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Re-thinking Online Dispute Resolution Mechanism: The Design Way

by Kopal Rastogi


With the pandemic disrupting court proceedings in India, backlogs of cases have increased. Between Feb 1 and Aug 31, 2020, the Supreme Court has seen a 3.6% rise in pending cases. Between Jan. 29 and Sept. 20, 2020 the pending cases in high courts have risen by 12.4% and by 6.6% at district and subordinate courts, respectively. Although the Supreme Court has transitioned to virtual proceedings, one cannot neglect the fact that the judiciary is already overburdened. Hence in these stressed times, Online Dispute Resolution Mechanism has proven to be the winner.

Crippling state of Judiciary

Online dispute resolution (ODR) platforms are quick, convenient and cost-effective way to resolving disputes. ODR platforms have made the process of dispute resolution easy by combining the already existing process of ADR with technology, making the process flexible and time saving altogether. It is the perfect solution to reducing the burden on courts and increasing access to justice. However, this digital intervention comes with its own challenges.

Are they easily accessible by the general public? Is the online interface user-friendly? How frequently is this mechanism being used? Can people establish trust over these platforms? Is the interface designed to solve disputes for the extreme users? Has the perception of scary legal battle changed through ODR? These questions are hindering the future growth of ODR platforms and obstructing it from being widely accepted amongst the general public.

Challenges faced by ODR’s in the Indian Context

Need for speedy justice

The biggest hindrance in India is non-availability of internet infrastructure and computer literacy. Another glitch is usage of language on these platforms, which is currently restricted only to English. Along with issues like data protection and privacy, there is ambiguity of jurisdiction. Due to the lack of jurisdictional validity and enforcement, it is difficult for people to establish trust on the ODR mechanism. There are other pertinent issues like lack of awareness and concrete strategies to accelerate adoption of this mechanism. The purpose of ODR is essentially to increase access to justice. However, due to the current limitations, it is failing to do so.

This mechanism shall only be regarded successful once it is adopted by diverse stakeholder groups and caters to the need of a larger audience.

How will Design Help?

Trend shifts due to digitalisation have increased our expectations from online interfaces. We expect an immediate, seamless experience that anticipates our needs and resolves irritating pain points. Hence, any experience on such platform has to be more than just a Law-Tech innovation. The solution is a well-designed ODR system which needs to be highly user friendly for a better end-to-end user experience. Each user journey should be designed so that they don’t feel ‘law-like’, but human-centric. This will also help accelerate a change in mindset towards delayed justice systems in India.

In a meeting with Niti Aayog, Agami and Omidyar Network India, on June 6, 2020 held to advance Online Dispute Resolution in India, Justice DY Chandrachud, Supreme Court of India said, “Incorporate elements of design thinking to understand user needs for an ODR platform”

Design Thinking proposes a hands-on, user-centric approach to problem solving. By adopting a human-centric process, we make law more accessible and enhance the experience of the user. This process comprises of five distinct phases, as illustrated below.

“Even though law and legal processes are designed by humans for humans, the reality is that most interactions with legal professionals don’t feel very good. Interactions are often harsh, transactional, and bereft of transparency, emotion, or humanity. Touch points are filled with frustration, confusion, and disempowerment.” Rochael Soper Adranly.

With technology finding greater prominence in the legal industry currently, there is a need for a user-centric approach in building systems, services and interfaces. The core of Design Thinking lies in practising user centricity by putting yourself in the shoes of the end user, empathising with them, understanding their pain points and devising solutions which works better for them.

Design Intervention in Law

At Legal Design Arc, we follow a Dispute System Design approach by using combination of different design mindsets and processes. Dispute System Design (DSD) is the process of identifying, designing, employing, and evaluating an effective means of resolving conflicts. It is a process wherein system design and service design concepts are applied to designing processes for managing disputes. Further, these processes can be tailor-made for India-centric user, in a pure design thinking fashion.

DSD allows a detailed analysis of dispute resolutions process and how they can differ in different demographics and customer behaviour. This also helps to test and determine which processes are most effective and workable within a given system. The DSD Framework is built on a series of assessment questions around the following elements: goals, stakeholders, context and culture, processes and structure, resources, and success and accountability. These elements are taken into account at every step of the design process.

The Design Way

Applying design methods helps to focus on improvising each step and enhance the end-to-end client journey, thereby improving the overall user experience. In any given scenario, major focus is given to defining a problem statement, followed by conducting stakeholder testing activities. With the help of a series of UX research methods like contextual interviews and persona building, relevant insights are drawn to understand requirements of end users. Thereafter, pain-points are identified and mapped to available resources. This process can be used to analyse and anticipate the pathways/customer journey for each target customer for a seamless user experience.

The Design Thinking Process


In the Indian context, the trick is to adjust the technology in a way that actually simplifies the problem and makes sense for Indian users. The focus should not be on maximising the use of technology but on studying user behaviour and understanding how interactions could be simplified to minimize friction.

To make this process widely acceptable, usage should be scaled to areas which are not technologically sound. By decreasing complexity and keeping the end users in perspective, various growth strategies can be devised. In addition, features transcending language barriers shall make the platform more inclusive. Using creative techniques of visual communication and information design shall prove useful for a larger audience. This creates an opportunity for these platforms to invite more users to use and trust the mechanism.

Promotional tactics and mass awareness strategies should be undertaken to achieve true potential of ODR . Better user experiences will encourage more user engagement and retention. This shall not only make alternate dispute resolution, especially for small value issues, more usable by common people, but also encourage more people to reach out for justice rather than suppressing their complaints.

Kopal is the Co-founder at Legal Design Arc and previously worked at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. She is interested in working towards building tools and re-designing processes to enhance the delivery of legal services.


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