Thanks to the growing popularity of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), we now possess more convenient avenues to engage in the legal process, and more efficient ways to exercise our legal rights. Pairing this alternative framework with Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the resulting Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) has multiplied this conveniency manyfold. In fact, the online factor has been so crucial to facilitating small claims dispute resolution that it has been dubbed the 'fourth party.' And if you think about it, the metaphor is perfect to showing that technology can be powerful enough to enter and change the traditional three-sided model, involving a plaintiff, a defendant, and the mediating party. Labelling technology the 'fourth party' calls attention to its decisive role in improving the modern legal structure.
As a primer or reminder, depending on how familiar you are with the term, the American Bar Association defines ODR as a tool that "uses alternative dispute resolution processes to resolve a claim or dispute. Online Dispute Resolution can be used for disputes arising from an online, e-commerce transaction, or disputes arising from an issue not involving the Internet, called an 'offline' dispute." The use of ODR can involve parties in mediation, arbitration, and negotiation, and those involved use the Internet and web-based technologies in many ways. ODR is becoming an invaluable assistant to making private legal matters an easy fix. Below is a list of some of the benefits offered by ODR, classified into three main categories: Efficiency, Legal Participation, and the "Human Factor."
If you have been reading up on small claims disputes, ADR , and online arbitration, you are probably aware of the perks of pursuing your legal matters online. When if comes to making the legal system more efficient (ensuring maximum productivity while minimizing wasted expenses), ODR is the ideal "fourth party."
The ability to handle the majority of your small claims dispute online can prove to be extremely efficient. ODR allows for easy document circulation, simplified payment methods (which in turn significantly reduce your costs and increase your benefits), and efficient court procedures, which are implemented into approved ODR platforms. Additionally, each ODR platform is privatized, and organized under a universal legal methodology. This means that if you take up a case against someone in a different state (or country), the framework that both parties operate under will be that established by the ODR platform. So no need to worry about differences in jurisdiction.
All these characteristics seek to ensure a quick and fair resolution in the legal process. ODR platforms have you (as the plaintiff) operate in two steps: making your claim, and seeking a resolution to the dispute... You read that right. Two steps. If you have have already participated in a Small Claims Court procedure, this should sound heavenly.
Increased Legal Participation
Your ability to take care of every aspect of your small claims dispute online makes ODR an extremely flexible tool. Your neutral third party will schedule a hearing at a time that is convenient for all. This again makes the legal process faster and less irritating, and is likely to increase participation in good will. Being able to schedule your hearing at a mutually agreed-upon time is a huge improvement from the otherwise inflexible public court scheduling process. Moreover, it stands to reason that if your court hearing works around your time schedule and lasts no longer than getting coffee with a friend, you are more likely to come out satisfied than you would be if you were randomly given a court hearing date that took most of your day. So ODR guarantees higher satisfaction in users because of the increased conveniency, which in turn makes individuals more willing to go through the simplified process.
Another aspect of ODR that can increase legal participation is known as triage: ODR platforms provide users with different avenues to take depending on their specific case. By offering you the necessary information you need to make the best informed decision possible, ODR is giving you a hand in the legal system. When calling upon the services of professionals, the phenomenon of ‘information asymmetry’ is still widespread. This occurs when one party in a transaction has more information than the other. The most common example is that of the car contractor, who sells a used car to a customer, knowing that it has faulty brakes. In the same way, legal professionals can use the extra information they have to serve their interests, without necessarily looking out for yours. However, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) boom of the past decades is fast reducing that information asymmetry, by making specialized information readily available to individuals via the internet. By making legal intelligence accessible to the layperson, ODR allows you to be personally and actively involved in your own legal matters.
Finally, based on case results, ODR systems can convert agreed-upon terms into court documents, of which you will be one of the officiators. As previously mentioned, ODR makes you a central part of your own case, as it should be. Overall, this larger characteristic of ODR is consumer focused: it allows you to be fully (and willingly) engaged in your legal procedure, makes you more aware of your legal rights, and enables you to become an actor of the legal system in a manner that is convenient and enjoyable.
The Human Factor
Often, we may think of the Internet and as a place that adversely affects human interaction and reduces us to being robots, or vegetables, or other equally inanimate objects. It would make sense that in-person interaction is most desirable as it creates a 'human factor,' focused on dialogue, understanding, and the needs of the person. However, if you've already been to Small Claims Courts, you know that that is not the case.
Most cases received by said courts are called "high volume," meaning they are routine legal matters that exist in huge quantities. This implies that most of these cases will never reach a judge, and are shuffled aside to be handled by court staff, who are probably not specialized in particular types of dispute. This also suggests that your case will get minimal review, that you will be given limited time to present your evidence, and that the decision will likely be an arbitrary one. And yes, you will still be required to pay heavy court fees. As you can tell, the human factor here is nonexistent, despite the in–person interaction involved. If going to Small Claims Court is inconvenient for you, does not give you specialized help, and does not cause you to be fully and fairly heard, then why bother going at all? ODR platforms strive to resolve this paradox by making the 'human factor' central to all small claims disputes.
- Specialized help
By assigning your case to a specialized mediator, ODR ensures that you will be heard properly, that you will be understood, and that you will ultimately be able to make the most informed decision to resolve your case. Furthermore, as opposed to those who profit on their information asymmetry, mentioned above, the specialists called on in ODR are neutral individuals whose only interest is that the dispute be resolved in the best way possible.
By ensuring that the extent of the legal procedure be kept confidential, ODR satisfies needs for privacy in cases that can be quite sensitive, both for individuals and for businesses. As ODR platforms are private, there is no public record of court documents, allowing individuals and businesses to safeguard their reputation from small claims orders on record. Though court documents can be created at the outset of disputes, these are strictly kept between the involved parties.
- Negotiation spaces
By providing secure negotiation spaces, ODR systems allow communication and negotiation between litigants (with or without a mediator) to occur in a casual and civilized way. This increases the chances that disputants come to a resolution that is fair and agreed upon in good faith.
So despite its purely digital format, ODR platforms serve as a real resource for litigants to resolve their disputes in a way that acknowledges their basic needs as humans: the need to be heard, the need to be valued, and the need to put trust in one another. By striving to resolve the paradox obvious in the traditional litigation system, ODR is re-centering the legal system on those most concerned by it: individuals.
The benefits of utilizing ODR are clearly exhaustive, though they are not all cited here. From those mentioned above, we find a triple focus to these platforms:
- maximizing the efficiency of legal procedures,
- increasing legal participation of laypersons
- enhancing the human experience throughout
If you feel that you are not experiencing these three pillars in your legal affairs, then go online. Because you should.