You Mediate on Zoom. Now What?

ODR is More Than Zoom

Simon Boehme
Sep 3 · 4 min read

Since the start of COVID-19, I’ve spoken to thousands of lawyers and dispute resolution practitioners about online dispute resolution (ODR). For most people, the focus is on Zoom. Zoom has been invaluable during the pandemic and ensures lawyers can continue to operate. However, the coupling of ODR and Zoom is only the beginning of the story. ODR is more than Zoom.

With continuing travel restrictions and development of vaccines looming, your practice or organization can benefit from various forms of ODR. Zoom, a synchronous technology, allows us to resolve issues in real time. Synchronous dispute resolution works for many disputes and organizations. There’s also asynchronous technology that can be highly effective. You can use text-based software, without fancy artificial intelligence or machine learning, to diagnose problems, create collaborative spaces for parties to work out issues, and construct spaces for conflict coaching. One example is email. Imagine if you had an online portal that helped parties figure out their issues, and maybe even resolve it, without your intervention. It would make your inbox much cleaner! Meeting outside of Zoom with limited tech intervention can educate parties of their rights, receive preliminary proposals, and avoid lengthy meetings.

These tools are not hard to come by for individuals or organizations. Tech companies are looking to help and empower your practice to save time and money. This is another powerful form of ODR that is not only Zoom.

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Here are a few other things to consider as you advance your firm or organization.

Cementing Online Processes

These skills and processes you’ve established over the past months are not a band aid — let them create a competitive advantage. Continuing to offer these services: increase your hourly rate to match your newfound skill, mentor younger lawyers and mediators, and pitch online mediation to old and new clients. Consider taking your tech skills to a new level by moving intake and collecting payment online (if not already done).

Speak with tech developers. Learn what they can build for you, from streamlining client management to building your own asynchronous system. Existing tools are also available such as this legal tech directory.

Continuing Learning New Tools

As I’ve written about previously, finding alternatives to Zoom continues to be important. It’s an ethical obligation to identify and prepare backup options (whether video or phone based). There are also other tools integrated into alternative platforms that will make life easier.

It’s also critical we also adhere to the International Council of Online Dispute Resolution (ICODR) guidelines set forth for both video mediations and arbitrations. These rules help protect providers and clients. Focused on accessibility, competency, confidentiality, impartiality, and security, these rules should be uniform. In the same vein, if a person with disabilities participates in a session, we need to do our part to welcome everyone. Visit David Allen Larson’s article regarding considerations and best practices for disability accommodations in ODR processes.

And I always encourage checking out alternatives to Zoom (like Legaler, a company I love that I recently started working for them!).

Championing Online Processes at Local and State Courts

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We can support powerful efforts to increase access to justice, while maintaining core tenets of our justice system and social distancing rules, by moving dispute processes online. Small claims, family issues, and landlord-tenant conflicts are prime for creating efficient and powerful online systems removed from archaic systems. One of the most spectacular examples is Michigan — the home of MI-Resolve. MI-Resolve works to resolve small claim and landlord-tenant dispute cases with or without the help of a mediator. They work with local mediation centers across to resolve issues without a court date.

Other localities (you can see an entire list of courts using ODR here) are already in the future. Despite these efforts, counties and states across the United States still do not provide critical functions online. Not only does it endanger the health of people in a pandemic but deprives citizens of a core function of our democracy. Sharing your experiences and insights helps convince skeptics of ODR.

If you have stories or examples of using ODR during COVID-19, I’d love to hear them. Please email me.

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