February 8, 2021
According to research conducted by NCSC 76% of nondomestic civil cases and 72% of domestic relations cases have at least one self-presented litigant (SLR) (also known as a pro se in legalese) with cost often the reason a person chooses self-representation. While only a small proportion of these cases are adjudicated on the merits, due to the high number of defendants who fail to file a response, jurisdictions worry about the asymmetry in representation and fairness to both parties. Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) is the most current solution in self-help civil litigation and is being used all over the world.
Under a grant from the State Justice Institute, NCSC assisted Utah with the ODR pilot project, applying expertise to identify “appropriate evaluation criteria and meaningful data to assess the appropriateness, efficacy, and sustainability of the ODR program.” The program's objectives focused on areas related to court and litigant cost, rates of default and settlement, as well as promoting litigant satisfaction with case outcomes and perceptions of procedural justice. The project also sought to use the text exchanges captured in the platform to explore how litigants engage in an ODR environment and the impact of facilitator style on this engagement.
According to geocoded addresses, defendants from both the control and the study “were more likely to reside in neighborhoods with lower educational attainment, lower incomes, larger proportions of racial or ethnic minorities, larger proportions of residents below the poverty level, and larger proportions of residents with limited English proficiency. All of these items are associated with hurdles to engagement with the courts.
Other findings from the study include:
- The defendant received notice of the lawsuit in 60% of the baseline cases and 68% of the ODR cases, which reflects a statistically significant increase
- The default judgement rates did not drop as anticipated, but this may be due to design factors.
- The use of ODR can allow for more effective case calendaring and use of judicial resources.
- A reduction in the number of cases needing more than one hearing.
- The average time to disposition decreased by five or more weeks.
- Default judgement rates and settlements rates were not impacted by the addition of an ODR program. However, the data settlement payment plans may be more workable for the defendant when the ODR platform is used.
For more on ODR check out NCSC’s video podcast Tiny Chats 20: Online Dispute Resolution, JTC Resource Bulletin Case Studies in ODR for Courts, the ODR website, or consider attending the 20th International Online Dispute Resolution Forum.
For Information on this and other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.