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A retired federal Judge, Vaughn Walker suspects that the industry of the alternate dispute resolution won’t go back to how it was before the COVID-19 pandemic after it had forced many lawyers and neutrals to work from home.

The former Chief Judge of the Northern District of California now works in San Francisco as an arbitrator and mediator for FedArb. Walker noticed a number of scheduled mediations drop off his calendar as the coronavirus contagion worsened in the United States. But then again, lately, he noticed more interest in online mediation and said that the parties seemed interested in moving forward via video conferencing platform of Zoom.

He thinks that the fact that the lawyers have been forced to use the technologies, it’s going to stick with them. He then said that the technology won’t take over the whole range of the business, but there would be an increase in the use of these technologies which would save time spent on traveling.
Many ADR organizations had to transform the whole process of their system to fully remote operations so that they could comply with the shelter-in-place orders virtually, overnight. Walker isn’t alone or the only one with the prediction about the fact that the imprint of the pandemic could outlast the crisis.

Kim Taylor said in mid-March, JAMS began to transform its operation into an online ADR. During the last week of March itself, he mentioned that the organization has been proceeding with hundreds of cases through video conferencing. The senior vice president and chief legal and operating officer at JAMS informed that the online process has been going well and that the cases are settling.

JAMS has taken an initiative to host dozens of training on its video conferencing platform Endispute powered by CourtCall. The objective of such training is to help neutrals and clients get more comfortable and used to with the remote mediation and arbitration.
Taylor observed that a more permanent acceptance of remote resolution seems to be inevitable. She said that the ADR industry has been promoting online dispute resolution tools for a while and there has been some resistance, but now that people have been pushed into it sooner than expected it might just become a part of how the legal industry would provide services in the future.

Gilda Turitz, a neutral who works with the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) in San Francisco said that the remote tools could open up opportunities and expand the abilities to mediate and arbitrate out of the areas where it wouldn’t economically make sense to travel but they have a niche. She thinks that if people get more used to this then it can be quite a practice expander.

The organization’s head of CPR of dispute resolution services, Helena Tavares Erickson said that they have been seeing two to three times as many cases as they typically get but she thinks that isn’t because the courts are trying to condense their cases or because they are encouraging parties to seek ADR, since if that was the case then people would have been unwilling to wait a year or so to settle their disputes. She saw an uptick more as people are jumping at the opportunity of online ADR and are getting their matters filed.

FedArb CEO Ken Hagen noted that the neutrals must learn on how to be effective remotely by preparing in advance, but the remote mediations allow parties to instant message in real-time, instead of pausing to caucus. He also said that everyone has said to keep going with the online process.
FedArb offers a pre-mediation conference call so that it can determine if the parties are going to work together remotely. However, Hagen thinks that the institutions of ADR would likely fall back to face-to-face when the coronavirus threat subsides since there isn’t anything that can substitute face-to-face interaction.

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BY : Prina Sharma

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