You can read all kinds of Richard Susskind books about disruption in the legal markets, but sometimes, like St. Thomas, you gotta see it to believe it.

Recently I attended a Mediation Summit in Hangzhou, China, and with some other American colleagues I was given a tour of the West Lake District Court in Hangzhou, China.  The lobby had arrows pointing ahead for “lawyer service,” to the left for “court,” and to the right for “mediation and rapid arbitration.”

A battery of computer terminals was available, at which a member of the community could select among “directory information,” “file a case,” or “consultation,” among others.

If you picked “consultation” you were prompted to input what your problem was (e.g., “neighbor’s dog barking too much”), what you wanted the court to do, where you lived, and so on.  The computer would then tell you what provision of the civil code was implicated by your problem, what the code provided in simple terms (full code language can be printed out), how much it costs to file a complaint (usually between 10 and 50 RMB, or $1.50 – $8.00), and how many people who lodge such complaints prevail (e.g., “3,476 complaints under this code provisions were filed with our court in the past 5 years, and only 26% resulted in a judgment for the claimant, while 74% did not”).

The user is then prompted again to the home page, where she could decide whether to file the case, to ask for in-person consultation, or to ask the court to set up a mediation.  Or to go home.

Speaking of home, you can of course do this whole thing from your bed using the internet.

Access to justice?  You bet.  Robust, useful and accurate information on your claim?  Absolutely and at no charge.  Options for methods of problem-solving?  Multi-door courthouse?  Empowering the citizen to manage her own issues?  Check check and check.

Where are the lawyers in this process?  Market disruption, anybody?

 

F. Peter Phillips is an arbitrator and mediator practicing through Business Conflict Management in Montclair, New Jersey. He is also the Director of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program at New York Law School where, as Adjunct Professor, he teaches Alternative Dispute Resolution, Negotiation, and International Commercial Dispute Resolution.