Providing access to justice does not, and should not, always involve a lawyer. There are many disputes people encounter every day offline and online. These issues range from an Uber or Lyft gone wrong, a roommate refusing to do the dishes, to not sure where an elderly parent should live next. However, in the current conversations around legal tech, we are not adequately addressing this critical market. Where does resolving non-legal issues fit within legal tech? Where do the functions of dispute resolution fit with the rapid development in technology?
The future of access of justice should look more closely at dispute tech.
Ideally, for those disputes not requiring a lawyer, there should be online low-cost, efficient services to help people feel heard and move forward to live their best lives. Emphasis on low-cost and efficient — that is essential. Lawyers, mediators, and academics have a critical role to play to ensure solutions have safeguards for neutrality and confidentiality. Ethan Katsh and Colin Rule, the fathers of online dispute resolution (ODR), were trailblazers not only to write and research it, but also put ODR in practice. As our world evolves to where smart phones serve as remote controls to our lives, the way we think about resolving conflict must develop too.
It is imperative we build consumer-centric tools addressing conflicts before they escalate to legal representation or going to court. Venture capitalists and angel investors should consider the potential of these ideas, especially with the growth of interest in smart contracts and blockchain. Companies like Sagewise and Settledge are starting to lead this charge. It’s also why I created Disputly, an AI powered negotiation tool for consumers.
Dispute tech should act like a giant stop sign before the courthouse asking every person — have you exhausted all of your options? The power of prevention can save time and money to avoid the legal system. The value of a third-party to restart communication and creatively resolve the solution will always beat the outdated method of doing it alone. There are some issues that will always need a lawyer and useful dispute tech solutions will ensure they have consulted the right people. Building these tools for everyone can provide a monumental shift in the way we think about access to justice.
While legal tech continues to empower lawyers and courts, it is my hope dispute tech, together with legal tech, can play a role in advancing those who need help the most.