The woman’s last name was called a few times in Collin County Court in north Texas before she finally appeared, 15 minutes late, with a baby in her arms and tears in her eyes. As Ben White (pictured in center), the court’s senior IT manager, watched her rush into the courtroom, he assumed the woman couldn’t find a babysitter and her job didn’t offer paid time off. He wondered if the money she was losing by being in court that day might cause her to go into debt.
“I realized right then that ODR (online dispute resolution) was meant for her,” said White, a panelist at the recent 2019 ODR International Forum, attended by about 210 people from 17 countries.
eBay, Alibaba and hundreds of other companies have been using online dispute resolution for several years to resolve disputes related to the sales of goods and services. Only within the last few years have courts seen ODR as a realistic way to resolve lawsuits by allowing litigants to use their phones and computers to settle disputes without stepping foot in a courtroom.
The forum, co-sponsored by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), was an opportunity for court technologists and administrators, academic researchers and private-sector entrepreneurs — from nations such as Singapore and New Zealand to England and Israel – to share ideas and experiences about what has worked well, and what hasn’t. In the United States, ODR is being used in scattered courts in 17 states for small-claims cases, but some are also using it to settle traffic and family law cases.
Throughout the conference, in Williamsburg, Virginia, panelists echoed the sentiment of Utah Supreme Court Justice Deno Himonas, the keynote speaker, that ODR is just one technological advancement that courts must embrace to better provide access to justice for many millions of people who can’t afford lawyers and are not well served by the courts.
“Would it be ideal if everyone had access to an attorney and it was affordable?” Himonas said. “Yes, but that system has failed.” He dismissed those who don’t want ODR, saying, “Get over it. ODR is here to stay.”
Himonas announced new data that shows Utah’s ODR pilot project has yielded promising results. Cases are resolved faster than if litigants went to court, and only a very small percentage of them opted out. Hear Himonas talk more about the project on NCSC’s podcast, Court Talk.
Other speakers also shared data and stories that make it clear that ODR has enormous potential to resolve disputes faster, cheaper and more conveniently than what courts now offer.
Go here for a longer story about the 2019 conference.