General counsel are finding digital dispute resolution and mediation a concrete way to create value for their organization by saving tens of thousands of dollars in external law firm costs, Immediation Founder and CEO Laura Keily says.
"Many disputes aren’t actually about the law but the commercial realities of a situation,” Keily said in an interview. “It’s just a fight. So, a good in-house counsel with commercial instincts is perfectly poised to settle that since they have all of the information, and the skill set, they need.”
Keily launched online dispute resolution and mediation platform Immediation in 2019 to give lawyers a way for managing one-off disputes without having to bring in outside counsel. The technology does that by enabling disputing parties to negotiate a settlement with a mediator or arbitrator while the mechanics of the settlement – holding and recording hearings, sharing and managing documents, drafting and executing contracts and communicating confidentially in private virtual rooms – is managed automatically. The mediator or arbitrator is also part of the package.
“It’s putting the power back in the hands of the GC to actually say, ‘I have a system and a process that enables me to do this on my own,'" said Keily, a former trial lawyer. "Very quickly and efficiently they can resolve this dispute for a fixed fee and in a fixed timeframe without having to go down a whole litigation path."
The platform can also lower the temperature, making the process more collegial, Keily believes. “If you think about what traditionally happens before a mediation, there are a whole lot of very ugly letters sent and we take that out,” she said. “If you use the platform, in essence you’re guided through a series of questions [to draft your letter], which is very nicely written, so there’s no hatred involved. Just tell us what your issue is, tell us what documents you’re relying on and the platform will provide that to the other side and they can respond.”
Organizations that are facing a mass of complaints can use the platform to handle these in-house as well by systematizing settlements.
“If someone wants to use the platform for x number of employment disputes per year, we would agree to a price and a subscription strategy for that,” Keily said. “We would decide how many employment mediators we require to fill the demand and then make sure we manage the cost and the fee structure associated with that and we would go and procure that panel.”
Immediation is managing dispute resolutions for Sport New Zealand, part of the country's sports ministry, enabling the organization's legal team to focus on other matters.
“We’re taking the whole thing off their plate,” she said. “We can do that for in-house counsel as well. The dispute comes in, goes through the platform and gets resolved by a panel member for a fixed fee, and the general counsel gets a bill. That’s it.”
Digital dispute resolution isn’t new and Immediation is one of several companies operating in the space. Remedium, Law In Order, MODRON and Thomson Reuters are among others that offer some version of the service.
Immediation launched in 2019 in Australia and today is used by that country’s federal court system, New Zealand government agencies and is expanding in the United States and European markets. The company last year was capitalized at about $7 million, according to reports, after raising about $2.7 million to fund its expansion.
For general counsel, Keily said, digital dispute resolution offers “KPIs [key performance indicators] of driving down external legal spend. They can use that money better suited to something where you really do need to be in court to prove your point or to test a legal principle.”