Online dispute resolution (ODR) isn’t new. It’s been around for almost 20 years, starting with the early days of ecommerce and disputes related to online transactions.
In the early days, ODR was mostly used to resolve commercial disputes. But over the years, it has gradually expanded to include many practice areas.
Of course, Covid-19 has completely changed the game. With in-person meetings no longer possible for many people, ODR has moved from an option to a necessity.
If you’ve never conducted a mediation or arbitration online, you’re facing a dizzying new world of videoconferencing software, tools, features, and pitfalls.
Which platform should you use? What features do you need? How should your approach evolve?
These are the challenges Mary Joseph had in mind when she designed our new Online Dispute Resolution Workshop.
Mary has been practicing online for years, first as an immigration lawyer and now as a Chartered Mediator and Accredited Family Mediator.
She created a 4-hour ODR workshop to help mediators and arbitrators make a smoother shift to operating online.
We interviewed Mary this week to learn more about the rise of ODR and what to expect in her workshop.
Q: How and when did online dispute resolution (ODR) develop?
Mary: ODR started in the 1990s with the growth of the internet. By the late 1990's, commercial transactions were being held online, which led to the earliest examples of online dispute resolution.
The very first international ODR forum was held in 2002. At this point, we were only focusing on conflicts that developed from online transactions. The idea was if the dispute originated online, we could deal with it online.
For quite some time, commercial transactions remained the most common type of disputes resolved through ODR.
However, the rise of Covid-19 has changed all that. ADR professionals have been forced to move their practices online.
This has expanded the scope of ODR to include all kinds of civil cases (property, contracts, family relations, torts).
The range is exceptionally wide. Any area where we do ADR in person, with the right technology and approach, we can shift online.
Q: What is the biggest “learning curve” for ADR professionals who are moving their practice online?
Mary: The biggest learning curve is developing the technical skills necessary to operate and leverage the videoconferencing software.
Essential functions like sharing your screen, designating breakout rooms, locking a room, or managing your waiting room are key skills many newcomers lack.
You need to know which software to use and how to customize it for your specific practice needs.
Q: What is the goal of your ODR workshop? What do students learn?
Mary: The 4-hour workshop provides an ODR “jumpstart.”
The goal is to help participants select the right software for their needs and develop a basic toolkit of ODR skills.
Of course, videoconferencing platforms all have different features and functions. It can be challenging to sort through them all and determine which software will work best for your clients.
During the workshop, students learn how to identify the unique needs of their practice, as related to ODR.
We provide an overview of the major platforms and help students choose the most appropriate option.
By the end of the course, they understand which platform to use and have learned practical skills for conducting mediations and arbitrations online.
Q: In your opinion, what are the main advantages of online dispute resolution?
Mary: With ODR, access to justice can be greatly expanded, bringing together people from far-reaching places.
In family mediation, if there is concern about violent outbursts, ODR can help provide emotional distance and even safety for vulnerable participants.
There are also practical advantages. In my experience, it’s been cheaper to purchase software than rent a meeting room.
In fact, I no longer have a physical office. My entire practice is online. Operating online offers ADR professionals unprecedented mobility and flexibility.
Q: What are the main drawbacks of online dispute resolution?
Mary: Just as technology can expand access to justice, it can also impose limits for people who don’t have computers, the right software, or reliable internet connections.
Security can also be an issue in ODR. The transmission of documents must be carefully monitored to ensure confidentiality.
Privacy is a challenge, as you cannot be certain someone isn’t recording the meeting. We amend our mediation contracts to deal with some of these issues.
Another drawback could be the client's technical abilities. They may not be comfortable using the tools and switching between devices, which can be a challenge.
You must take your clients’ skillset into consideration when developing your approach to ODR.
Q: How much experience do you have conducting mediations online?
Mary: Prior to Covid I was conducting online mediations on a regular basis. I had already moved my entire practice online. I did my final in-person mediation 5 years ago.
Q: Covid-19 has accelerated the need for ODR. But will it keep growing even after the pandemic?
Mary: The world has changed. ODR is here to stay, along with distance learning, working from home, and online social networking. We are never going back to the way we were.
Online dispute resolution is now an essential skillset for all mediators, arbitrators, and dispute resolution professionals.
There is no doubt that knowing how to serve clients online will enhance your practice.
Learn more about the Online Dispute Resolution Workshop
The ODR workshop is offered online through Kompass Professional Development. It is a 4-hour course designed to jumpstart your transition to practicing online.
Students get an overview of the most popular videoconferencing software, including Zoom, Teams, GoToMeetings, and Cisco.
They discover which platform best suits their practice needs, plus technical dos and don’ts for conducting online mediations and arbitrations.
Click below to explore the ODR workshop. Get information on costs, the next start date, or chat live with an Advisor.