Webinar Write-up: the future for online ADR – and opportunities for young enthusiasts

On Monday I ‘attended’ a webinar run by the Ibadan Chapter of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) called: “Remote ADR: Feasibility, Challenges and Opportunities for Young ADR Enthusiasts”. As someone who identifies as an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) enthusiast, I was keen to hear from experienced practitioners – especially in light of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the very early stage I am in in my legal career.

I felt there were some important takeaways from the session, and so have written up my notes of the key points below, for those of you similarly interested. The comments of the speakers are broken down into categories: feasibility of remote ADR, challenges of remote ADR and the future for (young) ADR enthusiasts/practitioners.

The speakers were:

  • Funmi Roberts (FR) – Principal Partner and Founder of Funmi Roberts & Co, a Nigerian law firm and skilled ADR practitioner
  • Ben Giaretta (BG) – Partner at Mishcon de Reya and experienced dispute resolution lawyer and Chartered Arbitrator
  • Aled Davies (AD) – Founder and CEO of Mediator Academy and seasoned mediator


Feasibility of remote ADR

Arbitration (FR and BG):

  • It is perfectly feasible – as arbitration is a flexible method – indeed there may be more advantages to conducting arbitration online
  • The use of technology has been, and is, actively encouraged (e.g. within the ICC rules)
  • Three key advantages are:
    • Connectivity – you can connect across the world instantly
    • Efficiency – “extraordinarily” efficient – less travel time, less expense, less waste
    • Engagement – potentially better for “getting to the truth of the matter”, must engage with both the system and the people. Reference was made by BG to a book by Malcolm Gladwell (“Talking to Strangers”) who has written that an online system may incline people to tell the truth more

Mediation (AD):

  • Currently lots of remote mediation taking place, especially in the family and commercial spheres
  • The tech lends itself to mediation well – the use of breakout rooms, ability to have 60+ parties online etc.
  • The process can emulate and simulate in-person mediation

Challenges of remote ADR

Arbitration (FR and BG):

  • Three main challenges:
    • Time zones – no longer all in the same room/country/time zone – so time differences can, and will, impact
    • Enforcement of awards by national courts – with many courts shut around the world this may lead to a “backlog” of awards
    • Limitations in the development of the relationship between the lawyer(s) and client(s) – can no longer have multi-faceted, multi-angled, multi-sited interactions. Not possible to have dinners, coffees, walks, etc. to supplement and enhance relationships

Mediation (AD):

  • Technology – the security (e.g. standardised end-to-end encryption), stability and reliability of internet connections
  • Don’t get the opportunity to get a sense of the dispute, atmosphere and parties at a “visceral level” – there is a “dampening down” and the process is “more clinical”
  • Mediator must be able to inject energy into the process – onus on the individual‘s mastery of this skill (e.g. use of body language, positioning on camera)
  •  Confidentiality concerns – must be able to give an “absolute assurance” to clients/parties
  • Managing and cultivating behavioural expectations across parties – when to mute mic, etiquette, how to encourage a rich dialogue, navigating delays and interruptions

Opportunities for young ADR enthusiasts

(BG, FR and AD)

  • Take courses, read up, keep up-to-date with legal issues, attend webinars
  • Must gain ‘hands-on’ experience – law firms, arbitrators – but these will be more limited under current circumstances
  • Must look “beyond borders” – “all are equal on Zoom”. The panel encouraged us to “get out of national mindsets”
  • May not be possible to map out a future career or what the path is in the current climate, but it’s still important to build connections and develop skills
  • Adjust your approach to your professional relationships – reach out to peers as well as more experienced practitioners
  • Your relationship with your seniors may change – engage, be helpful, but “don’t expect too much” – there are obstacles in developing and maintaining these relationships
  • There will be lots of COVID-19 related disputes – which present a good opportunity for younger (and more experienced) ADR practitioners
  • Family mediation in particular may become more and more online, even after the worst of the pandemic passes and in-person ADR resumes
  • Younger people are “digital natives” so remote working and online systems are likely to be “second nature” so this is a big advantage

If you are interested in ADR and developments within the legal world, then I hope this summary has helped. On a more personal note, I would recommend taking the CIArb Intro to ADR. This is a great starting point and, if you pass the assessment, can lead to Associate membership at CIArb and all the career and personal development opportunities that brings. If you don’t fancy taking another test or committing the time, then the CIArb offer free student membership as well.

(Don’t be shy…click ‘Leave a comment’, share this post if you like it; email, tweet and generally pester me if you want to hear more/share your stories/say hi)

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