The first answer to that question is that there is a much bigger world out there as a marketplace for your ADR skills and services than those who can attend a mediation or other ADR session in person. Moreover ODR tools and skills also add value to, and improve, in-person mediation. Additionally, applying the fast developing online technologies to resolving disputes is taking an increasingly significant role in justice systems worldwide. So the question is better framed as ‘Why not train in ODR?”
The European Union has now passed a Regulation on ODR under which there is now an EU run website to direct the parties in disputes related to consumer transactions to various approved ADR services operating online.
Moreover, as from the 15th February 2016 it became a legal duty on all in the EU who sell products or services online to carry a link on their websites to the EU ODR platform. This will have the effect of promoting a large increase in the use of ODR in such disputes.
As there is no value limit in the definition of ‘consumer’, this duty, to effectively help develop market awareness of ODR through the link, will apply to those selling ocean going yachts as much as to phone accessories.
In the UK in 2016, Lord Justice Briggs published his Final Report into the structure of the UK court system, which supports the proposals in the Report of the Civil Justice Council’s ODR Advisory Group (of which your lead tutor, Graham Ross, is a member and co-author of the Report) recommending the setting up of ‘HM Online Court’. The Court and Tribunals Service is already working on development of this online justice addition to the court system. Not only will such an online court make use of online technology but it will include within the court system all forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (mediation, arbitration, adjudication etc) so that the word ‘Alternative’ then becomes redundant or, more accurately, replaced by ‘Appropriate’.
In the USA, the courts in New York State are also currently developing an online court. Canada now has its Civil Resolution Tribunal operational in British Columbia in parallel to the court system and the Netherlands have already set the pace with its Rechtwijzer ODR service developed for Legal Aid. Similar developments are being investigated and first steps taken in other countries. The International Chamber of Commerce hosted the 17th International Forum on ODR in Paris in June 2017. The Council of Europe has issued a Resolution urging all of its 47 member countries to encourage the development and use of ODR which it sees as helping to improve access to justice.
With this gathering pace of development and growth in interest and use, now is clearly the time for dispute resolution professionals, be they mediators, arbitrators, ombudsmen or judges to develop their skills and knowledge in this exciting field.
ODR is often used as a term to refer to simply using online technology as a medium for communication. As this course will highlight, ODR is far more than that (as the image below makes clear).
However, even when focusing just on online communication, mediating online is not just about using the technology but, more importantly, understanding the dynamics of online discourse and how mediators can best adapt their skills, such as by generating and maintaining trust whilst not meeting the parties, as well as by controlling the pace and atmosphere of the discussions.
Mediators who can better make use of online technology will have a marketing advantage in that they will be able to offer their services to parties in dispute who simply cannot, at proportionate cost and time, resolve their disputes in person. More than that, ODR skills add value to in-person mediations by enabling much preparatory work to be undertaken online (clarifying and narrowing the issues, beginning to brainstorm alternate solutions, ensuring the parties fully understand, and buy into, the process etc, ensuring that the mediator can ‘hit the ground running’ at the beginning of the in-person meeting so that more time can be spent productively moving forward.