According to the 2017 Justice Gap Report conducted by Congress’s non-profit Legal Services Corporation (LSC), eighty-six percent of civil legal issues involving low-income Americans received scant or no legal assistance. The number of unrepresented (“pro se”) litigants continues to rise, with low-income Americans constituting a significant portion of this population. Due to the inefficiency of socioeconomically challenged litigants appearing pro se, this article proposes implementing Utah’s court-mandated Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) program as a solution nation-wide. Utah’s ODR program for small claims is revolutionary because it is the first ODR system able to handle an entire dispute instead of only certain phases, such as mandatory mediation for a particular issue. Section II of this paper will discuss the problem of socioeconomically challenged parties appearing pro se. Section III will discuss ODR generally and outline Utah’s program specifically. Section IV will analyze how Utah’s ODR program will benefit the socioeconomically challenged pro se litigant and why doing so benefits the justice system at large. Section V will serve as a brief conclusion. With safeguards that adequately protect the rights and interests of both parties, including further explanations and clarifications in the Standing Order, intensified training for facilitators, and a careful monitoring of technology, Utah’s ODR program should be implemented in all state courts throughout America. If the program has success for small claims, it should be expanded to and adapted for other areas like housing, domestic relations, and personal injury. This will allow greater access to justice in a system ripe for change.
When Accessing Justice Requires Absence from the Courthouse: Utah’s Online Dispute Resolution Program and the Impact it Will Have on Pro Se Litigants,
21 Pepp. Disp. Resol. L.J.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/drlj/vol21/iss1/5