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Archive for the ‘COVID-19’ Category

Resources for Courts Considering and Developing ODR Programs

Jennifer Shack, March 19th, 2020

With the COVID-19 epidemic leading courts to cease in-person activities, courts may be feeling a greater urgency to start down the path of online dispute resolution programs. I thought I’d share some resources that may help courts to make decisions regarding whether and how to implement such programs.

Considerations and Concerns in ODR Program Design

Online Dispute Resolution Special Topic

Resolution Systems Institute

RSI has written a guide for courts who are considering, have started developing or already have ODR programs. It discusses important considerations for ODR implementation, from goal setting to costs to ethical concerns. 

Read RSI’s advice about ODR on our website.

Considerations in Implementing Court ODR Systems

Doug Van Epps and Michelle Hilliker. Michigan Supreme Court State Court Administrators Office of Dispute Resolution. Jan. 6, 2020

Van Epps and Hilliker share their insights and the knowledge gained from their development and implementation of ODR in the Michigan courts in this guide. Based on both the issues they encountered and their discussions with others involved in implementing ODR systems, their considerations are meant to assist courts to determine how to design, implement and evaluate an online dispute resolution (ODR) system. 

The considerations span a variety of topics including leadership and court staff; prospective users and stakeholders; goals; implementing authority and legal implications administration; platform attributes and functions; mediators; non-court dispute resolution service staff; costs, fees and funding sources; confidentiality; protections; vendor selection; data collection and evaluation; and marketing plans. The guide also includes a list of recent ODR publications and resources.

Access the Considerations document on Michigan’s Supreme Court State Court Administrator’s Office website.

Case Studies in ODR for Courts

Joint Technology Committee, 2020

This paper presents seven case studies of ODR implementation in the courts. The case studies are short, but include key takeaways about what worked and what didn’t. The ODR programs include two outside the US, and deal with small claims, family, tax and traffic cases.

Read the case studies.

Online Dispute Resolution: A Digital Door to Justice or Pandora’s Box? Parts I and II

Doug McQuiston and Sharon Sturges, Colorado Lawyer, February and March, 2020.

McQuiston and Sturges are in the midst of publishing a three-part series on ODR in the courts that examines the use of videoconferenced mediation. They note that videoconferencing may be appropriate for family cases and those involving intimate partner violence. The main obstacle to providing this service is limited or poor internet connectivity. 

Part II focuses on the use of artificial intelligence in ODR. McQuiston and Sturges cite the many benefits of AI-assisted ODR for small claims and family cases, such as the ability to negotiate asynchronously, which eliminates the need to coordinate schedules. Self-represented litigants who may be reluctant to attend mediation without an attorney may be more inclined to use this technology. Further, they can save money by using this technology. McQuiston and Sturges note some drawbacks, however. These include AI’s inability to understand and address human emotions and its tendency to deviate to the mean, without reference to shades of gray in disputes or situational fairness. To help readers understand how AI in ODR would work, they end by describing systems already in place around the world. 

Read Part I and Part II of the series. Part III is forthcoming in April.

Designing and Implementing a State Court ODR System: From Disappointment to Celebration

David Allen Larson, Journal of Dispute Resolution, Vol. 2019, No. 2, Jun. 5, 2019

This article chronicles the author’s work to develop an online dispute resolution (ODR) system to handle credit card debt collection in New York State courts. The author worked with the New York State Unified Court system for a little over two years to design and implement their ODR platform. The article discusses the issues related to dispute system design in this setting, explains how the project was derailed and ends with lessons learned. The four lessons discussed are (1) anticipate conflicts and resistance (2) obtain support from judges and court staff at the beginning (3) figure out the technology while also ensuring a fair vendor bidding process and (4) pick your case type carefully.

The article also touches on some issues specific to ODR such as how ODR relates to a court system that is not fully digitized and how long to retain records of online communications. It also offers general advice, such as recommending that ODR processes should “balance efficiencies, neutrality and self-determination.”

Read the full article on SSRN.

Pouring a Little Psychological Cold Water on ODR

Jean Sternlight, Journal of Dispute Resolution, 2020

This article explores online dispute resolution (ODR) from a psychological lens to examine the strengths and weakness of ODR. The article examines the psychology of dispute resolution by focusing on four different areas: the psychology of perception and memory, the psychology of human wants, the psychology of communication, and judgment and decision making. Sternlight’s article suggests that ODR may not be the best tool to assist individuals in creatively working things out with a fellow disputant and may be better employed for small and predictable disputes, like small online purchases. The article also posits that computers may not be the best forum for communication and argues that human mediators, lawyers or friends are more effective than computers in helping humans deal with their emotions and other judgement and decision-making issues. Sternlight ends by calling for empirical research for both online and in-person dispute resolution.

Read the full article on SSRN.

Studies of Online Dispute Resolution Programs

So far, there have been few published studies of online dispute resolution programs in the courts. Below are two conducted a while back. 

Getting Divorced Online: Procedural and Outcome Justice in Online Divorce Mediation

Martin Gramatikov and Laura Klaming, Journal of Law & Family Studies, Jan. 1, 2012

This study of a Dutch experiment with ODR for divorcing couples found that the participants perceived the process to be fair, with procedural fairness, interpersonal justice and informational justice all given high marks. On a scale of 1 to 5, they had averages of 4.27, 4.5 and 4.19, respectively. The participants’ perception of the outcome was also positive, though to a lesser extent than for the procedure. They gave an average of 3.91 for distributive justice, 3.37 for restorative justice, 3.18 for functionality and 3.0 for transparency. The ratings were similar for both men and women. Other findings included men reporting higher out of pocket costs and time spent in mediation than women, and women reporting higher levels of frustration and anger than men.

The participants were referred to ODR, which was provided free of charge, if both parties had an email account and the issues were not complex. Once referred, the parties completed an intake questionnaire to provide the mediator with some details about the dispute. The parties could communicate with the mediator and each other via text message or email. The mediator moderated all communications. Each party was required to respond to the other within 48 hours as a condition of the agreement to mediate. Once all issues in dispute were finalized, the parties completed an evaluation of the procedure before the agreement could be finalized.

Read the complete abstract and access the full study in RSI’s Research Library. 

Evaluation of the Small Claims Online Dispute Resolution Pilot

Marc Mason, Avrom Sherr. Sep. 1, 2008

Two courts in England tested online mediation to resolve 25 small claims cases. Those parties who were willing to try mediation were given the option of mediating face-to-face, by telephone, or online. Two mediators were responsible for all online mediations, which were conducted using TheMediationRoom.com.

The online mediations resulted in settlement in 48% of the cases, which was similar to the settlement rate for the face-to-face and telephone mediations, but lower than other small claims mediation programs have reported. Mediators and parties were surveyed post-mediation about their experiences with the process. Mediators reported using more than one method of communication outside TheMediationRoom.com platform – generally email or telephone – to complete the mediation in most cases, and as many settlements were completed outside the platform as within it. The mediators attributed this to difficulties in getting responses from the defendants, as well as to technical difficulties. Because of this and because they lacked the ability to judge non-verbal cues, the mediators said they would have preferred using telephone or email in all but four cases.

The 18 parties who responded to the questionnaire were less frustrated with their experience than the mediators. They expressed fewer issues with the technology, with 47% saying the technology was easy to use. However, they were not overwhelmingly satisfied with the process or the fairness of the outcome. Only 53% were satisfied with their experience and only 23% felt the outcome was fair. Responses to both satisfaction and fairness of outcome were more positive for those who settled their case. The small number of responses limits the reliability of these findings.

Read the full study on SSRN.

Studies Regarding Particular Issues Related to ODR

Shuttle and Online Mediation: A Review of Available Research and Implications for Separating Couples Reporting Intimate Partner Violence or Abuse

Fernanda S. Rossi, Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, Amy G. Applegate, Connie J. Beck, Jeannie M. Adams, Darrell F. Hale. Family Court Review (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts), Aug. 17, 2017

This article examines the published research on shuttle mediation, online audio-visual mediation, and online text-based mediation to discuss the applicability of these mediation methods to family law cases with a history of intimate partner violence and/or abuse (IPV/A). It first presents potential advantages and disadvantages of each mediation method in cases with IPV/A history. The authors suggest that mediators on IPV/A cases must carefully consider a variety of potential issues including the parties’ suspicion of mediator bias, confidentiality concerns and victim-perpetrator power dynamics. The authors also note the need for more empirical research comparing different effects of various mediation methods.

This article is behind a paywall on the Wiley Online Library.

Building Trust Online: The Realities of Telepresence for Mediators Engaged in Online Dispute Resolution, 

Susan Nauss Exon and Soomi Lee. Stetson Law Review, Vol 49, No. 1, 2019

Exon and Lee found that trust in an experienced mediator is the same whether a mediation participant interacts with that mediator via video or face-to-face. In their experiment, a single experienced mediator conducted 31 simulated mediations with one party in the room with him and the other interacting via telepresence. Telepresence is sophisticated video conferencing, in which sensitive microphones and special cameras that pan and zoom are used to help participants follow the flow of the conversation. 

During the experiment, the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire before the mediation began that measured their level of interpersonal trust. They then completed a second questionnaire after mediation that asked them about their interactions with the mediator and their perceptions of him in order to determine how much they trusted him and found him to be trustworthy. In all, 59 participants provided usable data. 

Nauss Exon and Lee found that although the participants’ questionnaire responses before mediation indicated they were on average more likely to distrust others than trust them, all participants agreed mildly or strongly that they could trust the mediator and that the mediator was trustworthy. Further, they found no difference in the level of response (mild or strong) between those who were in the same room as the mediator and those who participated via telepresence, with one exception. They found that those who had a lower predisposition to trust were more likely to see the mediator as trustworthy.

Read the full study on SSRN.

Studies Regarding Topics Related to ODR

ADR Empirical Research Studies

James Coben and Donna Steinstra. Mitchell Hamline Dispute Resolution Institute, Jun. 1, 2018

This compilation of abstracted studies includes a number on topics that are related to the use of ODR. These include: 

  • A study of compliance with emailed requests
  • Team decision-making in a virtual environment
  • A qualitative analysis of email negotiation
  • Honesty in face-to-face communication as compared to through an intermediary

Find the abstracted studies on the Mitchell Hamline website.

How COVID-19 is Impacting Court ADR Programs

Nicole Wilmet, March 18th, 2020

It is without a doubt an understatement to say that the coronavirus (COVID-19) global health crisis is drastically impacting communities worldwide. News about COVID-19 is changing at a rapid pace (and has likely changed drastically since this piece was written). Words like “lockdown” and “social distancing” are becoming commonplace as states across the country are taking new measures to limit social interactions and keep communities and individuals safe. Here in the United States, this epidemic continues to raise all sorts of questions about what should remain open, what should be closed, and when? 

Courts across the country are also grappling with these types of questions. Here in Illinois, courts are considering these concerns and are currently taking a variety of different approaches at this time with some courts postponing certain types of cases and non-essential meetings or choosing to remain open but promoting remote access services. In Georgia, the chief justice has issued an order declaring a statewide judicial emergency and is ordering courts and clerk’s offices to suspend all non-essential court functions and “to the extent court proceedings are held, they should be done in a manner to limit the risk of exposure, such as by videoconferencing, where possible.” In Michigan, the state Supreme Court has released an administrative order detailing emergency procedures in court facilities and some courts have closed business operations via local administrative orders

As a hub for court ADR, here are the issues we have been hearing at our organization that court ADR programs are encountering as they address the coronavirus:

  • Responses to COVID-19 by court ADR programs are shaped by what their courts decide  to do. 
  • ADR program administrators are concerned for the health of their neutrals, the health of the parties, and their own health. 
  • ADR program administrators are concerned they will not have sufficient neutrals available due to actual illness or a neutral’s need to protect themselves by quarantining. 
  • This might be a good time for courts to use online platforms (such as Zoom) or telephonic conference options to conduct ADR sessions. However, online dispute resolution options also have their own set of considerations like:
    • The free Zoom account has a limit of 40 minutes for group meetings and courts may need to pay for a premium account that would allow them to access certain features to conduct their meetings. 
    • Courts are unlikely to have sufficient neutrals who are trained in how to conduct ADR processes online and there may be a learning curve to conduct sessions telephonically or online. 
    • Parties may not have the resources to be able to access online ADR options at this time. 
    • Online platforms, like Zoom, will likely become overly burdened as an entire workforce and education systems transition to these platforms.

With information surrounding the coronavirus changing so quickly, for the latest information on how your court program is responding to COVID-19, I recommend visiting your court’s website or calling your local court directly. If your state has a state court ADR office (which you can find by searching your state on RSI’s Court ADR Across the U.S. resource), that office may have more information about how court ADR programs are moving forward in your state. If your state does not have a court ADR office, visit your local bar association’s website, which may have more information. In the meantime, I hope you are all staying well!