The Future of Online Dispute Resolution: Transformation & Preservation

On June 5, 2015, CPR President & CEO Noah Hanft delivered the keynote address at “ODR 2015,” held at Pace University Law School — an event that brought together the world’s leading online dispute resolution (ODR) practitioners, policymakers, entrepreneurs, members of the judiciary and academics.

Over the past few years, use of online dispute resolution has grown and matured in ways that are astonishing, both in the range of uses and the speed with which it has been embraced. Mediation and arbitration are rapidly moving online. Consumers, businesses and lawyers increasingly expect to be able to resolve any issues that arise 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, right from their laptops and tablets. Transactions also now routinely cross the globe, and disputants are unwilling to sort out complex issues of jurisdiction every time a problem crops up.

Enter ODR, which is the application of information and communications technology to the practice of dispute resolution. Demand is growing steadily.

In his keynote address, Hanft discussed how groundbreaking ideas such as ODR become realities, often overcoming significant odds and challenges, the resistance to change perhaps foremost among them. Hanft recognized the critical need for companies to secure their networks and protect the information of their business partners, customers and clients, as well as for legal systems to protect substantive rights and due process — but he stressed that “If the law is to stay relevant to the challenges presented by global and online business, the system must adapt to the new realities of a networked world.”

Oddly enough, as Hanft noted, this may be an area in which government — not generally viewed as a leader in innovation — has surged ahead of the private market. For example, court cases in the US are filed online, documents are exchanged online, and depositions can be taken and testimony given by video.

One of ODR’s most compelling characteristics is its potential to extend the benefits of dispute resolution — matters handled more quickly and cost-effectively — to currently under-served populations. Among these are consumers that, with the simple click of a mouse, can become a party to a commercial transaction (and subsequent dispute) anywhere in the world. Hanft cited research by EBay and Pay Pal that shows that, as ODR expands access to effective dispute resolution, customer relationships and experiences are enhanced. “But if the filing fee, under a traditional ADR model, is more than the amount in dispute, this huge portion of the population is prevented from participating in this beneficial process,” Hanft explained. “Technology is rapidly leveling the playing field, offering a fair, effective and efficient dispute resolution process for all—consumers and companies, large and small, and for the full range of amounts in dispute.”

Hanft likened what he’s now seeing in ODR to his time in the Law Department at MasterCard, where he went on to become General Counsel, holding that post for 13 years. “For many years people predicted growth in debit cards. We take them for granted now, but adoption was slow and fraught with resistance. However, being able to access your bank account rather than a credit line made sense and all of a sudden it just happened! And now there are millions of debit cards. An industry that was viewed as adverse to technology is today awash in innovation with the ability to pay with a watch or a phone.”

In closing, Hanft predicted an exciting future for this rapidly developing dispute resolution platform. “Not tomorrow, but within the next five to ten years, much of arbitration will be online, and we won’t remember why we ever did it any other way. This will happen not purely because our global society is becoming more comfortable with technology, but because ODR will prove its usefulness and effectiveness again and again.”

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