Online Dispute Resolution and Courts
by Vesna Milojevic
For years, businesses have utilized online dispute resolution (“ODR”) to resolve disputes between sellers and buyers. The use of ODR has helped businesses save money, become more efficient, and achieve their intended purpose. It was not until recently that U.S. courts took notice of ODR. Recognizing a serious access to justice gap, more and more courts are looking to ODR to fulfill their mission of providing the public with access to courts. The purpose of ODR is not to replace courts but to provide an additional, more cost efficient, access point to the courts. Dispensing ODR through the courts assures participants that the terms of their agreements will be respected and enforced by courts.
By reimagining traditional formal court processes, courts have been able to embrace ODR solutions and make these solutions a reality. ODR case types include, but are not limited to, traffic violations, family law, minor offenses, and small claims cases. Besides providing access to justice, courts are hopeful that the implementation of ODR solutions will make court processes more efficient.
Today, ODR exists and is being implemented in numerous courts. Courts are either developing their own ODR solution platforms or using private vendors. Michigan’s 31st Judicial District Court has embraced ODR for traffic court cases. Using a private vendor’s ODR product, the 31st Judicial District provides participants with an online ticket negotiation platform. In September 2018, Utah launched its ODR pilot project. The ODR solution platform was developed by Utah’s staff of the Administrative Office of the Courts and is currently being used for small claims cases.
While some courts are already using ODR solutions, others are in the process of implementing such solutions. A number of these courts are participating in the National Center for State Courts (“NCSC”) and The Pew Charitable Trusts’ (“Pew”) ODR project. States currently participating in the project include, but are not limited to, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, and Hawaii. The participating courts vary in their implementation stage. Some courts are implementing ODR on top of their current business processes while others are entirely re-thinking their business processes. Some courts have started using private ODR vendor providers while other courts are considering either developing in-house solutions or using an ODR vendor provider. Throughout the implementation process, Pew and NCSC will provide research support and technical assistance to participating courts.
Regardless of whether a court is using or implementing ODR, the landscape by which the public can access courts is shifting. The need to be physically present is slowly eroding and being replaced by a system that has broader public reach.