Virtual Velocity 2021 kicked off on August 4th. Using the Filo event platform, all attendees are able to join interactive rooms to learn from experts and network with other business owners. There is a new session each Wednesday in August starting at 2pm EDT. For those not able to join us, we wanted to provide a brief summary of what each of our guest presenters had to say. Week 2’s topic was Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), and we were joined by Susan Guthrie, Esq., thought leader and ODR specialist.

We don’t need to explain how the pandemic uprooted life as we know it. You’re living it, we’re living it, and we hear about it every time we visit the internet or switch on the news. All we will say is that the justice system has had to adapt many practices and processes due to COVID. We had the opportunity to speak with Susan Guthrie, Esq. about one of the most successful innovations to grow a following over the past few years, Online Dispute Resolution.

ODR takes mediation and arbitration online. Many people don’t immediately understand the incredible benefits that accompany this shift. Cases requiring mediation/arbitration are often emotionally charged and can therefore cause issues during in-person sessions. ODR was making an appearance before the pandemic, but its popularity has skyrocketed as more people shift to a virtual workspace. Susan sat down with us to discuss her firsthand experience with Online Dispute Resolution and how it’s changed her business forever.

A Bit About Susan

Susan Guthrie, Esq. is a self-proclaimed “reformed litigator.” She started out working on Wall Street before making the transition to family law. She quickly discovered that litigation is not the best avenue for family-based disputes, so she redirected her attention once again towards mediation. 12 years later and Susan hasn’t stepped foot in a courtroom. Susan’s decision to go virtual came from a unique, personal experience she had six years ago. After spending years on the East Coast, Susan moved to California. She realized that it was nearly impossible to attract clients as no one on the West Coast knew of her work record. She wanted to reach people who appreciate her years of dedication to the practice, and venturing online seemed to be the perfect answer. Thanks to technology, Susan is now able to work with clients from all over the country who seek her out. Not only is she more accessible to clients, but online mediation is also typically preferred these days!

Cases That Require Mediation/Arbitration

Online Dispute Resolution can be used for a variety of case types and scenarios. Typically, any case that is emotionally charged would be a good candidate for mediation or arbitration. Domestic disputes, family disputes, landlord/tenant disputes, or anything involving current employer/employee relationships commonly make their way onto the list. When people feel strongly about a situation, it can be difficult to get them to remain calm. They may not want to be in the same building as the other party, never mind the same room. By allowing the parties to remain separate, discussions will remain more civil, and reasonable decisions will be made. Other cases include those where it would be traumatic for the parties to interact such as in child abuse or domestic violence situations. Susan also mentioned that any dispute involving insurance tends to benefit greatly from Online Dispute Resolution. This includes personal injury, construction failure, worker’s compensation, etc. (more on that later). There are many other examples of dispute cases, but these are a few of the most common that Susan discussed in depth with the audience.  

Benefits of ODR

Online Dispute Resolution has a long list of benefits, many of which might not be immediately apparent when first discussing the topic.

  • More Affordable: Because you aren’t paying for travel or lodging, you can save a significant amount of money settling online. Fees are often less as well, and disputes are resolved in a very timely fashion.
  • Easy Scheduling: We’re all familiar with booking appointments online. ODR makes it possible to meet with all parties at the time most convenient to them. You won’t need to take all day off since there’s no travel time needed. You can sign in from anywhere with internet!
  • Decision Makers Can Be “In The Room”: Let’s say you have a dispute with a large company. If you were to settle in person, the company would send a local representative over to argue on their behalf. Because ODR is accessible from anywhere with internet, the actual decision makers can be the ones in the hearing so that no stories get twisted and the most effective decision can be reached.
  • Conversations Are More Open and Honest: As mentioned above, people tend to be more willing to speak openly when they are not physically with the other party. The screen is a sort of barrier that allows us to feel more comfortable and confident. Open discussions are the fastest way to resolve a dispute!
  • All Parties Get a Clear Look At Emotions and Body Language: You’ve likely heard complaints that our new remote world is making it harder to read body language and truly understand how the speaker is feeling. ODR experts would disagree with you. Video calls focus in on the face, and many platforms allow you to pin a speaker to full-screen mode. Unlike when in person, all parties get to see facial expressions straight on. If cases are in court, the judge only gets to see witnesses from the side. The opposing lawyer might not get a proper look at the speaker either. When virtual, everyone is on a level playing field and emotions can be read by everyone involved.
  • Video Builds Trust and Rapport: Susan didn’t deny that in-person meetings are the best way to gain trust, but she did make it a point to say that video calls are a close second. Seeing the person you’re talking to instantly builds the connection. A phone call or email thread doesn’t allow that to happen as a video call does. These disputes are emotionally charged, and the parties are typically on edge and a bit defensive. Trust and rapport are paramount to a smooth case. ODR allows parties to connect in real-time, seeing each other “face to face.”  We can read emotions, form a human connection, and feel more confident in our relationship.

Challenges in The Face of Technology

Allow us to make a bold statement: there is not a single person on this earth who has interacted with technology for any significant amount of time without running into some kind of challenge. When presented with the question “Have you run into any technology issues?” Susan had many anecdotes to provide. Before diving into examples, Susan led off with a very important statement: “You have to know that sooner or later the tech is going to fail you.” She proceeded to describe her most common snafus including Wi-Fi failures, power outages, unexpected updates, platform crashes, and mic/camera failure. Online Dispute Resolution will run into technical difficulties. The best practice is to acknowledge that from the start and be very transparent with clients. Have safety protocols in place and make everyone aware of them. Luckily, technical failure rarely happens to everyone on a call. Nine times out of ten, the person who has problems can restart and log back in without major issues. In the worst cases, Susan tells her clients to reach out to her and they can try to remedy the problem together. It’s wise to provide clients with several contact methods in the event of a major problem so they can keep you updated.

On the practitioner’s end, Susan’s top tip is to remain calm. ODR is a professional service that many clients place a lot of weight on. They may panic when things go array because the case is important to them. As the person in charge, it’s your responsibility to keep your head on straight and walk them through the next steps. If you exude confidence, your clients will feel protected no matter what happens. Plan for tech failures and have plans A, B, and C ready to go if needed. Whatever you do, avoid adding to the panic in the moment. You wouldn’t want the captain of a ship to panic in rough waters, so don’t let a power outage rattle you.

What’s Next For Online Dispute Resolution?

Practitioners from around the country continue to reach out to Susan Guthrie, Esq. for help transitioning to the digital space. It’s clear that ODR will not be going anywhere anytime soon. As the trend grows, we can expect to see new and improved technologies including new platforms, more secure cybersecurity measures, even more accessible options, and faster dispute resolutions. The industry is still adjusting to this new way of life, so bear with practitioners as they find their footing. We are excited to see where ODR goes next, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to be involved in this first phase. ImageSoft is a proud partner of Resolve Disputes Online, an international company that has seen great ODR success. Learn more about our services at resolvedisputes.com. We can help get you set up with a top-notch dispute resolution platform that your clients will love.

For additional questions or to schedule a live demo, please contact our team. Thank you to Susan Guthrie, Esq. for an incredibly informational session, and thank you to everyone who came out to the Virtual Velocity!