Calls for government to invest in online dispute resolution

A new article in Legal Futures suggests that momentum is building behind calls for government to invest more heavily in ODR.  An excerpt of the article:

“…Professor Richard Susskind, who is heading a committee investigating ODR, has called for ODR to be explored in “greater depth and urgently”.

The report on the digital delivery of legal services to people on low incomeswas written by Professor Roger Smith, solicitor and former director of JUSTICE, and backed by the Legal Education Foundation (LEF).

He said the Dutch were leading the way with user-orientated legal advice websites, while British Columbia looked likely to be the first to deliver “online dispute determination” next year.

“If it was my money, I would want to see what was happening in Vancouver first,” Professor Smith told Legal Futures. “We can watch what happens and learn a lot”.

The professor said version two of the Dutch Rechtwijzer programme was due to go live in March 2015, which would take users to the point where Dutch law requires lawyers to review documentation before it is seen by judges.

Meanwhile in Canada, a Civil Resolution Tribunal would be set up in British Columbia next year, providing an alternative to the traditional small claims court.

Professor Smith said too many legal advice websites were based on print, with many still using the expression “fact sheet”. He went on: “The best sites, like the Dutch one, are turning themselves around so they ask questions of the user and identify exactly what the user wants. Airline websites don’t give you a suite of timetables – they ask you where you want to go.”

Professor Smith said Holland had led the way with user-orientated legal advice websites, funded by the Dutch legal aid board.

The LEF report recommended that the Ministry of Justice and Courts Service should commit to a “pilot small claims online dispute resolution programme”, from 2016 onwards.

In April, the Civil Justice Council (CJC) set up an advisory group, chaired by Professor Richard Susskind, to explore the role that online dispute resolution (ODR) can play in resolving civil disputes.

Professor Susskind spoke last month at a CJC event on litigants in person, and a newly published summary of the event reported him saying that there was no doubting the huge potential ODR offered in terms of resolving disputes quickly and cheaply.

ODR tended to take one of three forms – either a form of e-adjudication, a type of online ADR negotiation via IT or a tool for diagnosing problems.

The summary continued: “Good ODR systems were already available, and the question now was to what extent the state would take ownership of an ODR structure. In other jurisdictions, e.g. Holland and British Columbia, state-run services were in operation, and parking adjudications offered a UK model.

“There was no doubt ODR would appeal to the under 30s. It would not solve all disputes, but it was a topic that needed to be explored in greater depth and urgently.”’

Read the full article here:

UK Legal Ombudsman Releases Report on ODR

Today the UK Legal Ombudsman published a research report produced by Queen Margaret University looking at Models of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). The aim of this research was to investigate what the Legal Ombudsman can learn from other ADR providers. The research was to help the Legal Ombudsman review and develop its dispute resolution model and ensure it remains fit-for-purpose.

ODR features prominently in the report, and is one of the four main areas of focus.  The eBay/PayPal experience is covered in some depth.  The ODR section is summarized thusly:

“Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is the use of information and communications technology to help disputants find resolutions to their disputes and is emerging as an increasingly important approach for resolving consumer complaints. Initially designed to resolve high volume and low cost consumer e-commerce disputes, ODR has developed to enable its use for complaints about financial services, property tax and complaints to Ombudsman organisations, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). According to Fowlie (2011), the inaugural ICANN Ombudsman, ODR is a process that can be used to improve or supplement most ADR techniques. It applies both to online disputes and to real world complaints and can be technology-based or technology-assisted. In technology-based ODR, parties are helped through, for example, blind-bidding systems to arrive at an optimal outcome. Technology-assisted ODR uses tools to increase the efficiency of human-based approaches such as investigation, questioning, presenting options and communicating findings and may be particularly attractive to ombudsman and ADR organisations. This section gives an analysis of the key issues associated with ODR and assesses its potential, drawing from a case study looking at eBay’s system of dispute resolution.”

To read the full report, access the PDF here: