Online Dispute Resolution: Is It Working?

Michigan was one of the few states that was ahead of the curve when the lockdown began, because it had already implemented an online dispute resolution (“ODR”) process and trained mediators to mediate these cases in a chatroom-like mode — asynchronous, no cameras required. A good example of a court ODR system is the program in Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus, Ohio.┬áBut a recent survey of online dispute resolution programs nationally raises questions about the effectiveness of ODR. The Markup, a nonprofit that covers stories on the impact of technology on society, found that, while some courts had success, especially with traffic cases, many parties to civil lawsuits could not access the platform, resulting in low resolution rates in small claims cases. In New Mexico, an audit determined that only 2.4% of cases filed in its statewide ODR system resulted in settlements. In Florida, three courts terminated ODR programs due to technical issues; another court said no one signed up to use it. Our own Michelle Hilliker, with Michigan’s State Court Administrative Office Office of Dispute Resolution, noted the challenge of getting the defendant to participate. The process relies on the plaintiff to supply the defendant’s email, and often the plaintiff doesn’t know it or supplies an incorrect one.

I received training to mediate ODR cases a couple years ago, mediation being an option if parties aren’t able to negotiate their own settlement. I liked the process — because the dialogue is done by typing, the process is slowed down, giving each side time to think about their next move, unlike an in-person conversation where parties may feel rushed to respond. But I had trouble with the technology, and so did the parties. I definitely think there’s a place for ODR, and I suspect we’ll view it more favorably in five or ten years, but right now, it needs some work.

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