Ironically, the first issue of the International Journal of Online Dispute Resolution arrived a few weeks ago in hard copy by the US Postal Service.  It is a very welcome addition to the very few serious legal publications that I pay close attention to.

The introduction to volume 1, issue 1, refers to ODR “as a parallel universe blending information technology and dispute resolution schemes and applications,” and later as “a branch of dispute resolution that utilizes technology and artificial intelligence to settle disputes.”  These seem right, and the Journal seems spot-on for those predisposed to following the growth of this important (and no longer new) field.

The masthead features three editors-in-Chief: Daniel Rainey, Ethan Katsh and Mohamed Abdel Wahab.  Its Editorial Board glistens with the Great and the Good of ODR: Nadja Alexander, Jeff Aresty, Colin Rule, Noam Ebner, Ian Macduff, Michael Wolf, and others.  Add to that an Advisory Board including such figures as Mark Appel, Rusty Park, and Nancy Welsh, and you can’t say the project wants for credentials.

Being an interested observer of many years, but by no means a qualified participant in the field, I don’t venture a view on the quality of the articles in this first issue.  I do note that the Journal seems to continue a form of discourse that plagues ADR generally — people interested in a certain aspect of dispute resolution, writing about that aspect, and being read by others interested in that aspect, who then write back about it.

Similar to other ADR proponents, workers and theorists in the ODR arena seldom seem to include in their dialogue those who would like to incorporate ODR in their businesses.  There are many articles and essays by ODR proponents saying that folks should want the product, but not many by folks who say they do want the product.

As I say, this phenomenon is by no means unique to ODR; indeed, many an event sponsored by the estimable ABA Section on Dispute Resolution is organized by, marketed by, attended by, and feature teachers, experts, innovators and service providers in the field rather than users.  But the launch of this fine new Journal piques my hope that, someday soon, I will see an article that doesn’t read “Here is a dandy new capability that should help a lot of users” and instead reads “Here is the kind of capability my company is looking for — can anyone provide it?”

After all, participants in a market are looking for what they need, not what we wish they needed:

 

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.