Liveblogging #ODR2016: Present Practices and Future Directions for ODR

I’m here at the #ODR2016 conference at the Peace Palace in The Hague. ODR2016 is the annual meeting of the Online Dispute Resolution Forum, an international assembly of lawyers, mediators, technologists, and others who care about technology and dispute resolution. It is cohosted by the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, where I am a fellow.

This liveblog represents a best-efforts account, not a direct transcript, of the lecture, presentation, and/or panel.

My liveblogging begins with day 2 of the ODR conference (I missed day 1 due to various travel delays). The morning begins with a series of remarks from some of the key organizers of the conference:

Jin, our host for this year’s conference, welcomes everyone back for the second day. He outlines the events of the day and quickly introduces Ethan as the ‘godfather’ of ODR and to have him speak on the future directions of ODR.

Ethan begins by quoting at length a 1996 essay by Richard Susskind about the printing press, the slide rule, the videophone, and the ATM. Two decades ago, Susskind wrote this essay to outline different histories/futures of ‘transformative’ technologies. Ethan asks the audience to consider which of these technologies ODR seems most akin to.

Jeff Aresty, of the Internet Bar, asks Ethan what he thinks about the focus on ‘ODR in the courts’ means in the context of this conference. Why are we focusing on courts when they move so slowly?

Ethan says that, for a long time, it indeed seemed like courts were not going to be the first place for ODR to function well. Part of this depends on what we count as ‘courts’: as Ethan notes, eBay has been essentially administrating its own private small claims court for decades now. However, he points to developing EU regulations that require alternative-dispute resolutions in traditional courts as a potential driver of innovation in traditional public courts.

An audience member brings up research done here in the Netherlands that the very poor and rural citizens don’t use the Internet or have the same access. She asks how ODR will empower these types of people?

Ethan agrees that there are several issues. However, he says that he is no longer as concerned about the ‘digital divide’ as he once was. Everyone has, or soon will have, mobile phones; the larger problem, in Ethan’s opinion, is that you can’t dialup access to the justice system like you can access to Uber. We need to simultaneously build that infrastructure so there is something for them to connect *to*.

Ethan combines several questions to ask whether ODR is a *part* of the courts or an *alternative to* the courts. He says the ultimate question is whether these labels will even apply or make sense in a few decades. The goal of ODR, as he conceptualizes it, is not based so much around courts or not, but a more abstract question of what it takes to have access to justice, and what tools and technologies will help achieve that. As an example, Ethan points to HiiL, which is trying to develop ways to measure justice. What would it even mean to measure justice, Ethan asks? It’s a hard question to ask and answer, but maybe it’s one we need to in order to guide us to the kind of change we need to realize.

Jin tells the audience that unfortunately Daniel could not attend today because he is working in Washington on the forthcoming presidential transition. However, he has submitted a video of his remarks.

After Daniel’s presentation, Jin invites us all to split off into the working groups which will take us up to a mid-morning coffee break:

  • ODR and the legal profession: enabling legal professionals to deliver more justice – Janet Martinez, Director of the Martin Daniel Gould Center for Conflict Resolution
  • Bending the Bar rules – Professor David Allen Larson, senior fellow at Mitchell Hamline’s Dispute Resolution Institute
  • Landlord-tenant disputes – Eiichiro Mandai, President ODR Room Network Japan
  • Timing interventions in the ODR process – Nicolas Vermeys, Associate Director Cyberjustice Laboratory University of Montreal
  • Small Claims – Sue Prince, Associate Professor in Law University of Exeter

I will be floating between these working groups and may not be able to liveblog many of them.