By Alexander Mulligan
Unprecedented. Strange Times. New Normal. It seems every email, article, or news report you read seems to include one of those phrases. To fit into the current cultural trend, I want to talk about the “unprecedented” uptake of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) during these “Strange Times”. ODR could certainly become a “new normal” as a way to settle disputes and improve access to justice. Hopefully, at the end of this article, you’ll have an idea of why ODR mediation can work for you!
First, what is ODR? Mediating can be daunting, doing so online adds another lawyer of possible complexity, we all suffer from tech problems! To state the obvious, ODR takes place online through your computer, phone, or tablet. ODR can take place on many platforms: Zoom, Google Meets, Signal, Skype, Whereby, even FaceTime! ODR is very similar to an in-person mediation. You can have a private chat with your counsel, you can have a caucus alone with the mediator or your lawyer, the rules of engagement are the same, and the only difference is that you’re are mediating online.
There are many benefits to ODR, but one of the biggest benefits is the convenience it provides. ODR is flexible and can happen just about anywhere you have access to a phone, computer, tablet, and internet. That means mediation can occur during your lunch break, after traditional business hours, and around your caregiving, school, or work schedules. Instead of having to take a day or half-day off of work or school to travel to a location, you can conduct a mediation anywhere that is comfortable for you. This ultimately saves you money, you don’t have to miss work, pay for TTC, Uber, or a Cab, book out a mediation space, or travel to a different city. You can meditate anywhere in the world, with anyone in the world. Instead of building your schedule around your mediation, ODR allows you to build your mediation around your schedule.
ODR can also be cost-effective and more efficient, making it sensitive to disputes. It’s relativity easy to set up, takes up less space than traditional mediation. The flexibility and ease that ODR provides mean there is a good chance a mediation can occur sooner and quicker than waiting to schedule an in-person mediation. Walking away from an in-person mediation may be difficult, you’ve likely worked for weeks to schedule an in-person mediation, you may have had to travel far to conduct the mediation, and you may have spent a lot of money to attend that mediation. ODR is comparatively less risky. You haven’t had to travel far, you’ve built your mediation around your schedule, and you’ve likely spent less money.
That all sounds great but is it secure? The answer is yes! Your mediation can be password protected, and the meeting itself can be encrypted, a security feature that prevents hackers from viewing your meeting. Like traditional mediation, no recordings should be made or kept. If you’re concerned about recordings, you can raise that with the mediator. If privacy is a major concern to you, enhanced platforms such as Signal, often used by journalist, can be used.
Of course, ODR comes with its difficulties. Clients, counsel, and mediators should be aware of them. They can include:
- Lack of access to a phone/ tablet/ computer with a webcam and microphone
- Inconsistent access to the internet, unable to access the internet
- Heightened privacy and security concerns
- Technological capabilities
- Client’s preferences to meet in person
COVID-19 has forced our justice system to assess how we handle disputes and serve clients. ODR is an effective, efficient, and safe way to settle disputes now and going forward.
The Osgoode Mediation Clinic is open for online mediations. To see how we can help you settle your disputes in a professional and efficient manner, please contact us here.