Juan Ramirez, Jr. (Ret. Chief Judge 3rd District Court of Appeal) joined JAMS after 24 years serving on both the trial and appellate courts of the state of Florida, including two years as the Chief Judge of the Third District Court of Appeal. He can be reached at email@example.com.
As the Chief Judge of the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami, I experienced first-hand my colleagues’ reluctance to adopt technology. We had the means at our disposal to adopt new methods, such as live streaming our oral arguments, yet some of my colleagues were fearful of unintended consequences. When I first came to the court in January 2000, every judge had a computer, but some would not even turn theirs on, perhaps still suffering from the Y2K hysteria.Now that I am with JAMS, I have encountered the same anti-technology qualms. We have made tremendous strides in making conference calls more affordable. Yet I hear: “I want to see people in the flesh; I want to read their body language.” As an attorney for 13 years, a judge for 12 years and an appellate judge for another 12 years, I believe people’s professed ability to read body language is very overrated. My credibility determinations were based more on whether the witnesses’ stories made sense, rather than in what direction they averted their eyes. I am not advocating abandoning face-to-face ADR sessions in most cases. They are unquestionably more valuable than telephonic ones. But I do believe that technology will not wait for us to become more comfortable with its advances. We need to stay current with innovation and adopt those improvements that work.
The most obvious use of technology in ADR is the Internet. Online dispute resolution has been around for years and would find greatest value in the resolution of simple consumer disputes where the amount contested does not merit a full-blown, in-person session. The Internet has already been used by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) to resolve cybersquatting disputes online. Another example is Cybersettle, which allows parties to settle all types of disputes using a simple strategy of entering three confidential settlement offers through the secure website; then contacting the attorneys for the claimants to invite them to participate by submitting three demands. If no settlement is reached, all figures submitted are confidential. ODR.INFO serves as the home of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, and is the primary portal for the field of online dispute resolution. The site is currently engaged in a pilot project with the goal of showing how mediators can practice and improve their mediation skills by participating in simulations via Skype.
It would be useful to view technology not as a mechanism that might replace lawyers, mediators and arbitrators, but as a tool to utilize in this rapidly changing world.