The Utah State Courts will launch a pilot program tomorrow using online dispute resolution to seek to resolve small claims cases in the Justice Court in West Valley City, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

This appears to be only the second court in the United States to offer ODR for all small-claims cases. A November 2017 survey by the National Center for State Courts found only three U.S. courts using ODR in any capacity. Just one of those three, the Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus, Ohio, is using it for all small-claims cases. The other two are using it for review of traffic tickets or warrant issuances.

The ODR programs of the three courts cited by the NCSC all use an ODR platform, Matterhorn, from a company called Court Innovations. The company’s website lists a total of 36 U.S. courts (28 in Michigan) using its platform. Again, however, all but Franklin County appear to be using it only for limited purposes — mostly traffic, warrant or tax cases — not across all small-claims cases.

In Utah, the court system sees the use of ODR as an opportunity to increase access to justice by bringing tools for dispute resolution directly to participants and to increase engagement with the courts by making them more convenient and accessible, according to a document prepared by the court and provided to me by Catherine J. Dupont, appellate court administrator.

The pilot program begins tomorrow in the West Valley City Justice Court. All small claims cases in that court will be required to participate in ODR, except for a few that meet strict exemption criteria (such as a lack of Internet access).

How It Works

The ODR program can be accessed from both computer desktops and mobile devices. Parties will be able to communicate via chat, upload documents and prepare settlement agreements.

A plaintiff’s filing of a small claims affidavit and summons begins the ODR process. The plaintiff must log into the account within seven days or the case is dismissed without prejudice. The summons served on the defendant provides directions on logging in to the ODR site.

Once logged in, the defendant is asked a series of generic questions designed to determine the extent to which the defendant agrees or disagrees with the claim and willingness to enter into a payment plan as part of a settlement. If the defendant fails to log in within 14 days, a default judgment may be entered. However, a defendant may ask to bypass ODR if the defendant needs ADA assistance, does not speak English, or does not have Internet access.

After both parties have logged in, a facilitator is assigned to the case. The facilitator guides the parties through a discussion of the issues in the case and the possibility of reaching an agreement. The facilitator also can assist in finalizing documentation for a settlement or trial preparation. All of the parties can see all of the chat messaging and uploaded documents.

Mobile view of the ODR chat.

If the parties reach a settlement, the facilitator may draft a settlement agreement or either of the parties may do so. A form prompts the drafter to enter pertinent information and then the system automatically generates the settlement agreement. Once both parties sign, the facilitator submits it to the court, where it is entered in the record. The parties can decide whether the settlement should be entered as a judgment of the court.

If the parties are unable to reach agreement within two weeks, the facilitator prepares a trial preparation document summarizing both parties’ positions. Both parties are expected to sign this (it is not clear what happens if either does not), and it is then submitted to the court and the case returns to the normal small claims docket and is scheduled for trial. Documents submitted during ODR do not automatically become part of the court record and would have to be submitted at trial.

Bottom Line

This is one of those smallish steps that is suggestive of something bigger. In a talk I gave earlier this year to the Legal Services Corporation on The Innovation Gap, one of the key points I made was that courts need to rethink how they deliver justice — and what it even means to deliver justice.

Just as the Utah Courts said in explaining the thinking behind this pilot, ODR is an effective way of bringing the courthouse to the litigants, making it easier for them to engage with the system and therefore more likely that they will engage with the system. It also reduces the strain on court budgets, staffs and dockets caused by the explosion of pro se litigants. We’ll be watching this pilot to see how it turns out.

Modria, a pioneering company in the field of online dispute resolution, has been acquired by Tyler Technologies, a company that develops software products for local governments. Modria will become part of Tyler’s Courts and Justice Division, where Modria’s technology will be used to help courts more efficiently handle large volumes of disputes.

Modria was founded in 2011 by Colin Rule, who earlier designed and ran eBay’s ODR system, considered the most successful ODR system in the world, and Chittu Nagarajan, the woman who formerly ran the largest ODR system in Asia.

Modria’s ODR platform has been used by a number of e-commerce sites as well as by innovative sites designed to provide alternatives to litigation, such as the Rechtwijzer site in the Netherlands, developed by HiiL and the Dutch Legal Aid Board to provide dispute resolution for divorce and separation, landlord-tenant and employment disputes. (See my post: Is There a Future for Online Dispute Resolution for Lawyers?)

Modria’s platform has also been adopted by various tax assessors in the United States and Canada to resolve property tax appeals. I wrote about this in the ABA Journal.

Rule will remain with Tyler as vice president of online dispute resolution. Modria will be shutting down its e-commerce customers and focusing entirely on courts and ADR organizations, Rule told me.

A Tyler press release said that Modria’s software will be integrated with Odyssey File & Serve, Tyler’s e-filing management platform.

Modria will provide Tyler’s court clients with efficient ways to handle large volumes of disputes in an automated fashion, through integration with Odyssey. Specifically, it will help reduce the number of cases that need to be heard, leading to reduced costs in the court and in clerk offices for supporting these hearings.

The press release said that Tyler will also continue to support Modria’s tax and appraisal clients.

A post on the Modria blog gave further details of the integration:

This combination will create a single system capable of supporting citizens all the way through their justice journey. Marrying Modria’s technology with Tyler’s advanced guidance, e-filing, and court case management tools will create a comprehensive system that expands access to justice while meeting the ever-increasing expectations of citizens in the modern era. Fortified by Tyler’s vast resources, Modria customers will gain access to sophisticated support and training platforms as well as best practices used to develop, install and maintain Tyler products, including 24/7 client support, an online forum and knowledge base where clients share ideas and ask questions.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

(Rule and I presented a program on ODR at ABA Techshow in 2016. Victor Li covered it for the ABA Journal: Is Online Dispute Resolution the Wave of the Future?)

[Another in a series of mini-reports on what I saw at the annual LegalTech conference in New York this week.]

Picture it SettledPredictive analytics are all the rage in e-discovery, but here is a new product that uses artificial intelligence and deep data to predict the course of a negotiation, estimating when the parties are likely to settle and for how much.

Called Picture It Settled, this web-based tool draws on data harvested from thousands of cases. Its developers claim that it is able to estimate when parties are likely to settle and for what amount with a high degree of accuracy. Advocates in a negotiation or mediation can use the tool to plot scenarios and plan strategies.

Here is how the website describes it:

Negotiation between legal parties has historically been a process dominated by uncertainty, guessing games and anxiety. However, today’s professionals can make strategic decisions based on deep data and predictive analytics to improve conventional wisdom and correct cognitive errors in judgment. Using neural networks to examine the behavior of negotiators in thousands of cases, Picture It Settled can predict what an opponent will do, thereby saving time and money while optimizing settlements. Picture It Settled does not replace lawyers – instead, it is a critically important resource that gives them a distinct edge in the negotiation process.

The tool was developed by a team led by Don Philbin, a San Antonio-based attorney and mediator. Its release at LegalTech follows the 2011 release of Picture It Settled Lite, a less-robust mobile app. (In fact, data collected through the mobile app was used to augment the case data collected from other sources.)

Until March 31, you can try Picture It Settled for free. After then, it will be available via subscription as a software-as-a-service.

Can a lawyer who helped bring zip to electric cars do the same for online dispute resolution?

Craig Harding, the former general counsel of Tesla Motors, now hopes to bring speed and style to ODR with the launch of an “online courtroom service” called ZipCourt. It will be a challenge. ODR has long struck me as a smart alternative to litigation or live ADR for certain kinds of disputes. But it has failed to gain broad use, even though a number of ODR services have tried to establish footholds over the years.

ZipCourt borrows elements from both ODR and traditional ADR. While some ODR services rely heavily on technology to automate or assist in the resolution of a dispute, ZipCourt leaves the decision-making to actual human arbitrators. In this way, it says, it is able to handle anything from a simple disagreement to a complex dispute.

Here is how it works. A party goes to the site and registers a dispute, using a form to provide a brief description and to categorize its complexity and subject matter. ZipCourt then invites the other parties in the dispute to participate. If the parties accept and agree to the terms, ZipCourt assigns an arbitrator (or the parties select one by ranking a list of arbitrators). Parties then use the system to upload evidence and exchange messages. Once the arbitrator reaches a decision, the decision is uploaded and the process is complete.

Depending on the complexity of the dispute, the process generally ranges in length from three to 30 days. The cost depends on the complexity. A simple disagreement is $399 per party, a legal dispute is $1,999 per party, and a complex dispute – one requiring rigorous analysis and extensive review of numerous documents — is $14,900 per party.

Helping Harding in this venture is Chris Kyriacou, a former in-house lawyer at Apple, where he managed IP and commercial litigation. Serving as advisors are Larry Kramer, dean of Stanford Law School, and Gary Benton, founder of Silicon Valley Arbitration Center.

I am chairing a Massachusetts Bar Association panel next week, Online Dispute Resolution: How it Provides Increased Effectiveness, Efficiency and Quality. We will have two speakers who are leaders in this field:

The program is Thursday, Oct. 18, noon to 2 p.m. Cost is $15 for law students and members of MBA sponsoring sections, $25 for other MBA members and $50 for nonmembers.

The program is sponsored by the MBA’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee (on which I serve) together with its sections on Business Law; Civil Litigation; Family Law; General Practice, Solo & Small Firm; Law Practice Management; and Young Lawyers.

I have had several occasions recently to speak with Jeff Aresty, the Boston lawyer who is the founder and president of Although I had known about the organization, hearing what Jeff had to say has convinced me that could come to serve a central role in shaping the future of law and justice worldwide. This morning, I joined. I encourage others to do the same if you are interested in how technology can transform the practice of law.

Some key points about

  • Its core mission is to use technology and the Internet to harness “the world’s collective intelligence for the support of a fair and accessible global online justice system.” That is high talk, but the group truly is devoted to using technology to enhance civil and social justice throughout the world, particularly in developing countries. This means looking at online tools for dispute resolution, law practice, collaboration, communications and training.
  • The group is already actively engaged in projects in China, Africa and elsewhere aimed at using justice systems to enhance e-commerce and economic development.
  • It recently launched the Institute to provide education and training in e-lawyering, online dispute resolution and emerging areas of law. Many of its courses are free.
  • Its leaders are well-regarded legal and technology professionals with proven credentials. Aresty, for example, has a 30-year track record as a legal innovator, including having co-founded ABA TechShow in 1987, initiating and directing the Computer College Program in the mid-80s, serving as reporter to the ABA’s eLawyering Task Force, and currently chair of the ABA’s International Services, Technology and Data Protection Committee. Treasurer Ken Vacovec is a well-known Massachusetts tax lawyer and former state bar president who chaired a study on unmet legal needs in the state.
  • It is developing alliances with other innovative organizations, such as the Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with which it cosponored Cyberweek 2006.
  • For lawyers in Massachusetts, recently formed an alliance with the Massachusetts Bar Association offering special courses through its institute. Aresty is working with the MBA’s ADR Committee — of which I am a member — to develop programs and training in ODR.
  • Last but not least — it is free to join. In fact — and frankly this seemed odd to me — it does not even ask your name or location, just your e-mail address. The organization may charge dues someday, but not anytime this year, Aresty said.

Consider joining. Take a look around the Web sites of the organization and its institute, read Aresty’s blog and the blog of the organization’s executive director, Susan Waters, and decide for yourself.