There have been several attempts in the past to establish a publicly-accessible online service that could be used by individuals and businesses to resolve their disputes and disagreements without the need to attend court in person. Most have failed to gain traction and some have shuttered their virtual doors completely.
We have learned over the past several years that to survive, many businesses eventually need to either transform their business to one conducted mostly, if not wholly, online. Netflix versus Blockbuster is a prime example. Or businesses that cannot be wholly online due to their very nature, must at least have a solid online presence.
Although success has been elusive for all but a few established brick & mortar alternative dispute resolution providers, such as the American Arbitration Association, the time is right for Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) to emerge as a force for change and supplant, or at the very least enhance, traditional methods of resolving a dispute whether it is the courts or traditional brick and mortar arbitration and mediation.
There are many reasons why ODR has a much better chance now of being successful than at anytime in the past:
- There are already excellent examples where online dispute resolution has worked well. One oft used example is eBay. Another is Wikipedia – there are constantly disputes between contributors that must be resolved.
- Enforcement of an ODR outcome is much easier now than ever before. Online businesses using ODR like those mentioned above have always had an advantage over other traditional businesses when it comes to enforcement for a few reasons, including that the disputing parties typically rely on continued use of the service and do not want to have their access blocked, or receive a black mark on their public profile.
Now the courts in North America have moved a long way to leveling the playing field, making it much easier than ever before to enforce arbitration awards and mediation settlement agreements for all individuals and companies. Partially due to budget cut-backs for the judiciary and a huge backlog of cases, the courts are now in favor of private dispute resolution and willingly recognize and enforce arbitration awards with very little fuss, time and cost. It is now easier than ever before for anyone with an arbitration award to convert it to a court judgment with a simple summary application to the court and enforce it just as any court judgment could be enforced.
- Due to the nature of our ever more connected and accessible global community, there are a lot more cross-border (State, Province & Country) transactions and contracts – both consumer and commercial. Trying to decide on a legal jurisdiction in which to try the case when the disputing parties are in separate jurisdictions is often a fight in and of itself. If that is overcome the next problem is enforcement of the judgment in a jurisdiction outside of where it was awarded; if it is even possible, this is often a time-consuming and costly task. There are no such issues with ODR since it does not rely on any one jurisdiction. Many countries, including the U.S. and Canada, are signatories the New York Convention which allows for enforcement of ODR decisions in either of the parties’ jurisdictions. Many businesses prefer arbitration over litigation for this reason alone.
- ODR is gaining credibility as some governments move forward with initiatives to take some cases out of the physical courts and put them online to save money and time. For example, British Columbia passed legislation recently that will pave the way for an ODR system that will see most small claims under $25,000 be decided online beginning in 2013 or 2014. It is expected to take about 60 days to resolve a dispute online, compared to 12 to 18 months in small claims court. Another example is the European Commission’s initiative to put in place a Europe-wide ODR platform for cross-border online consumer transaction issues. The idea is to create an EU-wide single online platform which will allow consumers and businesses to solve contractual disputes entirely online within 30 days.
- The Millennial Generation, those now aged 15 to 30 grew up with the Web and computers and find it very easy keeping pace with technological changes. With the advent of online banking, shopping, dating, file sharing and almost every other activity that does not require face-to-face interaction, it is second nature for them to conduct most aspects of their lives online. They are as comfortable, and often even more comfortable, living their lives online as off-line. The number of activities they would prefer to be doing online increases every day. How many people under 30 go to the library to do research, or pick up the hard-copy of a newspaper? How many people under 30 do you see waiting in line at the bank to initiate a money transfer or pay their Bills? You also can’t discount the 30 to 40 year olds, most of whom are avid users of technological innovations they never dreamed they would ever be able to figure out when they first started appearing 5 or 10 years ago. Let’s also not rule out many of those over 40 who have managed to learn to like, if not love, many of the online services. More and more I see 65 and 70 year olds posting on Facebook and using their shiny new iPhones and iPads to do things online they never thought possible.
- Of course there’s also the advancements in technology factor. Compared to only two or three years ago, it is now much easier to communicate online in an effective, efficient and economical manner. Access to the internet, internet speeds, instant communication via voice or text, and video are no longer only available to those with deep wallets. Now, almost everyone can take advantage of these features.
Why does eQuibbly specifically have a better chance of success than its predecessors?
We keep it simple, offer options, and people can use most of it for free. eQuibbly functions much like many modern apps do; it’s intuitive and easy to understand, making it simple for those unfamiliar with technology to use it without the need for a manual. eQuibbly is a one-stop shop for resolving many types of disputes, from the minor family quibbles to the more serious breach of contract disputes. Individuals and businesses can choose to either have their disagreements resolved in a public forum, in a virtual private room using mediation, or in a virtual private room using legally-binding arbitration. The arbitration award provided by eQuibbly is enforceable in courts throughout North America upon a summary application.
No other company in the past has offered an ODR solution that is as comprehensive and as simple to use as eQuibbly.