For at least 25 years, companies have attempted to succeed in the business of online dispute resolution, mostly without success. Could that be about to change?
Twenty-five years ago, I published an article, Cyberspace Becomes Forum for Resolving Disputes, about the promise and potential of online dispute resolution. I revisited the topic in a post here five years ago, writing then that ODR “remains largely a fringe form of resolving any types of disputes.”
The one exception has been eBay’s dispute resolution program, which has been wildly successful, resolving millions of disputes every year. But eBay has essentially a captive audience of buyers and sellers who, because they are dispersed throughout the world and have mostly small-dollar disputes, have no other viable dispute-resolution option.
It always befuddled me that ODR failed to gain traction for more sophisticated disputes. As I recounted in that post five years ago, site after site tried and failed. Even the former general counsel of Tesla tried without success to launch an online dispute resolution platform.
Was it just that these sites were ahead of their time? One site that I talked about in that 2016 article thought so. “Even though most folks said we had a brilliant idea,” it said in a message it posted, “the market was not ready.”
Right Place, Right Time?
Fast forward to 2021, and to a point in time when disputes of every kind have been forced online, and when virtual court proceedings have become the norm. Could there be a better time to launch an ADR platform?
For New Era ADR, which is launching today, this could well be the right place and the right time. The company is launching as a fully virtual mediation and arbitration platform that promises to resolve business disputes in 100 days or less and save businesses up to 90% in time and expenses.
“In over 15 years, I’ve not met a single business that actually wanted to fight tooth and nail in a dispute,” said Rich Lee, a former general counsel who is New Era’s cofounder and CEO. “Without fail, the one question asked every time a potential dispute arose was how fast we can get this thing resolved.”
Lee was formerly general counsel of Civis Analytics, a data-science company born out of Barack Obama’s 2012 election campaign. His cofounders are Collin Williams, chairman, formerly general counsel of music marketplace Reverb; Shane Mulrooney, head of growth and customer experience, formerly general counsel at Home Chef; and Michelle Tyler, head of operations, formerly director of compliance and legal operations at Civis Analytics.
The company has raised pre-seed investment capital of $1.5 million. It has also assembled an advisory board of notable names from the legal, technology, and business sectors.
A Platform And A Service
New Era ADR is both a platform and a service. It provides a SaaS platform that is designed to streamline the procedures of dispute resolution, and that will include mediation, arbitration, and a hybrid product that combines mediation with a binding resolution.
It also provides experienced mediators and arbitrators through a partnership with the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals, an invitation-only professional organization of experienced civil and commercial mediators and arbitrators throughout the United States. The company says it is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and in every case will provide diverse panels of neutrals.
In an interview last week, Lee told me that the company’s goal is to become the go-to platform for economically resolving business-to-business commercial and civil disputes. They also hope that the platform will be used in business-to-consumer cases to help enhance access to justice.
As of today’s launch, New Era ADR is offering only mediation services. Within roughly a month, it plans to add expedited arbitration, designed for routine cases and targeting resolutions within 45-60 days. Following that will be the release of full arbitration for more complex commercial disputes.
Its platform is designed to streamline the process of filing a dispute, sharing documents, and engaging with a mediator or arbitrator. Lee said the goal was to digitize the entire process within a single platform, so there would be no need for emailing documents or offline payments.
Registered users start from a dashboard that lists all their pending cases. Lee anticipates that some attorneys and businesses will use the platform regularly and may have a number of cases open at any time.
Filing a dispute involves filling out a simple form in which the claimant describes who the dispute is against, the nature of the dispute, and the amount of money sought as damages. Payment is made up front.
Once the claim is filed, an email is sent to the respondent, providing notice that the mediation has been filed and providing a link for the respondent to click to join the mediation process. Lee anticipates that, in most cases, the parties will have agreed in advance to use this platform, so the email will typically not come as a surprise.
The initial form asks both parties to confidentially specify the dollar amount for which they are willing to settle. If those amounts are within 5% of one another, the mediator is made aware of this as a potential spur to reaching a resolution.
After both parties are in, they choose a mediator from a list provided by New Era ADR. They will choose based on the rank-and-strike method commonly used by other arbitration forums.
At that point, the parties can upload documents related to the dispute, which the mediator can view and make notes on. The mediator uses a calendaring feature to schedule a time with the parties for the actual mediation session.
The mediator can use Zoom or whatever videoconferencing platform he or she prefers. At the end of the session, if a resolution is reached, the platform provides a tool for creating a term sheet to encapsulate the agreement. That is then sent to each party to electronically sign.
Arbitrations will be submitted for decision based just on documents filed and the parties’ arguments. No testimony will be allowed from witnesses, although affidavits may be filed.
Another option New Era ADR provides is a hybrid mediation-arbitration. If parties are unable to resolve their dispute in mediation, they can elect, for an additional fee, to submit the dispute to the mediator for a binding decision. The mediator then, in effect, becomes an arbitrator, can schedule a hearing if desired, and issues a binding order.
How It Is Priced
The cost of the service is all based on flat fees and ranges from $5,000 to $35,000, depending on the type of matter and amount at issue. Mediation costs $5,000-$7,000. Expedited arbitration is $8,000-$10,000. Full arbitration is $35,000.
In B2B cases, the parties split the cost. In B2C cases, the business pays the full fee.
Collin Williams, New Era ADR’s cofounder and chairman, said in a statement, “The process of dispute resolution is broken; in the 21st century we should not be spending years to resolve disputes. We need technology that assists litigants and their attorneys in actually getting to a resolution, not milling about in the system for years.”
The fact is that we’ve had technology before that could do that, it just never widely caught on. But this time, as we come off a year in which the legal and business worlds have adapted to operating online, and in which many have seen firsthand that fair outcomes can be achieved without the hassle and expense of in-person proceedings, the timing could be just right for New Era ADR.
In that sense, maybe the founders were prescient in choosing a name for their company. Maybe this is a new era for ADR.