Colin Rule

Colin Rule is vice president for online dispute resolution at Tyler Technologies.

Perhaps in five to seven years, as Colin Rule sees it, half of U.S. citizens who file court cases will have access to online dispute resolution software walking them step by step through their matters, resolving up to 80 percent of cases.

“I’ve been talking about online dispute resolution a long time, and it sounded really futuristic and pie in the sky,” says Rule, vice president of online dispute resolution for Tyler Technologies, which runs e-filing and case management systems for courts. “Now I sort of feel like the dog that caught the car.”

A Legal Rebel Trailblazer, Rule notes that ODR uses information technology and telephone communication to resolve a dispute. Most people who’ve handled a customer service issue with an online company have used ODR. In this episode of the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels Podcast, Rule speaks with Angela Morris about the possibilities–and pitfalls–for this technology.

Rule, a nonlawyer mediator, started doing ODR in 1999 by co-founding Online Resolution, one of the first ODR providers. In 2003, he started doing ODR for PayPal and eBay. In 2011, he co-founded Modria, an ODR company that served e-commerce clients, arbitrators and property tax assessors. And last summer, Tyler Technologies acquired Modria and pledged to transform it into an ODR tool just for courts.

ODR promises to increase access to justice because it enables people to file cases online, educate themselves about their case type, negotiate with their opponent, work with a mediator, and find a streamlined path to resolve the dispute.

“It turns every cellphone into a point of access to justice and really reduces the time to resolution,” Rule says.

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ODR is perfect for low-dollar civil cases in family, small claims and workplace disputes. That’s where Tyler Technologies plans to implement Modria first. But Rule has spoken with judges who’ve talked about using ODR to resolve parking and traffic tickets, probate matters and even criminal cases.

Many lawyers might fear what ODR technology will do to the legal industry, Rule says. Their first instinct might be to fight it or try to slow it down. But he explains that technology such as Gmail and iPhones changed the public’s expectations, and the legal system must innovate to meet those expectations.

Modria doesn’t want to replace the courts, lawyers, case managers, mediators or court employees, he says. It won’t automate the whole court process. Modria just wants to create an online environment—an easy tool—where parties can come together to resolve disputes.

“There’s probably somewhere between 30 to 50 courts doing online dispute resolution in the U.S. right now,” he says. “And I expect that number to double over the next year.”

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