It’s fascinating to me how something designed to do one thing ends up solving an unrelated problem. Its well known that technology developed for one purpose frequently and ultimately serves different and altogether unexpected purposes and benefits: text-to-voice services come immediately to mind. These technologies were developed with those who are partially sighted in mind, but now have far broader applications, such as voice recognition technology like Siri and Amazon.
And so I was pleasantly surprised to see the same thing at work at CLOC this week. As I previously mentioned in a earlier post about CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) generally and the state of the legal profession, CLOC is made up of movers and shakers in the legal operations field, IT representatives, innovation officers, and in house counsel who work for some the world’s largest corporations. CLOC believes passionately that innovation, technology, collaboration and legal process management can make the legal profession more efficient and answerable to business demands So while CLOC attendees might worry and be concerned over the severe access to justice (A2J) problem we have in this country, its not necessarily the mission of the organization.
But wait. It’s that same drive toward efficiency, innovation, collaboration and process management that may someday make a dent in the A2J problem. What CLOC and its constituents are doing is not only valuable in its own right, its collateral impact could go far beyond.
What CLOC and its constituents are doing is not only valuable in its own right, its collateral impact could go far beyond.
For example, at this year’s CLCO Institute in process this week, I discovered a vendor tucked away in the exhibit hall that may offer a solution to a small piece of the A2J problem. Keep in mind the A2J problem is not limited to those on the margins of our society although that’s a big part of it. It also effects others. Small businesses. People in the middle class. Like so many segments of our society, our legal system has simply priced them out. A study by the National Center for State Courts in 2015, for example concluded, “For most represented litigants, the costs of litigating a case through trial exceed the monetary value of the case. In some cases, the costs of even bringing the lawsuit or making an appearance…exceed the case value of the case.”
Why Should We Care?
As a lawyer, I am increasingly concerned about our rule of law, the threats to it and the lack of respect for it. It could be and has been argued that our economic success as a country is tied to the certainty that the rule of law brings to the resolution of disputes. But part of the reason for the current threats to this cherished concept is the lack of experience of so many people in our society to the rule of law. When people no matter what their means never see the benefits of the rule, who can never get legitimate disputes resolved, we can’t expect them to get too excited when its threatened.
When people no matter what their means never see the benefits of the rule of law, who can never get legitimate disputes resolved, we can’t expect them to get too excited when its threatened.
Which brings me to JustResolve. JustResolve is an alternative dispute resolution service founded by a business litigator, Bob Christopher, that offers mediation services for smaller disputes, starting around $10,000. JustResolve has a stable of mediators from various services and agencies that it vets. It matches the mediator to the dispute and typically can complete the mediation with weeks, not months. It charges limited fees based on what’s at stake in the litigation. By using technology such as Skype, Just Resolve controls costs and uses speed and cost savings as key features to try to resolve small disputes that otherwise might never be heard or even brought.
Why Is This Important?
It provides a mechanism to resolve small disputes without costly and protracted discovery and proceedings. Too many people and small business face disputes that should be resolved but which they don’t want to and can’t spend the money on, calculating that the benefit will not exceed the costs. This leaves them thinking that the deck is stacked against them, that they are powerless and that our legal system is irrelevant. Not good for a society which to a large part depends on the rule of law. (Maybe this is in part why our profession is held in such low esteem. But that’s an article for another day).
Secondly, we all know that mediation is one of the most effective dispute resolution devices. So much so that courts typically order and require it as part of case management orders. So much so that qualified mediators are often booked up months in advance. And often mediations don’t take place until late in the case after considerable time and expense. Mediations, because they are so successful, have become events in and of themselves calling for careful planing and orchestration. All of which drive up the costs and discourages those with smaller disputes from pursuing disputes or defending against them.
But JustResolve offers a low cost model that eliminates these roadblocks and offers a path to resolution. And JustResolve has no qualms about conducting their mediations among non represented litigants and in fact market to this group. The ultimate result: people with legitimate disputes can get a resolution without being priced out of the market.
JustResolve offers a low cost model that eliminates these roadblocks and offers a path to resolution.
I know. Offering “mediation light” might not be as good as standard mediation techniques. While I don’t know if this is true, I do know that fast and cheap medications to resolve disputes is better than nothing at all. Many times, those involved in disputes just want to be heard. To air their position to someone who will listen and provide feedback. Among other things, that’s why mediation is so successful. If we wait for perfect solutions to our A2J problems we will never get anywhere (or perhaps better put, we will get exactly where we are now). In any and all events, other than the limited costs charged by Just Resolve, there is no downside risk.
Incidentally, I talked to Sonya Sigler, JustResolve’s VP of Business Development at CLOC about the company and concept. Out of curiosity (and anticipating the answer) I asked her if her company gets a lot of push back from practicing lawyers. She laughed, rolled her eyes and said in about half the cases where lawyers are involved they do indeed get push back which is sometimes quite aggressive.
And while Sonya didn’t cite the objections that are made, I can pretty well tick them off: its too soon in the case (i.e., I need to bill more), I’m not sure the about how qualified and experienced the mediators will be (i.e., I need to bill more), an abbreviated skype mediation won’t work (i.e. I need to bill more), if you don’t have a lawyer involved you’ll get screwed (i.e., I at least need to bill something). It’s a sad commentary that half of the lawyers feel this way; on the other hand, I guess we should be thankful that the other half of the lawyers embrace the concept and are looking for ways to help their clients without costing them more money.
I haven’t used JustResolve and can’t speak to how good its process and mediators are. I appreciate there is often devil in the details. But this is a concept that we need both as lawyers and citizens. I applaud Bob and Susan both for the idea but also for bringing it to the CLOC Institute.