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D. James Greiner, Renee Danser & Andy Gu, Online Dispute Resolution of Low-Level Court Proceedings: Two Broken Field Experiments, One Unexpected Result, SSRN (Mar. 7, 2023).

Abstract: During the COVID-19 pandemic, online dispute resolution (ODR) systems became a popular method for courts to dispense justice while, allegedly, minimizing cost. Observing this growth, proponents have argued that ODR increases litigants’ access to justice, mitigates risks of procedural error, and conserves judicial resources. This Essay argues that each contention is empirically uncertain. ODR’s purported benefits lack empirical proof and likely depend on the platform’s design.This Essay recounts the Access to Justice Lab’s efforts to conduct two randomized control trials (RCTs) evaluating court-based ODR. Frustrated in our desire to contrast ODR to no ODR, or the availability of ODR to no such availability, we instead randomized (i) supplemental information about an ODR platform on citations versus no such information, and (ii) postcard encouragements to use an ODR platform versus no postcards. We were not surprised when one RCT saw only a single participant enroll over several months before we closed the study; nor were we surprised that, in the second RCT, the postcard failed to encourage ODR usage. However, we discovered that the presence of ODR boosted the efficacy of encouragements for users to resolve their traffic citations, whether users did so with the ODR platform or not. This boost comfortably surpassed the expected magnitude of similar encouragements in the literature, leading us to hypothesize the possibility of an interaction effect between ODR and reminders that may exceed the effect of the latter alone. We encourage additional research into this effect, and the broader impacts of ODR platforms.