January 01, 2015

SITE-ATIONS: Your Online ADR Tool Box

William L. Wilson

In keeping with the theme of this issue of GPSolo, here are a number of websites and similar resources that can be helpful for alternative dispute resolution (ADR), followed by another set of sites that are worthy of your attention.

Doodle (doodle.com) simplifies the process of scheduling mediations, arbitrations, or any other meeting. Most meetings get set up by a legal assistant phoning the participants, getting possible dates and times, and then confirming everyone is still available. Countless hours are lost to this process in law firms across the nation. Doodle offers a better alternative. With Doodle, you create a list of possible meeting dates and times, then e-mail all participants with a link to the Doodle “poll.” After participants click on the link, they can check off the dates and times that fit with their schedules. When the last person has done so, you go to the poll’s administrative site and easily see which date/time is best for most or all of your participants. The service has a free and a paid version. I’ve used the free version for several years, and it saves plenty of time. (Admission: I learned about Doodle from a participant in mediation who suggested its use as we tried to figure out when to meet for the next session.)

Mediators who handle family law cases know that disputes between parents can be hard to solve. A pair of free websites helps parents redirect their focus back to their children and their needs. UpToParents (uptoparents.org) is for parents who are divorced or divorcing. ProudToParent (proudtoparent.org) is for parents who were never married. The sites are confidential, and they ask each parent to make certain commitments to their children (such as, “I will avoid arguing with my co-parent in front of or within earshot of the children”). The sites also ask parents to perform certain written exercises, such as making a list of five positive things they can say about the other parent. A number of courts around the country require parents with active cases to use these websites, and the sites received an ABA award for problem solving.

Our Family Wizard website (ourfamilywizard.com/ofw) features a number of tools for parents to resolve various types of disputes and manage their custodial relationship. Everything from parenting calendars to sharing of information regarding the children can be handled here. The site and its tools are available on a subscription basis paid by parents, although attorneys and other professionals can obtain free accounts. Interestingly, attorneys can set up accounts for their clients and then monitor the activity between the parents on the site.

Picture It Settled (pictureitsettled.com) provides a tool for attorneys to analyze the progress of settlement discussions and predict future moves from the other side. The company has apps for iOS and Android devices. Tools such as this can be helpful during mediations by allowing attorneys and clients to see estimates of future discussions. The system uses “deep data” from a library of settlement negotiations. (In other words, when you plug your offers and counter-offers into the app, this information gets added to the library of data.) The theory behind this system is that human nature causes certain patterns in negotiation. An example of this is the “start high/low” approach. With this tool, participants can see, for example, when a series of small moves is likely to be interrupted by a large move or what type of move on your part is likely to trigger a large move by the other side.

In a similar vein, the Settlement Numbers App (macsparky.com/blog/2012/7/12/the-settlement-numbers-app.html) by California attorney/author/blogger/podcaster/jazz aficionado/self-proclaimed nerd David Sparks uses the Numbers spreadsheet app (for iOS devices) to show clients what the real settlement value of a case is based on factors such as cost of litigation, likelihood of success, and so on. Sparks made the spreadsheet template available to everyone for free, and he’s done a great service to the profession by doing so. The template uses both data and charts to display its information.

The practice model known as collaborative law is becoming increasingly familiar to legal professionals in the United States, but a large number still have never heard of it. The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP; collaborativepractice.com) is the premier organization promoting its use. Collaborative law, in a nutshell, takes the courts out of the tool box and commits the parties to resolving all disputes by themselves with the assistance of attorneys and other service professionals as needed. The collaborative approach is most often used in family law cases, but it has a place in other areas of the law as well. The IACP’s website offers a large amount of information and resources to help attorneys learn more. Even attorneys who do not practice in the family law area can benefit from knowing about this practice model—nearly every general practitioner is asked by a client about a family law matter. Being able to refer clients to lawyers who practice collaborative law will put you in a positive light. (For an overview of this form of ADR, see the article “Collaborative Law: A New Approach to Divorce” in this issue of GPSolo.)

Other Sites of Interest

Almost every lawyer I know engages in the occasional period of self-introspection. We are all looking for ways to be more productive, understand the meaning of life, and more. Asian Efficiency (asianefficiency.com) is a website containing a large number of blog posts on these and other related topics. Here you can find advice on just about everything: managing your time during the day, finding your purpose in life, and the best apps for your Mac or PC to make your life easier.

It’s almost impossible not to know that there are people out there who use scams to cause financial ruin for others, but it’s always surprising how many people have not heard of specific scams. The Internet basics writers at About.com have put together a list of the top ten scams for 2014 (tinyurl.com/qevukb). Some of the scams (such as the Nigerian “419” scam) are common knowledge, but others are not so well known to people. This list would make an excellent tidbit for an e-mail newsletter that you send to clients. Even if you don’t have a regular newsletter, you could e-mail this site to your clients just as a way of saying that you are looking out for them. Along the same lines, the AvoidAClaim blog (avoidaclaim.com) tracks scams specifically targeting attorneys.

Next, here are a couple of sites that offer a brief escape from the stressful life known as practicing law. Holy Kaw (holykaw.alltop.com) is a curated collection of interesting or humorous things found on the World Wide Web. The “parent” site, Alltop.com, is a curated collection of websites grouped by topic. Whether your fascination is Lego bricks or Australian-rules football, there’s probably a topic that will appeal to you.

Finally, we all need to see the humor in our legal world from time to time, and the venerable Lowering the Bar blog (loweringthebar.net) does just that. Kevin Underhill does a masterful job of finding the silly and ridiculous stories related to the law, covering everything from nonsensical TSA actions to judges handling prolific filers with flair. My most recent favorite: the town that argued over repealing an alcohol ban when it didn’t have one.

If you’ve run across a website that you think would be helpful to your colleagues, please feel free to let me know about it. You can contact me by e-mail at wilson@aaklaw.com.

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William L. Wilson

William L. Wilson practices civil litigation with Anderson • Agostino & Keller, P.C., in South Bend, Indiana. He also teaches entertainment law at the University of Notre Dame. He blogs about the intersection of law and technology at thirdapple.com.