Four Ways to Prepare Your Court for ODR

August 19, 2019 by Meredith Trimble

Four Ways to Prepare Your Court for ODR

Online dispute resolution (ODR) has been in place for decades as a successful tool for large e-commerce companies like eBay and PayPal. These entities realized the need for fast and fair resolutions to increase trust among users to convince them to continue buying things online. To that end, they invested tens of millions of dollars in building ODR tools that are now widespread in the private sector.

Among the developments pushing ODR forward is its exciting, cutting-edge functionality for courts. There are currently dozens of county and statewide court ODR implementations in the United States, and adoption is also growing in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Canada.

In courts, ODR has benefited litigants as well as court systems in family cases and small claims cases from debt to landlord-tenant to consumer issues. There are even applications for a variety of criminal case types. ODR saves litigants money as well as time away from work and family. It provides justice partners with increased efficiency and reduced case backlogs. Perhaps most important, it simplifies the legal system and greatly expands access to justice.

How can you prepare you court and community to realize these benefits? Here are four key ways:

1. Plan Your Case Type

With the variety of cases that can benefit from ODR, it makes sense to start small and build. Your initial target caseload should be narrow in scope so that you can refine your processes and work through any issues before expanding to other areas. Examples of first caseloads are: traffic (plea agreements, parking tickets); landlord (tenant and foreclosure issues); parenting (custody, dissolution); and civil contracts (small claims, debt collection).

In addition to the initial caseload, how ODR integrates with your existing system also matters. At this early stage, consider how ODR can fit with both e-filing and case management systems so that documents and data can flow seamlessly, or, alternately, can be manually uploaded to the CMS. Consider, too, all required party notifications, associated timelines from case filing to final judgment, and all possible payment options. Finally, determine what outcome documents will be possible through ODR, including full settlement agreements, partial agreements, mediated agreements, or others.

2. Get Stakeholder Support

Key stakeholders include attorneys and court mediators. Attorneys eager to enhance access to justice can offer valuable insight around the process in addition to being able to review legal processes for accuracy. Presenting at bar meetings is an example of effective communication to the attorney community.

Mediators can help you define all the steps in the current ADR process and review the proposed ODR processes. Note that ODR offers residents access to mediators regardless of their geographic locations, expanding the reach of their services. In courts that have implemented ODR, mediators often experience faster closure rateand increased efficiencies on the job.

3. Create Awareness

Because ODR benefits justice partners and the public alike, awareness efforts should be broad and include the media, legal aid centers, and nonprofits. Effective awareness strategies include news articles and podcasts, along with outreach efforts to law libraries, legal aid offices, and organizations such as churches, shelters, and domestic abuse offices.

Court-branded posters in and around the courthouse also help. Think prime placement such as around elevators, in courtrooms, and in clerks’ offices.

4. Define Success

Determine what is most important for your court. Is it faster case closures? Reduced backlog? Reduced default judgments? Maybe you are looking for increased access to justice or equal access to mediation. Some courts seek to reduce caseloads so that judges are free to focus on more complex cases.

Once you have your baseline goals, plan a way to measure success through surveys, interviews, and reports. Surveys, for example, can help you assess usability and time and money saved. Interviews should be consistent and include measurable questions. Reporting can provide visualizations for enhanced insight over larger data sets.

The benefits of ODR to courts, justice partners, and the public are many. Taking these key steps will prepare your court and ready it for new functionalities and improved outcomes.

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