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ODR: The Future of Access to Justice

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Mauricio Duarte
June 16, 2020

There may not be a more relevant topic for the future of access to justice than Online Dispute Resolution (“ODR”). As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, physical courts were closed, and hearings were postponed. These two elements led to a sharp increase in “virtual hearings” or entire trials being held online.

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the use of online settlements. Modria, SmartSettle, or the eBay Resolution Center are just a few examples of ODR platforms.

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (“UNCITRAL”) adopted the Technical Notes on Online Dispute Resolution (“Technical Notes”), to reflect that ODR means any mechanism for resolving disputes through the use of electronic communications and other information and communication technology. The Technical Notes go as far as clarifying that ODR encompasses a broad range of disputes mechanisms, including but not limited to ombudsmen, negotiation, mediation, facilitated settlement, arbitration, dispute boards, and others.

At its core, ODR uses online or internet and web-based technologies to assist in the resolution of disputes. However, the management of an online dispute mechanism is far more complicated than it sounds. There is little feedback yet on how this is working in practice.

There are several considerations for court users to grapple with in this new world of online courts and ODR. For jurisdictions such as China, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, the idea of online courts and ODR is not particularly novel. You can keep track of all the efforts in Remote Courts Worldwide, a website designed to help the global legal community share their virtual court experiences. However, for other countries, the pandemic has brought unprecedented interest and attention to ODR.

The current crisis will require a collaborative approach to make ODR and remote hearings work effectively. That’s why at A2J, we’ve decided to collaborate with Resolve Disputes Online (“RDO”). RDO is a global leader in ODR having been recognized by the United Nations Justice Taskforce for its work with a customer base spanning across Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America.

What is RDO?

RDO is a simple to use dispute resolution technology that has been built by dispute resolution practitioners. RDO empowers attorneys, courts, and tribunals with innovative technology to improve the case management of any ODR mechanism.

RDO's technology includes case triage, case management, file sharing, scheduling, task and workflow management, document e-signing, audio and video technology, and a management portal.

RDO is more than just a case management system. RDO is an innovative platform designed to make dispute resolution as effortless and as useful as possible. As an attorney with experience in arbitration, I believe RDO has six noteworthy functions:

  1. Control over users: After authenticating the parties' identities, users are attributed to a particular role that enables them to protect various rights of access depending on their positions. The parties, lawyers, and third parties can be provided with appropriate access levels based on the nature of the documents and the phase of the process.
  2. Configuration: RDO can be customized and configured depending on the type of procedure, the parties, and their representatives. RDO is not a one-size-fits-all solution. An excellent case management software must be flexible to adapt to new processes.
  3. Policies: By clearly laying out the definition of rules and procedures to the parties regarding the case, rights of access to the files, and other relevant information, RDO gives the users confidence in the process.
  4. Management of the process: RDO facilitates the use of technology for virtual hearing and evidence presentation. With a simple interface, you can have access to all of the documents that you need to solve a dispute. By reducing the amount of data transfers, the software ensures that information doesn't get lost.
  5. Data analytics: RDO doesn’t stop at helping the case move towards a resolution. It can also look at trends and help you see how well your workflows function.
  6. Security: Since most ODR mechanisms involve confidential information, the software can only be accessed by verified users. Moreover, RDO keeps all of your files safe and performs data backup automatically and regularly, saving you the hassle of having to do it manually.

Final Thoughts

ODR mechanisms can be implemented with the adoption of simple and precise technologies that are interconnected in a defined system. ODR is another opportunity to unlock the potential of human creativity and innovation. However, that process can only be complete if there is genuine collaboration between software developers, lawyers, policymakers, and users of the system.

The future of access to justice will include disputes being resolved online and not just in courtrooms, and that is why we’re looking to be at the forefront of the design and implementation of ODR systems. At A2J, we believe the global access to justice problems will be solved, in large part, using technology. ODR is still in its infancy, but it is only a matter of time before ODR is adopted at a larger scale.

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