A groundbreaking online dispute resolution (ODR) service is gearing up for live trials of its expanded 2.0 version, which will initially offer an end-to-end legal support package for divorcing couples.
The redesigned Rechtwijzer (signpost to justice), the current version of which has been described as a “game changer” by legal rights researcher and former JUSTICE director, Roger Smith, is expected to go live in January 2015. The project, which gives Dutch citizens experiencing common legal problems self-help tools and advice, was devised with assistance from the developer of eBay’s ODR service.
The new platform will initially focus on divorcing couples before being rolled out to other disputes. It will offer free information and guidance to both parties, as the current version does now, plus it will provide an “online environment” for them to arrange a separation, ending in a legally-binding agreement.
Jin Ho Verdonschot, justice technology architect at Hiil Innovating Justice – the advisory and research institute funded by the Dutch government which produced Rechtwijzer for the Dutch Legal Aid Board – said recently that the 2.0 version “enables people to work on solving their legal problems in their own words, at their own pace, from their own homes…
“Professional service providers [are] available to help them to mediate, advise [and] review the end result. Lawyers and adjudicators working with Rechtwijzer 2.0 offer their services online, unbundled and on a pay-as you go basis against fixed fees.”
Speaking to Legal Futures, Corry van Zeeland, head of Hiil’s justice innovation lab, said the new product would be released after trials with, and feedback from, “real people”, including “end-users and professionals who offer services on Rechtwijzer”. Users would be informed that the platform was under development, she added. “Probably they’ll have to pay less or perhaps nothing; the Legal Aid Board will decide on that later.”
Explaining the workings of the Rechtwijzer 2.0 environment in detail, Ms van Zeeland pointed out it will not be free eventually, “although it’ll be far less costly compared to a regular divorce”. She said the platform guides parties to a “high-quality separation covenant” by offering a “dialogue space” which provides information on legal, financial and practical issues and tools, such as calculators and checklists.
She continued: “The parties can select a model solution, adjust one, or a combination of options, to fit their specific situation, or draft one themselves. Once they reach an agreement, the solution will automatically be transferred to the covenant section.
“If people get stuck… they can either call in the help of an online mediator who will facilitate a problem-solving process, or call in an online adjudicator who will give a binding decision on the specific issue… For now, Rechtwijzer only offers mediation and adjudication services. Later on [it will offer] other services… such as financial expertise, psychological help, children support, and so on.
“Once the parties have worked through the tasks and have the draft covenant ready, they are obliged to submit it to the ‘reviewer’. This mandatory step aims to guarantee the quality… of the covenant… The online review is done by a lawyer specialised in divorce cases [who] will take the case to court – in case of marriages and registered partnerships with minor children – or draft the final contract if the separation does not have to go to court.”
Launching his report into technology and access to justice , which he co-wrote with Strathclyde University’s Professor Alan Paterson, Mr Smith last month said the Rechtwijzer website “raises the bar” and “opens up a whole new world in terms of solving problems”.
Rechtwijzer has been developed in conjunction with Modria.com, a US silicon valley ODR provider whose chairman is Colin Rule, who was described by Mr Verdonschot as the “godfather of ODR”. From 2003 to 2011 he was director of ODR at eBay and PayPal. Mr Smith termed Modria the “big daddy of the online resolution market” and last summer it announced plans to expand to the UK  after receiving a $5m cash injection from venture capitalists.