Our technology-intensive environment provides us with opportunities for innovation. At the same time, as the pace of change accelerates, more problems and disputes arise. Quite rightly, it has been written, “conflict is a growth industry.”
Technology, in the form of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), can also make conflict resolution and prevention a “growth industry.” Last year, eBay alone resolved over 60 million disputes and Alibaba more than 100 million. There are ambitious plans for an online small claims court in the United Kingdom and ODR projects are operating in the Netherlands, Canada, China, and elsewhere. The United States, unfortunately, is behind other countries in developing online courts and easy online access to justice systems.
Can access to justice occur at the click of a mouse? Can we ask Siri, Google, or Alexa, to “Please settle my dispute with so and so?” Soon enough, an electronic device will replace the courtroom door as the entry point to formal and informal online dispute resolution processes. As this virtual door opens, how can we make sure that it is always open and inviting, meets the needs of the public and is much more accessible than our current justice systems?
Ethan, founder of the field of online dispute resolution (ODR), currently serves as the Director of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution. In 1999, he conducted the eBay pilot project which led to the creation of eBay’s current system that handles over sixty million disputes each year.
This year, Ethan was awarded the 2017 D’Alemberte-Raven Award from the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution – the Section’s highest honor recognizing outstanding service in dispute resolution. He also co-authored the recently published Digital Justice: Technology and the Internet of Disputes.
Ethan is Professor Emeritus of Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has been an Affiliate Researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and a Visiting Professor of Law and Cyberspace at Brandeis University.