Alternative Dispute Resolution for
Comments of Sandra A. Sellers
My name is Sandra A. Sellers. I am a private mediator, President of Technology Mediation Services, LLC, 6510 Heather Brook Court, McLean, VA 22101. I am certified by the Supreme Court of Virginia as a general mediator.
My interest in the public workshop on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) for Consumer Transactions in the Borderless Online Marketplace stems from my participation as a neutral in two electronic ADR programs: 1) SquareTrades mediation program for disputes arising from eBay online auctions; and 2) eResolutions arbitration service for domain name disputes. Further information on these services can be found at http://squaretrade.com and http://eresolution.ca, respectively. Though only the SquareTrade program involves consumer transactions, my experiences in both services are relevant to my comments.
Comments on Question 11: What lessons have been learned from these experiences that might contribute to a better understanding of this area in the context of consumer online transactions?
Following are a summary of my observations based on my experience with online ADR. I will be pleased to elaborate on these observations at the workshop.
Procedure takes on added importance in assuring fairness and satisfaction with the ADR process when the parties are not face-to-face.
One of the beauties of traditional mediation is that it is less formal than litigation or arbitration. The lack of formal procedures usually permits flexibility and saves time and expense for the parties. The mediator establishes a personal rapport with the parties, and at the same time, builds the parties comfort and satisfaction with the mediation process. Electronic communication, however, impedes that building process, due to its unilateral nature, the time delay, and lack of ability to assess reaction. Consequently, one must establish and rely upon procedures to assure that all parties receive all communications, have an opportunity to participate, and feel involved in the process.
The unilateral nature and time delay inherent in email communications limits the mediators ability to establish rapport and momentum, and thus may hinder settlement.
It is not unusual in face-to-face mediations to reach a time when settlement is near, and the mediator presses on to preserve momentum. Mediation via unilateral email communications is more impersonal, and may permit the parties to disengage, rethink, and perhaps change their minds. Individual mediators must be cognizant of this reality, and attempt to keep the parties engaged. Mediation programs may wish to try real-time electronic communications instead of email exchanges to see if this will lessen the potential for disengagement.
April 19, 2000
Sandra A. Sellers