17 Mar 2023  |   05:20am IST

No Mo Fo Mo: Time to Resolve Disputes Online

No Mo Fo Mo: Time to Resolve Disputes Online

Jonathan Rodrigues

Everything prior to 2019 BC (Before Corona) was a rehearsal; we are now living in the real digital age. As a country, we have adapted brilliantly to the limited mobility challenge from 2020 to 2022, and most of corporate India continues to enjoy the benefits of living in the virtual space – attending business meetings, weddings, condolence meets, examinations, fitness classes, doctor appointments and more, from the comforts of their screens. 

You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that so many technology-shy people are now logging on to online dispute resolution (ODR) platforms to amicably resolve personal, professional or commercial disputes, via mediation and conciliation. 

There is No Mo-Fo-Mo (No More Fear of Mediating Online) – India is obviously taking the plunge. Mediating out of the physical context simply means moving the dialogue from a physical face-to-face setting of tables and chairs to a virtual (audio/video calls) space or an online (texting or emails) space. Agreed, Mediation in an online / virtual setting requires an enhanced level of training, awareness and experience from mediators – and mediation service providers in India are going above and beyond in ensuring the quality of their services. 

The ODR Handbook, recently published by Niti Aayog and Agami, reflects a growing interest among the corporate and social sector to embrace innovation and change. The report elaborately illustrates how a shift to ODR is not only necessary, but inevitable for a vast population like India, where access to justice is not prioritized. This weekend, dozens of tech-geeks, business leaders, bureaucrats, conflict resolution professionals and innovators will assemble in Bengaluru for the International ODR Forum, while dozens of international students will be participating in ODRC International, an online mediation simulation contest, hosted by The PACT and Mediate.com, and coordinated over Zoom. 

The momentum is certainly pushing our society to accept change, with the next generation readily agreeing to trust credible and verified online platforms (check ODR Handbook, mentioned above) to resolve disputes.

Thousands of people from small towns and big cities in India have already begun resolving their disputes through online platforms such as CORD, SAMA, CADRE, CREK ODR, Presolv360 and others. So, why does it make sense for the private and public sector in Goa to also embrace an online mode of dispute resolution? Below are a few reasons why it works: 

Convenience and Flexibility promotes voluntary participation 

Parties can choose a time that works best within their daily routine of office work hours, home chores, and responsibilities to elderly parents, children, pets, etc. This allows parties to plan a productive day around the mediation session. Parties can also work with the mediator to design short productive sessions instead of long, tiring face-to-face sessions, which often leads to decision-fatigue. 

Comfortable & Familiar Environments dilutes power imbalances 

Parties get to negotiate their dispute from the comforts of their study table or sofa set in the living room. Familiarity and comfort make parties feel safe and willing to express their interests openly. This is helpful when parties prefer not sitting opposite people they dislike. I have noticed people behaving differently when they are communicating from relaxed environs to otherwise claustrophobic settings, which may consider neutral, just because the physical space is neutral. 

Power imbalances are not neutralized by neutral venues; for some, the other person’s physical presence is itself intimidating and doesn’t permit honest conversations. The virtual world of mediation takes away this limitation and helps parties create their own comfort. 

No Travel & Accommodation 

Stressors encourages inclusivity 

Parties can avoid travelling for hours in the busy city traffic to get to a physical setting, saving on costs, time and health. In terms of inter-city travel, for commercial or business disputes, parties also save up on accommodation costs and time. There are no jurisdictional limitations in mediation, which makes the process accessible to parties scattered across the globe, who can participate despite varied time-zones. There are a lot of cases where the distant, often ignored, stakeholders to the dispute are immobile and cannot participate in physical meetings, therefore stalling dispute settlements or negotiation deals. Immobility doesn’t need to be an excuse anymore – even bed-ridden people can now have their voice heard. 

Easy and Quick Access to Mediators makes convening easy 

With time and energy saved on working from your study rather than the office, many mediators are able to free up time and mental space to accommodate more than one mediation in a day, making them more accessible. Using online platforms, the entire intake process is paperless & signature-less – where parties simply have to click their way through a few customized document templates to start a mediation. With the help of technology, parties can start mediating within hours. 

Budget-friendly and prompt 

conclusions bring closure 

Not everyone has the time and money to pursue litigation, some parties can’t afford to even send or respond to a legal notice – which often leads them to ignore their disputes. The average cost of pursuing mediation is 1/10th of litigation for the same case. This is substantiated by the fact that the average lifespan of a mediation case is 1-3 sessions (approx. 10-15 hours) – compare that to 8-12 years for a civil court case to reach some finality, albeit an uncertain and non-participative conclusion. There is no guarantee that every mediation ends in a settlement; but, parties have an opportunity to reach out, via a neutral institute, to the other side and attempt to settle. Non- settlement does not prevent parties from returning to mediation at a later stage when there is more clarity, or even negotiating a deal among themselves without the help of a mediator. 

Write to [email protected] to know more about how you can resolve your disputes online in a safe, economical and efficient manner, with the assistance of trained and certified mediators. 

(Jonathan Rodrigues is a mediation author and practitioner from Goa, 

currently based in London.)


Idhar Udhar