Online Dispute Resolution
The technological revolution has been making progress for quite some time now and recently it has made its way into the domain of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). It has given rise to the concept of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). Online dispute resolution is mainly a branch of dispute resolution which uses technology as the means to resolve disputes between the parties at dispute. It includes the processes of arbitration, mediation and negotiation which makes it similar to alternative dispute resolution. Thus, when ADR uses the medium of technology, it becomes ODR and that is why it has been said that technology has made its way into the domain of ADR. There is now online mediation, online arbitration, and even arbitration utilising the blockchain technology which is also used in cryptocurrencies and is known as blockchain arbitration. These forms of alternative dispute resolution are known as “online dispute resolution”and they are increasingly making their presence felt.
Online Mediation: The process of online mediation usually starts when an email is sent to the parties informing them of all the basics of the process of online mediation. Meetings are then conducted virtually in what is called “chat rooms” where the mediator can communicate separately with each party or simultaneously with both parties. This process usually helps to stimulate communication between the disputing parties. There is usually one chat room for joint sessions, one for caucuses or “breakout rooms”, and another for filing and storing documents. This can also be conducted through emails. Online mediation allows parties flexibility and faster resolution as compared to offline mediation, which may see a number of delays due to the parties’ conflicting schedules. This process saves time as there is an instant response from the parties since the whole process is online. Apart from saving tine, online mediation also includes savings in cost. For example, just last month, the Singapore State Courts’ Community Justice and Tribunals System launched its “e-Mediation” to help those involved in neighbourly disputes save time and money as they are no longer required to go to the courts to file their documents.
However, one of the major disadvantages of online mediation is that it ignores and skips some of the key features of mediation, which is the human aspect of mediation. Online mediation may not completely understand the various needs, interests, and emotions of the parties involved. The use of emails as the primary means of communication does not really help express the interests of the parties in the same way as facial expressions would have in the case of physical meetings. Also, e-mail based communications require the parties to have a strong control over their language which may not be the case for everyone. Another hinderance to the process is that the parties may not be as tech savvy which is the primary requirement for a process like this.
Online Arbitration: Online arbitration can be defined as an arbitration in which all the parts of the proceedings are conducted online. Online arbitrations can have hearings through the use of video conferencing, but most online arbitrations simply require parties to upload their evidential documents, respond to questions from the arbitrator and they will receive a decision from the arbitrator. Online arbitration has the same advantages as online mediation, such as lower costs and greater flexibility.
However, apart from the above mentioned forms of resolution, another form of online dispute resolution that has been on rise is the blockchain arbitration. If one has been following banking, investing, or cryptocurrency over the past decade, he or she may be familiar with the term ‘blockchain’, the record-keeping technology behind the Bitcoin network. Keeping aside all the complicated definitions that one encounters in the process of learning more about blockchain, it may be understood as digital information (the ‘block’) stored in a public database (the ‘chain’). Blockchain based arbitration can efficiently provide summary of large arbitration awards and can also provide a smart and integrated way of looking up all the case laws referred to in such awards. Apart from preventing the manipulation of any document, AI chronologically arranges all the documents to make searching on the blockchain easier.
With traditional arbitration increasingly incorporating modern technology into its proceedings, the difference between online arbitration and traditional arbitration is becoming less. However, it cannot be denied that with improved technology, the relatively less complex disputes work will be done by online dispute resolution services. It is therefore imperative that lawyers continue to improve themselves and keep up with the latest legal and technological developments to avoid falling behind in the wake of technology’s relentless march.