Three Perspectives on ODR
August 05, 2019 by
How a Judge, Court Administrator, and Court Mediator Benefit from ODR
Successful online dispute resolution (ODR) entails more than just expediting case resolution. Innovative courts are using ODR to transform business operations, reduce case backlogs, and most important, enhance access to justice for their constituencies.
On July 23, the National Association for Court Management (NACM) featured an engaging panel at its Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. The panel addressed how ODR is shaping the day-to-day work of diverse court systems, and featured the firsthand experiences of the following participants:
- Judge Jane Levy, State of New Mexico
- Timothy Ezell, Magistrate Court Administrator, Fulton County, Georgia
- Linda Sayegh, Mediation Manager, 8th Judicial District, Clark County, Nevada
Jamie Gillespie, Tyler’s General Manager of Online Dispute Resolution, led this discussion of ODR in action, beginning with the three key components of ODR programs:
- Exclusively online
- Designed to assist litigants
- Hosted or supported by the judicial branch
Here are some highlights of the NACM session:
For Judge Levy in the country’s fifth largest state, there can exist “attorney-mediator deserts.” The rural landscape and large number of debt cases can make resolution inefficient. “People are looking to enter into reasonable payment plans and wanting resolution without judgment,” Levy noted. For those litigants in debt cases, ODR brings them a new opportunity.
Timothy Ezell’s Magistrate Court handles between 80,000 and 100,000 cases per year, the majority of which involve self-represented litigants. “Small claims litigants can have trouble getting to court with car issues or childcare issues,” Ezell explained. ODR gives his court “the opportunity to allow them to resolve their disputes from home,” while also reducing the number of default judgments and cases being dismissed.
In Clark County, Nevada, mediation is mandatory for child custody cases. With nearly 4,000 mandatory mediation cases (not including remediation), ODR is “assisting parties and giving them access to justice,” according to Mediation Manager Linda Sayegh.
Access to Justice
Expanded access to justice happens when barriers to participation are mitigated. ODR, according to Judge Levy, “presents an opportunity for people to have access to mediators and resolve cases even if they live 80 miles from the courthouse.” Not only does this reduce default judgments, it encourages individuals to actively participate in their own cases. Oftentimes, this can result in more fair resolutions, as participants are engaged, and the system itself has built-in protections to ensure a correct result.
Ezell’s court started ODR in small claims cases because of the high rate of default and cases dismissed due to no-shows. “This gives them a chance to work on it from home, from your phone, throughout the day, and not necessarily during business hours,” Ezell noted. With a backlog of 30,000 pending small claims, “it is better for litigants to be able to reach their own conclusion,” Ezell said, while noting that giving the parties a platform for quicker resolution also lightens the court’s trial calendar.
In Clark County, faster and easier access to justice includes mobile phone functionality. In Sayegh’s district, 70% of plaintiffs have chosen ODR since it became mobile-friendly. This is particularly important in Nevada, where the casino industry makes normal work schedules a myth and individuals are penalized for time off. “80% of people are settling on weekends or after normal business hours,” Sayegh explained. And the county’s quickest settlement to date was reached in just two days.
NACM panel participants, L-R: Moderator Jamie Gillespie, Judge Jane Levy, Timothy Ezell, Linda Sayegh
For both Judge Levy and Ezell, stakeholder meetings and trainings were key for early buy-in. Judge Levy worked with groups of mediators and attorneys to workshop how the system could best serve everyone and customize the software to address everyone’s concerns. For Ezell, working through the system with clerks, the ADR office, and mediation teams gave everyone new insight that led to more efficient processes.
Sayegh addressed the “fear of the unknown” that is common in any new implementation and noted that judges and mediators alike were quick to realize ODR’s benefits. Judges, for example, realized that “if our calendars are looking good, their calendars are looking good,” Sayegh said. And mediators saw early success with lighter caseloads due to online resolution. “With ODR, we figured it’s the equivalent of a full-time mediator,” Sayegh noted.
The panelists all noted the importance of an ODR system that works seamlessly with other court filing software. “It’s helpful to have an integrated system,” noted Judge Levy. “We picked a system that would easily blend with the online filing system so that once parties have a settlement agreement, it populates and slides right over into the online filing system.” This allows staff to immediately see when parties have been referred to ADR or where cases stand.
Ezell, too, noted that his integrated system was carefully chosen so any new processes wouldn’t add work for the clerks. By simply inserting one code, clerks can view the ADR tab and instantly see which cases were referred and pick up their normal workflows accordingly.