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.
For most of our day-to-day communication, we rely on the written word to replace much of the in-person and telephone conversations we relied on in the past. There’s no doubt there are instances where the intended meaning of what we write is misinterpreted by the person on the receiving end, which could have been avoided in person. But in certain situations, such where there are disputing Parties, there are many benefits to using the written word online.
How many times have you been in an argument or dispute with someone where simply looking at the person makes your blood boil? How often does your blood boil over when that person opens their mouth to speak? Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell found that over 65 percent of communication is nonverbal.
Each gesture or movement can convey meaning and trigger different emotions in others. This is useful in most circumstances, but given a dispute between Parties who are at odds with one another, it can be destructive. Facial expressions, the roll of the eyes, crossing of arms, shrugging of shoulders, or inflection in someone’s voice can set off negative emotions that distort the substance of the message – reason and logic are lost to emotion.
The following are some of the benefits that Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) has over traditional in-person dispute resolution:
- Online communication is often less emotional since negative verbal and visual communication is absent; it’s easier to focus on the facts and a reasoned resolution.
- People are less likely to be intimidated by the opposing Party when they’re not physically present due to the absence of visual and vocal tools of intimidation.
- It levels the playing field for those who are less skilled at expressing themselves verbally, suffer from stage fright, or who have speech impediments that cause them to be self-conscious. People also are less likely to be caught off guard or become flustered in the heat of the moment.
- It provides the Parties time to organize their thoughts and state their case in the clearest manner possible. There is time to consider what the other Party’s position is and to prepare a reasoned response.
- It eliminates the difficulties created by physical distance, other travel barriers, and scheduling conflicts.
- There’s a written record of what has been discussed making it difficult to deny what was said.
The B.C. government is getting into the online dispute resolution business. It unveiled plans to take small civil claims and condominium disputes out of the courts and put them online.
“Both individuals and business owners will find this a convenient and affordable way of reaching agreements,” B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond said in a statement. “Few people want to go to court to solve a legal dispute, which can be costly, intimidating and time consuming. A tribunal offers an innovative alternative to settling a dispute in a faster, more amicable way.” The government is hoping to launch the ODR infrastructure in 2013 or 2014 as a way to cut legal fees and travel costs for parties as well as to reduce the backlog of cases in the courts.
With the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, the B.C. Ministry of Justice is predicting a 60-day dispute resolution process, compared with the 12 to 18 months it can currently take for cases to wind their way through the province’s Small Claims Court. The tribunal will be available for disputes worth up to $25,000 where both parties agree to participate. However, it will be mandatory in certain types of property disputes involving condominiums.
The Act mandates that disputing parties are to represent themselves in the tribunal proceeding, however provision is made for legal representation in certain circumstances.
The tribunal will progress in four stages, with participants moving to the next stage only if they are unable to reach an agreement:
- Self-Help Dispute Resolution using online, interactive tools with information, tips and templates to help the parties reach a settlement;
- Supervised Negotiations Online;
- Direct Intervention by a Case Manager to Facilitate Settlement; and
- Online Tribunal Hearing where a final decision is made – the order can be filed with the court giving it the same force and effect as if it were a judgment of that court.
Being ‘greener’ than driving an electric car is just one of the many benefits of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). Below is a short summary of some of the benefits of ODR:
1. It’s Better for the Environment
A paper titled “ODR: The Next Green Giant“ (Noam Ebner and Colleen Getz) illustrates how ODR results in a significant environmental impact
ODR allows all participating parties, including the judges and court reporters and other personnel, to stay at home and turn on their computers to resolve an issue, rather than driving or boarding a plane. On a mass scale, this creates a huge reduction in carbon emissions.
The associated reduction in the use of the courts would also produce massive savings in energy consumption as the need for lighting, heating and air conditioning is reduced.
Of course less paper would be needed since ODR is virtually paperless.
2. It’s Very Cost Effective
ODR saves the disputing parties an incredible amount of money in legal fees they would otherwise have to pay their attorneys. eQuibbly takes this one step further by offering its ODR services free.
3. It’s Convenient
There’s no need to take-off work to spend half your day in court or and pre-trial hearings. You can resolve your disputes on your own schedule whenever you have time. You can even do it at 1 a.m. if that’s more convenient for you. You only need access to a computer.
5. It’s Private & Confidential
eQuibbly is private and confidential. Only the disputing parties and the arbitrators or mediators they invite to help them resolve their dispute can view the information. Everyone who participates agrees to keep it confidential. By contrast, the cases tried in courts in the U.S. and Canada are for public record; anyone including reporters can read what was said in court, what evidence was used and what judgment was handed down. There’s no need to air your dirty laundry in court when you have the privacy of ODR available to you.
These are just several benefits of ODR. There are many more advantages, which we will touch on in this blog from time to time. In the meantime find out for yourself how useful eQuibbly can be. Go to www.eQuibbly.com now and resolve that dispute that’s been bothering you for months!
eQuibbly is pleased to announce the latest additions to our site:
- Videos explaining how to use eQuibbly. You can view the video on our homepage near the bottom of the page: www.eQuibbly.com
- The ability to use a “Private Virtual Room”to resolve your disputes. It is completely confidential; only you and the people you invite to access the room can view your dispute, make suggestions on how to resolve it and vote for the side they think is right. You will see this option when you click the “Post Dispute” button.
- The ability to upload images and documents to support your position.
Good luck resolving your dispute,
The eQuibbly Team
eQuibbly is a web application created to help you resolve your disputes quickly and fairly. The site can be used for arbitration or mediation; otherwise known as ODR (online dispute resolution).
This isn’t as much a typical dispute you would find on eQuibbly.com as it is a very funny conversation between Wanda Sykes and a tow truck company about something Wanda found in the back of her car after it was towed. I’m assuming it’s not even based on a true story. Well worth a listen though if you need a good laugh.