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The Ball is Now 'Out of Court' Can disputes be settled without going to the court with the help of internet?

By Namita Shah

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There was an era when the "internet' was a scary word. In today's era, "no internet" is the scary word. We live in a time where digital presence is as important as a physical one, and where no activity on the internet raises questions about existence itself.

From visiting bank branches to transferring millions of Rupees at the click of a button, from going to shops to shopping online with e-karts, from letters to emails, from portfolio managers to robot-advisory, internet has revolutionized the way we live, the way we communicate, the way we conduct business, and is at the tipping point of transforming the way we resolve disputes, too!

Online Dispute Resolution

ODR', or "Online Dispute Resolution' is a term which is used quite often in the West. It has existed in the legal dictionary (and in a foreign land) for a long long time but is gaining traction in India only now. So, what is ODR exactly?

It is the use of technology to resolve disputes between people or businesses using various out-of-court mechanisms (which is popularly known as "Alternative Dispute Resolution', or "ADR'). Yes, there are techniques and methods recognized by law (eg., arbitration, conciliation, mediation, etc.) that assist in resolving disputes without the involvement of courts.

When blended with technology, these mechanisms provide a convenient, cost-effective, time-saving and efficient way to amicably settle conflicts. It works like this - one entrepreneur located in Chennai has a dispute with a vendor located in Chicago.

If they meet physically every time, you can only imagine the time, efforts and costs it would take. Instead, they work with a renowned dispute resolution professional sitting in Mumbai. All of them connect online via an ODR platform and reach a consensus right from the comfort of their offices in minimal time, that too in a secure and confidential manner.

Entrepreneurs today are spending an unreasonable amount of their time, efforts and money in fighting legal battles and after a tremendous outgo of all such resources, they are not even certain of the outcome. The question is: Is it all worth it?

You may still wonder, should you opt for an out-of-court mechanism or stick to the traditional approach of going to courts. Think about this:

Situation 1: Ritu and Rohit are friends since college and decide to start a company together to manufacture plastic bags. They have been successfully running it for the past 11 years and share a strong bond. All of a sudden, the government introduces a ban on all forms of plastics and they are forced to either shut down their business or pivot into a different line of work.

Differences crop up between them and soon, they are at loggerheads. Both of them engage lawyers and pay them a fat pay cheque. The business is forced to shut down and both of them are still litigating. 8 years pass by, and the only things that change are their bank balances (lawyer fees, court fees, costs of attending hearings, loss of business) and their relationship (they don't even look at each other). It is estimated that it will still take 11 years until disposal of the case, that too, if they get lucky.

Situation 2: Instead of going to courts, they decide to opt for an out-of-court dispute redressal and approach a mediator, Mr. Mehta. He talks to both of them and understands what each wants. Ritu wants to shut the Company whereas Rohit wants to pivot into manufacturing cloth bags.

Mr. Mehta facilitates them to come to a conclusion that Ritu will let him produce cloth bags under the same brand name and she will receive royalty on every bag sold, without being involved in the day-to-day operations of the business.

They execute the settlement agreement, and the entire process is complete within 2 months. They deal with the situation without breaking their bank balance and saving their relationship too. And, all of this is done via a few buttons on a smartphone!

What would you choose?

Gone are the days when we had the patience to wait in long queues to buy groceries and wait for our token number to appear in banks to deposit cheques. Today, all we need is a smartphone, and groceries and money are not even a click away.

Then, why should one wait for years and years for his case to come before a judge and get not more than a minute of the judge's time to decide his fate. Is that what the people work so hard for? To ultimately lose it all in a battle in courts? Is there another way? A better way? Yes – it is called "Online Dispute Resolution', or "ODR'!

Namita Shah

Co-founder - Presolv360

Namita Shah (B.Com., CA (gold medalist), CPA (USA), LLB) is the co-founder of Presolv360, India's first online dispute management platform. She has over a decade of experience in the fields of audit & taxation, corporate matters and dispute management, and has previously worked at Ernst & Young and Ramesh Rajni & Co. She is also a blogger at KYABAE (Know Your Adhikaar Before Anything Else), which aims at spreading legal awareness and promoting entrepreneurship across India.

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