Thanks to stay-at-home orders and most courts closed this past year because of the coronavirus pandemic, we are seeing increased interest in the use of online dispute resolution (ODR) systems by state and local courts.
While only a handful of state courts have adopted ODR systems, we expect this to grow rapidly now that the benefits are becoming more obvious.
New York state courts recently launched their first ODR system for small claims cases. This aligns with the court system’s efforts to launch more fully into alternative dispute resolution and online technology to better serve citizens, both during the pandemic and beyond.
Other States Have Been on Board with ODR Systems
Even before the pandemic, dozens of court systems in cities across the U.S. had implemented alternative dispute systems, including:
- Clark County Family Court (Las Vegas, NV)
- Franklin County Small Claims (Columbus, Ohio)
- Fulton County Small Claims (Atlanta, GA)
- Ohio Court of Claims (Statewide)
- Ottawa County Family Court Compliance (Grand Rapids, MI)
- Travis County Small Claims (Austin, TX)
- Utah Courts Small Claims (West Valley Justice Court, Carbon County Justice Court, and Orem Justice Court)
- Faulkner and Van Buren County District Courts (Faulkner and Van Buren County, AR)
- Sherwood District Court (Sherwood, AR)
- DeKalb County State Court – Traffic Division (DeKalb County, GA )
- Village of Ford Heights (Cook County, IL )
- Jefferson County District Court (Louisville, KY)
- Cleveland Municipal Court (Cleveland, OH)
- Franklin County Municipal Court (Franklin County, OH)
- Farmers Branch Municipal Court (Farmers Branch, TX)
- Hartford and New Haven (Connecticut)
- Orange County Small Claims (California)
- New Mexico Courts
- Yolo County Courts (California)
- Michigan Supreme Court
- Third Circuit Court in Columbia County, Florida
- Ninth Circuit Court in Orange County, Florida
- Los Angeles Superior Court, California
The pandemic certainly has pushed this initiative forward faster, and as more courts see how streamlined legal disputes can be with ODR systems in place, more will soon follow suit.
Courts Are Paying Attention to Citizens’ Needs
According to the American Bar Association Report: ODR in the USA, there are several features that courts are focusing on to ensure they deliver what users require.
Those features range from offering non-English language access to electronic document management, accessibility for people with disabilities, and the ability to caucus with a lawyer or neutral third party.
The key in getting people to adopt any new technology is, of course, making it easy for them. It’s great to see the effort being put into creating ease of use in ODR systems.
The Benefit of ODR Systems
So why, besides the fact that they let courts continue to serve citizens even when they can’t be open, are ODR systems taking the limelight right now?
There’s a lot to love, actually.
Time is Not an Issue
Scheduling court dates that fit both parties’ schedules, as well as that of lawyers and judge, can be a nightmare, but ODR systems offer asynchronous communication, which means all parties involved can access case information and upload documents on their own schedule.
All Documents are in One Place
There’s no waiting for court documents to be stamped and mailed back (and hope they don’t get lost on the way). With ODR, documents are managed electronically, and signatures can be electronic as well. The trees saved in the process thank you!
It’s Cheaper than Litigation
No company wants to spend more money to resolve a defaulted loan, and litigation in court can get outrageously expensive. Online dispute resolution, on the other hand, charges a flat rate that is significantly lower than what an attorney would charge for prep and time in court.
New York is just one of the court systems we expect to adopt ODR systems in the near future.