ABA Techshow

Is online dispute resolution the wave of the future?

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Bob Ambrogi

Legal technology writer Robert Ambrogi. Photo by Wayne Slezak.

Is online dispute resolution the wave of the future? Or is it a niche area that will always have applications in certain areas, but won’t be going mainstream anytime soon?

Colin Rule, founder and chief operating officer of online dispute resolution software provider Modria, is obviously a believer in the former. Together with legal technology writer Robert Ambrogi, Rule spoke about ODR at a Friday morning session at ABA Techshow entitled: “Expand Your Practice with Online Dispute Resolution Technology.” Despite the title, the session ended up being more about the benefits of ODR as Rule argued that the legal industry has reached a tipping point.

“There will always be cases that require the attention of skilled individuals,” Rule said. “But we know we have crisis of access to justice. Technology may be a way we help solve that problem.”

Ambrogi and Rule began the session with a trip down memory lane, tracing the history of ODR all the way back to 1996. Since then, Ambrogi and Rule both talked about the many ODR platforms and websites that have come and gone, including Rule’s own earlier company: onlineresolution.com. They noted that much of the success of ODR came from e-commerce sites like eBay, where ODR was perfectly suited for high-volume/low-value transactions.

“One advantage of ODR is that lawyers are, often, not required,” Ambrogi said. “Of course, that can also be a disadvantage.”

EBay touts that it resolves over 60 million disputes a year, and Rule, who directed eBay’s and PayPal’s ODR systems from 2003-2011, stated that over 90 percent of those disputes didn’t require any human input. Rule maintained that developing an ODR system for eBay was a must because it would be too expensive to litigate or even arbitrate every dispute in person, noting that very often eBay transactions would involve a buyer in one country, a seller in a second country and a product in a third country.

“Whose law do you use? What venue?” Rule asked rhetorically. “The legal system is too bound to geography, too bound to jurisdiction to handle high volume e-commerce cases.”

Rule stated that ODR has applications outside of the e-commerce realm, and pointed to several additional areas where his company’s platform was being used. For instance, Modria has partnered with the American Arbitration Association to create an ODR platform to resolve New York state’s no-fault insurance disputes. Modria also powers several state and local property tax appeal resolution centers in locations including Ohio, New Orleans, Atlanta and Durham County, North Carolina. Rule also pointed to growing acceptance of ODR in Europe and Canada, noting that a legal reform committee chaired by Richard Susskind in the United Kingdom recently recommended the use of ODR as a means of resolving low-value civil claims.

All of that has left Rule convinced that ODR is, indeed, the wave of the future. “I suggest that the next justice system will look more like ODR than courts,” Rule said. “Today’s individuals want to resolve their cases in comfort of their homes, not drive to court and wait in line. Consumers are increasingly demanding one-click redress.”

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