New Zealand Law Society - Academic highlights ODR’s limitations

Academic highlights ODR’s limitations

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A law academic says while online dispute resolution (ODR) is convenient and  cheap, it is, currently, limited in what it can offer.

Robert J. Condlin of the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law has released a research paper, entitled, Online Dispute Resolution: Stinky, Repugnant or Drab.

Professor Condlin notes that, until recently, ODR was of interest only to a small part of the legal community, in his native United States, but in the past few years the tool has been recognised as a “partial answer to the ‘access to justice’ problem faced by people of limited means”.

Some scholars, judges and the organised Bar now even see ODR as the “wave of the future” for most forms of civil dispute resolution, Professor Condlin says.

“Attracted by the possibility of faster, cheaper, and more convenient dispute resolution, companies, states of the union, and countries around the world now have begun to create ODR programs on a scale that makes the process, along with outsourcing, AI-based practice management software, and non-traditional legal service providers, one of the principal forces redefining the traditional practice of law,” he says.

In New Zealand, companies such as Legal Beagle, CODR (Complete Online Dispute Resolution) Evolution Lawyers and Online Lawyers NZ, are revolutionising how we experience resolving a legal matter that falls outside the criminal court.

Professor Condlin says that while the advantages are now becoming apparent, the faults are not.

“Often overlooked in this cost and convenience über alles perspective is whether the cheap and efficient processing of disputes is a capitulation to the conditions of modern society more than a superior system for administering justice,” he says.  

“Most ODR programs require parties to describe their claims in fixed, predefined categories that may or may not capture all of the claims’ dimensions; limit the opportunity to argue the substantive merits underlying the claims worth; and resolve differences on the basis of private software algorithms that raise fairness issues not present in dispute resolution systems run principally by humans. It’s a little too soon to know if this “wave” of the future breaks on the beach or the rocks.”

Using a famous movie quip, Professor Condlin notes that ODR can contribute to dispute resolution, the contribution will be “smaller than proponents envision, but greater than opponents fear.”

“We know ODR is fast, convenient and cheap. What we do not know is whether it can be fair, caring and just, and to paraphrase Harry Callahan: “A software program’s got to know its limitations,” in reference to the main character in the film Magnum Force’s phrase “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

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