The latest entry in the field of automated, online dispute resolution is The Courthouse Steps. It appears to be similar in operation to one of the older kids on this virtual block,, in that offers and demands are compared electronically and the matter is settled if preset parameters are met.

Here is how it works. Either party to a dispute registers and makes either a cash settlement offer or an offer to split and settle at the midpoint between the offers. The opposing party is sent an e-mail saying that an offer has been made, without disclosing its amount, and inviting a response. If the opposing party accepts the invitation, it makes an offer of its own. Software compares the offers and settles the case at the midpoint, if both parties agreed to a split, or for a cash amount if the two offers were within a range indicated as acceptable by the party that initiated the process. If neither result is reached, all offers remain confidential.

The service is free to use until a settlement is reached, at which point the initiating party pays a $50 success fee.

The Courthouse Steps was founded by Robert V. Kixmiller, a lawyer with Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis.