Will technology replace or merely enhance our abilities to achieve settlements? Last week I spoke at an Osgoode Professional Development session on Settlement in the Digital Era: Essentials for Non-Techies. My co-panelist was Colm Brannigan, a mediator very familiar with Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). Colm and I have had some good discussions beforehand about how technology can assist the settlement process, whether an informal negotiation between parties or a formal court-ordered mediation.
Ultimately, despite the tech fan and early adopter in both of us, we realised that nothing can replace the human aspect of resolving most disputes beyond a traffic ticket. For many people, they simply need to physically face their opposing party and ‘have their day in court’. The emotions in our voice and on our face, the passion of our positions and the human needs that have to be addressed in dispute resolution cannot be completely replaced by technology.
Tech can more than enhance the process. Here are a few of the highlights from our talk:
- Numbers – tech tools can definitely help triage, organize, calculate and strip away emotion from the numbers. Familiar tools like Excel are always useful, but there are other tools out there, such as Smart Settle that help sort through the monetary asks from the emotional positioning.
- Location & Convenience – ODR allows parties to be face to face from different locations. Skype and other video conference tools are staples, but so are full platforms like Modria (note: Colm is on the advisory board of that platform), as well as newer online tribunals in the UK and in BC.
- Exchanging information – from email to USB sticks to complex eDiscovery software, exchanging documents electronically assists the parties to hit the ground running upfront in a cost-effective manner.
- Apps – we didn’t find a ton of apps to use yet. While there are some good apps out there (such as SettlementApp), the practical obstacle is that these types of apps are essentially to calculate the final deal and exchange money online. For the money exchange portion, unless the settlement funds are being run through the law firm, ultimately you need to have the parties download, learn and use the app for what many times will be a one-time use. Keen lawyers would be all over the app, but why would most non-corporate clients bother?
There will no doubt be growth in the application of tech to the settlement process. eDiscovery software has dug into sophisticated analytics, predictive coding and other features that more accurately replicate human participation and judgment in the document review process. While nothing will replace our basic human need to have our voice and emotion heard, the ongoing evolution of sophisticated tech tools (such as Picture It Settled) will enable us to better sort through that emotion and perhaps hear each other better.
My thanks to Colm for sharing many of the above tech tools with me. If you have used some helpful tools in the settlement process, please let me know. I’m always happy to try out new tech.