems of America, LLC, headquartered in Chicago. ADR Systems has many retired Cook County Circuit Court judges on their roster of neutrals and specialize in complex personal-injury cases. The ADR Systems’ Web interface is limited but they focus on being a regional provider and therefore the need for automation is not quite as great as in a case involving geographically diverse parties.

Other ODR Providers

The ElectronicCourthouse.com , run by a Canadian company called iVentures, provides services to companies that must offer dispute-resolution. They specialize in companies that manufacture and distribute internationally.

Transferring an existing process from the bricks-and-mortar world to the Internet is a daunting undertaking. The process is fraught with barriers of change involving multiple parties and multiple processes. Developing a strategic approach is therefore essential. It is similar to “eating and elephant” – you do not want to plan this event for one meal or you will surely fail. You need to start small but you need to start. It is necessary to strategically identify a starting point where the existing barriers are not overwhelming and where efficiencies of online business will bring the greatest bottom line result.
Trial judges can help lead the way by knowing ODR alternatives which can be made available to litigants as another ADR opportunity. Each ADR opportunity will lead some deputes to a successful resolution thereby helping to relieve the court of congested dockets.
Conclusion
The last 50 years has seen enormous growth in the use of ADR. The growth has been championed and led by the judges of the many state courts. Judges have led the way by incorporating ADR in caseflow management, adopting standards and criteria for the certification of neutrals. The bar has championed ADR growth through the formation of ADR sections and committees and the adoption of model ethical standards. When the bar and the bench join forces as they have with ADR the synergy always leads the way to needed and beneficial change. That change has lead to more predictable, faster trial dockets. Litigants also are gaining greater confidence in the trial courts of the country, while experiencing a higher level of justice through self styled resolution of their disputes.

Most judges and lawyers date alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to the early 1900’s with the advent of the American Arbitration Association and other institutional forms of arbitration. However, arbitration dates to early Biblical times with one of the first noted arbitrators King Solomon. Even earlier, arbitration was used as a method to resolve territorial disputes. In England arbitration was a common means of commercial dispute resolution predating the common law as early as the 1200’s.

by Judge Arthur M. Monty Ahalt ( Ret.) – October 2, 2009