Solving disputes online cheaper, faster

For the London Free Press - May 25, 2009 Read this on Canoe

Online alternative dispute resolution (ADR) may be the future of dispute resolution.

ADR has been used for many years to resolve disputes outside the court system. It involves parties agreeing to mediate or arbitrate their dispute rather than pursue it through the courts.

ADR has become increasingly popular as parties find themselves frustrated by prolonged court cases and rising costs.

Arbitration works much like a court trial, in that the arbitrator makes a decision based on evidence presented by the parties.

Mediation is more like a facilitated negotiation, in which the parties reach a decision based on the efforts of the mediator to help them find common ground.

ADR, especially mediation, can offer participants numerous advantages. It's more cost-effective and significantly faster than going through the courts.

Mediation also can preserve the relationship between the parties. That can be vitally important, whether it be a martial dispute in which disputing parties must be able to maintain a civilized relationship for their children, or a business relationship both parties hope to continue.

As technology advances and our global economy grows, more and more people are expanding ADR beyond in-person mediations and arbitrations and conducting them by phone or video conference. Telephone and video ADR presents significant cost and time advantages, whether the parties are across town or in different countries.

As the costs of the tools and programs that allow such virtual ADR drop, this will be a growing option for the future of alternative dispute resolution. What used to require very expensive video conference facilities can now be done with tools available to most of us on our desktops.

Some people are skeptical about the efficacy of virtual ADR, especially over the phone where you can't see the other party. Missing key body language cues or facial expressions may hinder effective ADR.

On the other hand, that disadvantage affects both parties equally and thus creates a level playing field to which both parties must adapt. And much of the problem can be addressed by using video technology.

In many instances, these disadvantages are outweighed by the numerous advantages of ADR.

Ultimately, as the world keeps getting smaller, and parties do business with clients around the world, online ADR offers a sensible, efficient and cost -effective way to resolve disputes. And it means difference can be addressed early before they escalate and become harder to settle.

Online ADR has the potential to significantly change the way disputes are resolved.

Perhaps we'll see a world where virtual ADR is used, subject to cooling-off periods, for almost instantaneous mediation of disputes, whether they're business, political, or personal.

Given the right factual situations and the right parties, the use of virtual ADR could positively influence Canada's legal landscape.