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Self-proclaimed “recovering lawyer” Joe Al-Khayat is the Co-Founder of online dispute resolution platform and ImageSoft partner Resolve Disputes Online, and the first guest on our three-part podcast series journeying online dispute resolution from its private sector roots to a highly regarded platform increasing access to justice in Courts across the globe 

Join Joe as he describes what it’s like to face the barriers of accessible justice from the perspectives of both the litigant and a stakeholder of the Court, and how these well-rounded views of his team shaped their ODR platform into a tool that problem solves for both sides. From there, conversation snowballs into how the pandemic shifted ODR from an option to a necessity, and the Resolve Dispute Online team’s specific expansion into various justice systems abroad, including the U.S., the United Kingdom, Singapore and Thailand.   

Check out this episode!

Read the Transcript

Steve Glisky:

Welcome to the paperless productivity podcast. Where we have experts give you the insights, know-how and resources to help you transform your workplace from paper to digital, while making your work life better at the same time.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Thank you for joining me today. My name is Kevin Kowalkowsk,i I’m with ImageSoft and I will be your host for today’s podcast. It is estimated that approximately 57% of the global population or roughly 4 billion people around the world are outside of the shelter of the law.
Due to a variety of costs related and logistical hurdles. And this barrier to justice was intact well before the pandemic forced courts to operate in a more remote virtual and thus limited capacity.
The costs of transportation, missing work for court dates, childcare, and the emotional toll of confusing court processes had long driven a web between justice and the people who needed it. Time sensitive cases, such as family court divorce, several disputes, landlord tenant cases need to be processed even during a pandemic. As the world continues down an increasingly virtual path and all aspects of life, online dispute resolution or ODR for short is gaining momentum to provide a virtual dispute resolution platform for private businesses, government entities, and courts, specifically.
Today’s episode is the first of a three-part series where we will talk about how online dispute resolution is one of those technologies helping to create access to justice in the
U. S., Canada and really around the world. We’ll discuss how the technology elevates the barriers to justice through a robust, secure, affordable, and extremely manageable alternative to in-person litigation. We’ll talk about a fantastic real-world example where the founder of the collaborative lawyers in Saskatchewan uses ODR in his 40 plus year family practice to provide a reliable, convenient, and fair service for his clients. And we’ll discuss the National Center for State Courts, ODR vision for 2021 and beyond.
In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss our partnership with Resolve Disputes Online, a provider of ODR technology based out of Australia. We’ll explore how online dispute resolution technology came about and how it’s used globally in various industries with deployments in the U. S., Canada, Australia, the UK, Thailand, and more recently in Africa.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce today’s guest Joe Al-Khayat, Co-founder of Resolve Disputes Online. Thanks for joining us today, Joe.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Great to be here, Kevin. How are you doing?

Kevin Kowalkowski:

I am fantastic. I’m excited to be joining you. I’m excited to really get this conversation started.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Sure thing.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Sounds great. Well, let’s, let’s get right into it. ImageSoft has recently partnered with Resolve Disputes Online to provide ODR technology to the U.S. and Canadian markets.
Can you tell me a little about both your background as well as your company Resolve Disputes Online?

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah, well, like a lot of the team behind Resolve Disputes Online, we are basically a group of recovering lawyers. And, we also practiced as mediators and in the field of alternative dispute resolution and quite simply during our years in practice and in the various jurisdictions that we worked whether it was the UK or Australia or places like Singapore, we, we realized that for the majority of the world, there was a common problem where the cost of getting  a civil dispute resolved was very expensive, very time consuming, and it didn’t really matter what the value of the case was.
Even a case of relatively modest value was still very time consuming and pretty expensive. So the whole sort of momentum of RDO started way, way back when, you know,  when we were lawyers in practice and certainly we just thought we could potentially create something that could improve access to justice in those jurisdictions.
And we initially started out creating a tool that was a lot more basic than, what it is today, but we had an awful lot of interest in it. And you know, I guess the, the technology then started to get a bit of a life of its own.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah. I love that term. Recovering lawyers. It makes perfect sense. It gives you a unique perspective. You’ve been sort of on that side of the coin you know, working with the litigants and working with your clients and trying to get access to justice. But, you know, you’ve seen it from that perspective and that’s, that’s fantastic.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah. And I think you know, one of the points that probably comes from that is you not only see it from the litigants, the litigants point of view, and you see the, sort of the emotional turmoil and obviously the financial costs that it, that it puts through them. But you also get a sense of being a stakeholder of a court or a tribunal service. And you know what it’s like. To, to interact with, with that, that entity. And you can see the inefficiencies perhaps not, you know, notwithstanding that many of the folks who would work in, in governments around the world, all doing that their best. It’s just, you know, some of these systems are very, very old. Now, some of the processes and the bureaucracy, therefore that follows is very considerable. So, I think having the backgrounds that we had really helped us and understanding, what it can be like as a user of, of some of these some of these courts and tribunals.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah. I think the courts nowadays are, especially in a hearing amidst, the pandemic could really make an, every effort to streamline some of those processes and make things easier in this sort of new normal we’re living in these days. So that’s yeah. That’s fantastic.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yes, absolutely.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah. So online dispute resolution, it is sort of a, another direction. I want to go here. It was originally developed in the private sector and it’s now taking it off in the court system. And we had ImageSoft, has customers in both the private sector and in the, in the judicial system, as well as a number of others you know branches of the government and they could really all benefit from an ODR platform.
How did this technology come about? You sort of alluded to some of that before in your previous answer, but how has it adapted over the years to serve different markets and different use cases?

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah, it’s it, it very much been a, an organic piece. I mean, if, if ever you speak to it to a technologist who says that they, they build their, you know, that they build that first version and then nothing really happens to the technology at that stage. You know, that, that wouldn’t be true. It’s constantly an iterative process. It’s very much an organic process. And, you know, we had our technology. In the first instance serving, I mean, one of the advantages of the jurisdictions we’d practiced is, you know, the English speaking world with the common law jurisdictions, you know, there’s a lot of similarity.
Not, not only that alternative dispute resolution, specifically mediation is very much a global product. So, a lot of the, a lot of the workflows that, that might be appropriate in say the UK or Australia in a mediation is also going to be very comparable, probably to the U. S. And that’s indeed how, what, how that transpired. And also, in places like Canada, yes. There are some nuances, but yeah. A mediation workflow tends to follow that, that, that classic route. But, but there is obviously a challenge when you’re looking then to look at different use cases. And I think what we’ve been very successful in doing is working with great partners.

And with different use cases, whether it’s been within the core systems, whether it’s been in different types of cases, whether it’s landlord and tenant, or whether it’s family and divorce, as you alluded to in your introduction. Whether it’s things like traffic, as long as you’ve got the expertise within, within the organization that could just tweak facets of the technology.

That that’s really how, how we’ve done it. We’ve just relied on great experts who have been able to supplement our, our own knowledge to just tweak certain aspects of the technology in terms of how that workflow works. So that’s really been, been the journey, Kevin.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. You’ve, you’ve got experts in certain markets and then of course, you know, the customers themselves and adapting it to their process and making it fit within their existing technology. You know, you put all that together and having a very flexible tool, you know, you’re able to adjust that tool to work within that particular use case within that environment. That makes, that makes sense.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah, that that’s, that’s exactly it. And I mean I I’d imagine given the, the breadth of customers that the ImageSoft has I, I imagine you would have had firsthand experience of that, you know, being able to tweak different aspects of technology and workflows to make sure that that really hits the spot for the customer.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah. That’s really our inception as a company. And that’s what we’ve been really our entire 20, some years as a company. And now we’re, we’re tackling a different market with Online Dispute Resolution. And this is, that’s just another tool in that in that, in that space for us to work with.

Joe Al-Khayat:

For sure.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yes. I’m speaking specifically about the court system, because you know, we, again, we talked about the private sector a little bit but really this is more court focused. How has the ODR platform helped to increase access to justice? That’s really a major initiative for jurisdictions these days. Can you share a little bit about your experiences and maybe some success stories and maybe even some, some things where you struggled?

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah, for sure. There is a, I mean the, the use cases and deployments with governments relate to the court annexed, alternative dispute resolution systems that they might have. So, it might be that there’s an encouragement, once a claim is filed to spend a period of time getting involved in, in a, an ADR process, whether that’s negotiation mediation or something else. And really the, the big success has been that a number of those cases that would continue to go through the court systems. Would have been siphoned off at that point. And then we would never have come back into the court system because that the parties would have found a resolution. And we were really starting to see a real growth area where Courts are seeing, seeing ADR as a way to, for want of a better phrase, you know, bust the backlog and many jurisdictions are facing that challenge. And I think that the, the challenges that we’ve had in terms of doing that is some governmental, some Courts don’t necessarily have, that they either don’t have rules that court rules or production protocols that actually manage alternative dispute resolution processes. So, they might not have anything that gives any level of requirement for parties to negotiate or mediate a case.

It becomes a voluntary process and because of a lack of knowledge of those processes, some litigants just don’t, don’t even go there. And so that that’s been a challenge. So perhaps for some partners, case volumes, maybe haven’t been quite as significant as they, as they would have liked. But, but the alternative is that there would have been a very heavily prescribed ADR process, which has been for, for one, for want of a better phrase.

You know, it’s been hard drafted into various facets of court rules or, or legislation. And therefore, to facilitate the use of a technology, some Courts have had to go and get court rules changed. Now prior to COVID, that was a bit of a challenge. You’d find that many governments, many Courts had great difficulty in terms of changing court rules quickly.

But it seems to me that since COVID in particular, I think given the urgency of things that we we’ve now found, that that’s less of a challenge. We’re finding that a lot of partners when they go through their change management process can actually change some of their court rules a lot quicker to enable the use of this type of technology.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah. We’ve, we’ve seen that too. It seems to speed things up a little bit when, when necessary.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s a fascinating thing. And you know, the, the two points that sort of spring to mind are, you know, necessity is the mother of invention and, you know, we’ve been in online dispute resolution for a long time. And it’s, it’s really, since the pandemic that that there has been a huge amount of urgency. To try and to try and get this technology. And because of the pain points that are being experienced now because of the pandemic. But then secondary to that is going to be the backlogs that of course are starting to increase.

And I think there was that there’s a gentleman who you may, you may, well in due course speak to the, the, the NCSC but I think he’s been working in ODR technology for lot longer than I have. And I think he, his, his words were that the COVID has done more for online dispute resolution in, in, in 2020 than, than what had been achieved in the past, you know, 10 years.

And, and there’s two reasons for that, right? One is obviously the, the necessity piece, but I think also it’s, it’s meant that Courts and governments are using technology which has maybe made them maybe brought those barriers down in terms of then scaling to a more advanced piece of technology. So, if you start using video conferencing, perhaps the next step might be that you start using a platform like RDO that as a specialist online dispute resolution workflow. Because, and that doesn’t seem as intimidating to get past your, your change management procedures, because you’re already starting to use technology because you have to, because literally the, the doors of the courts were closed. So that’s been very fascinating watching that develop.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah. I started incrementally advancing your technology tools available to you.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Makes sense. Yeah. So, tell me a little bit about sort of the worldwide footprint. Your ODR solution is currently deployed in the U. S., Canada, the UK, Thailand, and Singapore. That’s. That’s my understanding. Can you tell me about the beginnings of already on how it’s taken off the penetrate, some of these various different markets and install different types of scenarios?

Joe Al-Khayat:

I think that you, when, when, you know, when one creates a piece of technology like this you. Perhaps hope that you can have these very, very simple ways to, to expand your technology. So, you’d start off in one country and then you’d move to another country and so on and so forth. The way the expansion has happened is basically been, I suppose, that folks within governments and in the private sector who feel that, that they want to make a difference in their jurisdictions and want to, and they want to implement technology.

Again, it’s just happened in a very organic way. Did, did we ever think that we would be you know, be operating in seven or eight different countries? I guess we didn’t. I think we thought that we would maybe focus on one or two areas first one or two jurisdictions first, and then, and then maybe scale the technology out. But it it’s just happened in a very organic way. And I suppose in every technology in every country and every government, you have your people who have been to be the, the early adopters, you know, the ones that are going to be wanting to, to, to push boundaries. And I suppose we’ve just had to make sure that we’ve catered for, for some of those partners, the ones that, where we’re looking at this a long time ago, not since, not, not just since COVID. And you know, there’s always, there’s always a really interesting thing that, that you see when you speak to customers and or, or, or, or partners, and. you know, I think somebody summarized it well to me, he calls various people in technology or customers, prayers, players, and stayers.

So, the stayers are the ones that are sort of hoping that change it doesn’t really make any difference to their careers and they can happily retire, and they don’t need to get used to technology. Then, then you’ve got your, your, your players who are the ones who were the early adopters. And I think, you know, and there’s obviously different spectrums, but in between there. And I think we had those initial early adopters that those players, and that’s why expansion for RDO was, was so easy. Now, I think we have some of the old prayers, but then are praying to get rid of their backlogs, which is why they’re so interested in a new technology. So again, it’s that, that element of necessity that’s compelled people to maybe get out of their comfort zone and start looking at this type of technology.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah. It’s great to get one. When you get those, as you described them players on board, they help you not only advance the use of the product by, you know, becoming customers and, and, you know, bringing that technology into their environments, but they also feed you ideas, which help, you know, things you haven’t thought of, maybe they feed you ideas.  Then you implement it in your product and then that if that appeals to some other customer down the road and helps you advance it even further.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And you know, you know, it’s, it’s always one of those one of those approaches that we take whenever we speak to a new customer, although we’ve been in this space for a long time, we, we, we don’t assume that the, the, the we, we know it all, because that’s when we stopped growing as an organization. You know, we need to go into every conversation that we have, where the partner, whether it’s say a u U.S. state court whether it’s a government in, in Asia, whether it’s a large corporate in Australia we, we go in there with our with our eyes wide open. And we’re, we’re also listening and we’re also thinking what, what nuance or piece of the technology could these guys bring. So we, we see every, every potential conversation that we’re having with partners in different parts of the world is a real opportunity to grow ourselves as a, as a product.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah. Innovation is a collaborative effort. Nobody knows it all on a helps to get a lot of minds together, for sure.

 Joe Al-Khayat:

Exactly. Right.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah, and I guess staying in the same realm of innovation and, and maybe this is part of innovation is security.  It’s an increasingly crucial and therefore skirt as aspect of all information systems these days and I’d be remised if I didn’t touch on it. Can you speak to the security of the platform and how it goes about protecting both the details and the communication surrounding a case? Particularly one that might be sensitive in nature.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah, it’s a key consideration, Kevin, and you know, any, any government, you know, one, one of the things that you really don’t want to be happening is getting any breach of data. The thing is about, about a dispute is by their very nature, they’re extremely sensitive matters. And the consequences of any data being leaked on a, on a case is obviously very, very serious. So even from when we started, given our backgrounds were able to be pretty, pretty cognizant of that point. And we, we have technology layers within the audio platform, which includes things like it end to end encryption. We have obviously the ISO accreditation’s for security and quality.

And when one’s looking at encryption, you know, you break it down further, you start looking at is, is, is the encryption happening in transit or, or, or is it all the encryption happening at rest? So without getting too, too technical there’s for, for the, for the benefit of some members of the, of the audience who maybe don’t know huge amounts about encryption, but some data when it’s sitting within a platform, unless it’s moving, is not encrypted. Therefore, it’s important, even when data isn’t moving, that, that it remains encrypted within the platform. So sensitive things like files case information messages video communications, or those things remain, remain encrypted as, as, as the data move. So that’s been something which we’ve made sure that we’ve, we’ve, we’ve captured at the very heart of the technology and the, the hosting partners that we work with including obviously the folks at image soft all the hosting partners we work with are the best names. And there are people that we’re happy can protect the brand of RDO and obviously protect the security of the users on our, on our platform.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah, it’s security. It’s one of those things that it’s constantly evolving. You’ve constantly, you know, the product obviously was designed with that in mind, but it’s something you have to constantly stay on top of and evolve with that aspect of the market  to continue to outpace those who would, would look to get into a system., they shouldn’t be in.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah. Yeah, that’s exactly right. And you know, it’s, it’s always moving and, and always shifting and you know, you, one needs to keep, keep their finger on the pulse when it, when it comes to security. I mean, there’s lots of examples, you know, you see very large companies that who, who I won’t mention on this on this call, but I mean, there, there are lots of large companies with very large security teams who have suffered both during the, the pandemic and, and obviously prior to, to the pandemic where huge amounts of data has been being, being compromised. And that’s very unfortunate. But you, you know, we, we want to ensure that RDO and an RDO partner is not going to be in the headlines for that, for that reason. And. I think, I think what one of the other facets just to touch on is I think some technology that’s being used for, for some sensitive matters doesn’t necessarily isn’t necessarily built with those uses in mind. I mean, some of the video technology is sort of consumer video technology, some of that.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah. You know, it’s not necessarily going to be technology that’s purpose-built for sensitive legal matters. And I think that’s probably one of the advantages of some of the RDO tech stack is, you know, it is built purely for, and it’s only got the use case in disputes, but other products, you know, perhaps don’t and therefore there can be some, some challenges there though for those products.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah, no, that makes, yeah, it makes perfect sense. It you know, you build built up with that in mind.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

And I guess in terms of sort of the, the industry as a whole, and, and what’s on the horizon for RDO and, and I don’t know, maybe you don’t want to give away too many secrets, but any new initiatives, new markets features that customers are clamoring for that you’re looking to bring to market soon?  Anything you’d like to add there before we wrap it up?

Joe Al-Khayat:

Yeah. You know, there, there’s, there’s a lot of interesting stuff on the horizon without, without giving away any, any sort of state secrets. It was, we’re always looking at new areas of technology and seeing how that might to might apply to RDO. I mean, just to give you a quick example where we’re always at the cutting edge of search and development  Four years ago, when or five years ago now when blockchain was starting to become a little bit more mainstream, you know, we, we were simulating smart contract settlements of a, of a mediation case. And there was indeed some partners in, in Asia that, that found that very fascinating. And we’re, as far as we’re aware, it was actually a world first for, for anyone to donate a mediation settlement using a smart contract technology. So that, that, that sort of stuff is very much in our, in our DNA.

And I think the next part of the horizon is going to be looking at how artificial intelligence can help parties, resolve cases without necessarily needing a human being. And I think, I think that potentially has huge amounts of consequences, both good and bad. But by bad, I simply mean that it will require some careful thought and that they’ll need to be an ethical approach obviously to how one is managing this type of technology and what that roadmap looks like. But given our background and given our knowledge, we’re pretty confident that we can strike the right balance there. And I imagine Kevin that at that juncture, it may well be that you and I can have a, another deeper discussion on the role of AI and in online dispute resolution, which is truly fascinating.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

That is that’s exciting. That’s exciting stuff. AI is making its way into a lot of markets and a lot of different use cases these days, and to bring it to this market, that’s, that’s great stuff. And I think you have to do that. You have to continue to evolve a platform to stay ahead of the competition, to, to bring new value, to, to stay relevant and stay at the top of the market. So that that’s fantastic to hear.

Joe Al-Khayat:

For sure.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Yeah, it’s, it’s been great having Joe on today’s podcast. I feel like we could keep going, but I’m, I’m being told we’re kind of running out of time here. So, Joe, thank you so much for giving us a breakdown of Resolve Disputes Online. And the really the innovative technology helping to improve dispute resolution today is very different COVID world and it is providing access to justice for people around us.
If you share our mission, if you want to bring efficient dispute resolution to the private sector or to improve access to justice in your court system, and want to learn more about the opportunities of online dispute resolution can bring your practice,  we would encourage you to visit our ODR specific website, www.resolvedisputes.com.  That’s all one-word resolvedisputes.com for an expanded walkthrough and order request a demo. So, with that, Joe, thank you so much for your time. We will be back with the next part soon.

Joe Al-Khayat:

Thanks for having me. Kevin has been a pleasure. Thank you.

Kevin Kowalkowski:

Take care. Have a good one.

Steve Glisky:

Thanks again for joining us on this podcast. To learn more about Image Soft, please visit imagesoftinc.com that’s ImageSoftI-N-C.com. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity, where we tackle some of the biggest paper-based pain points facing