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Archive for the ‘Online Dispute Resolution’ 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.

Ohio’s Portage County Launches the Nation’s First ODR Program for Foreclosure Mediation

Nicole Wilmet, November 25th, 2019

On November 18, 2019, Ohio’s Portage County launched the country’s first foreclosure mediation online dispute resolution (ODR) program. The program, developed under the guidance of Portage County Common Pleas Court Judge Laurie J. Pittman, uses Court Innovations’ Matterhorn software. A press release for the program indicates that one of the goals of the program is to make the process more accessible to the public by allowing parties to work on their cases remotely. The program’s mediator Benito Antognoli explains that prior to the launch of the online program, the first in-person mediation session between borrowers and lenders often only lasted about 20-30 minutes and required the parties to attend subsequent mediations. Most often, the brevity of this first meeting stemmed from borrowers being unable to fully respond to forms from the lender’s attorney since, due to the nature of the forms, they do not have the required documentation with them. As Antognoli highlights, the difficulty of having to make accommodations and find time to attend additional mediations is often a substantial inconvenience for both parties.

However, with the new ODR program, borrowers and lenders are now able to complete this process remotely. As Antognoli describes, once a borrower has opted-in to the program they will receive an email that invites them to the platform. From there, the lender’s attorney will request various documents from the borrower, which the borrower can now submit online at their convenience. Additionally, the online platform also now allows Antognoli to be involved during the entire process and communicate with the parties regularly. Like the in-person program, the entire online process is intended to take about 90 days from start-to-finish. Ultimately, the press release notes that Judge Pittman’s hope is to expand the use of online mediation and offer ODR programs to parties involved in other types of civil disputes.

Those interested in learning more about the program or accessing the court’s press release, should please contact Antognoli at 330-298-3233.

The Psychological Complications of Resolving Disputes Online

Jennifer Shack, October 28th, 2019

Online dispute resolution (ODR) can take many different forms, but one element is always present: the participants aren’t interacting in person. Jean Sternlight explores the possible psychological impact of this in her new article, “Pouring a Little Psychological Cold Water on ODR” (forthcoming 2020 Journal of Dispute Resolution).

It should be noted that before discussing the psychology of disputes and ODR, Sternlight opines that the term ODR is used too broadly as it’s used for any technology-assisted dispute resolution. Although she doesn’t state what she means by ODR in her article, the way in which she discusses it points to the conclusion that she is focused more on text-based and algorithmic processes rather than video-based processes.

Starting from the premise that “human disputes are intimately connected to human psychology,” Sternlight states that ODR should be designed to take into account human psychology and that requires an imaginative approach to determining whether and how to incorporate technology into dispute resolution. Even given this, however, she says that we should consider the possibility that humans are better suited than computers to resolve many disputes.

Sternlight explores the psychology of dispute resolution through four areas: the psychology of perception and memory, the psychology of human wants, the psychology of communication, and judgment and decision-making. Perception and memory often differ among those involved in a dispute. In in-person disputes, mediators and lawyers currently take on the role of overcoming parties’ beliefs that their perception is correct and the only possible version. Sternlight questions whether a computer or avatar can have the same effect, as research has found that simply receiving a message on a computer or reading a book aren’t sufficient to shake one’s belief that theirs is the only right view.

When it comes to human wants, people are complex. We don’t always know what we want, and when we do, we often have many different wants, or our wants may change over time. Further, each person may have different wants in the same circumstances. Because of this, Sternlight suggests that “computers are not likely the best tool for helping humans think through how they want to respond to a dispute, and how they might creatively work things out with a fellow disputant.” She concludes that ODR may best be used for disputes that involve wants that are simple and predictable, such as small online purchases.

Communication is another area in which computers may not provide the best forum, although Sternlight does say that computers may make communication easier by enabling fast and low-cost exchanges, and by allowing for the anonymity that some prefer. However, many ODR platforms rely on check boxes and limited exchange of textual information. This does not permit disputants to communicate fully their broad range of beliefs and concerns nor learn about those of the other party. Textual communications also make it difficult to build trust or rapport among disputants.

Sternlight also believes that human mediators, lawyers or friends are more effective than computers in helping humans deal with their emotions and other judgment and decision-making issues. She notes that a trusted person is more likely than a computer to move a disputant off an unreasonable position, even if both convey the same information.  Humans can build rapport and trust and tell persuasive stories, whereas being provided information on a chart or in text will not be as useful.

Sternlight acknowledges that online processes may have their place in dispute resolution, but to do so requires a system design that takes into account human psychology. To figure out how best to approach the resolution of disputes online, Sternlight says that empirical research is required of both online and in-person dispute resolution.

While some readers may not agree with Sternlight’s message, she does offer a thoughtful counterpoint to the current enthusiasm for ODR.

California’s Yolo Superior Court Launches New Online Dispute Resolution Program

Nicole Wilmet, October 25th, 2019

California’s Yolo County Superior Court has launched a new online dispute resolution (ODR) program to resolve debt and money due cases. The program utilizes Tyler Technologies’ Modria® software and guides parties step-by-step through the small claims process. Parties participating in the ODR program will be required to pay a fee of $25. The plaintiff will be responsible for payment, unless the parties agree to split the cost or the defendant agrees to reimburse the plaintiff.

A brochure for the program notes that the ODR process begins after a plaintiff logs in to the platform and registers their case. Then, the plaintiff will use the platform to make an initial demand to the defendant for an amount they are willing to accept to settle the case before trial. The platform then sends an email to the defendant with the demand, at which point the defendant can agree or provide a counter-offer. In the event the parties are unable to reach an agreement during these initial steps, then either party may request a mediator. If both parties agree to mediate, then a mediator will be assigned to the case and the mediator will contact the parties to initiate their confidential online mediation. If the parties reach an agreement during mediation, the agreement will be emailed to the parties for signature. After signing, the agreement is sent to the court and the case is dismissed. However, if the parties are unable to resolve their dispute within 45 days then the case will go to trial.

The court’s website for the program answers questions about the program and includes several informative videos for parties discussing the basics of mediation, how the program works and how to use the Modria® platform.

Michigan Supreme Court Launches New Online Dispute Resolution Program, MI-Resolve

Nicole Wilmet, August 23rd, 2019

In August, the Michigan Supreme Court launched MI-Resolve, a free online dispute resolution tool. The program is provided by Matterhorn and is currently available for district courts in 17 Michigan counties to use. During the pilot phase of this program, MI-Resolve is limited to cases alleging that money is owed and is being used in small claims, general civil, landlord-tenant, contract, and neighborhood disputes. The goal of MI-Resolve is to make access to legal resources more efficient and affordable and save parties the time and cost of having to go to court in person.

Through the program, parties may resolve their disputes with or without the assistance of a mediator. When working with a mediator, MI-Resolve’s Terms of Service note that parties may arrange to meet in person with a mediator or via videoconference. In recent news coverage of the program, Michelle Hilliker from the Michigan Office of Dispute Resolution noted that mediators for the program are required to complete at least 40 hours of State Court Administrative Office approved training and a 10-hour internship. Individuals do not need to have a case filed in court to use MI-Resolve. However, if parties do have a dispute filed, they may use MI-Resolve to try to reach a settlement before their hearing or trial date.

Parties wishing to use MI-Resolve must be over 18, live, work, or have a dispute arise in one of the 17 counties offering the program, have an active e-mail address, access to the internet, and must agree to the terms in the Agreement to Mediate (which parties access through their registration page after completing intake). In the press release for the program, the Michigan Supreme Court notes that MI-Resolve is expected to expand statewide soon.