Five Years of Online Competition Offer Law Students Experience and Empowerment
Student team from the University of
Belgrade-Serbia who participated in
The UMass Amherst Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution is celebrating an anniversary. For five years running, the Center has organized and managed the International Competition for Online Dispute Resolution (ICODR), a pioneering competition—the first of its kind, in fact—for U.S. and international law students. The competitions are designed to enhance dispute resolution skills and help students learn how to work in an online knowledge management environment, an emerging work situation for lawyers and their clients.
Over its five-year history, ICODR has attracted hundreds of students from North America, South America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia-New Zealand who come together virtually to test their skills as advocates and neutrals in online mediation, negotiation, arbitration, and litigation. Competitors role-play as advocates or neutrals in hypothetical cases facilitated by state-of-the-art online dispute resolution platforms. Noted practitioners and academics from many different countries evaluate their skills.
For most participants ICODR offers a unique opportunity, but for some, ICODR has been transformative. For example, two teams from the University of Belgrade-Serbia, the first entrants into the competition from the former Yugoslavia, participated in the 2005 negotiation competitions. Their coach, Lynn Malley, currently a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law, who was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Belgrade at the time, decided to “give ICODR a try.”
Since the war, the University of Belgrade has suffered from insufficient resources against a backdrop of political and economic sanctions and the enduring effects of political divisions that persist in Serbia. In fact, the University of Belgrade continues to reflect that division, with many Socialist Party supporters of the late Slobodan Milosevic on the faculty and in the student body. Part of the impact of these conditions is that few Serbians travel abroad, obtaining a visa is difficult, and for many current students there is no realistic chance to see or visit other countries.
The Serbian students, however, rose to the challenge, despite their slow and often intermittent internet connection, the fact that the law school was closed at night and on weekends, and a lack of support from faculty or administrators other than their visiting professor and coach. These students, empowered by their actions and words, emerged as stars of the competition. And, having proudly bested many of their counterparts from around the globe, they ended up receiving national recognition, including an appearance on Serbian equivalent of “Good Morning America.”
This experience is but a snapshot of the big picture that validates five years of hard work in ICODR. Testimonials from other competitors indicate that bringing people together online to enhance understanding—and thereby allowing individuals to be empowered—has enormous value. Some comments:
- “The technology of online mediation…forced us to be succinct, to-the-point and clear regarding our requirements. It allowed us to forensically examine the text of Claimant's requirements, without recourse to the ambiguity of paralinguistic features such as body language, tone of voice etc. which might engender confusion. The technology allows for clarity, brevity and efficiency.”
- “Technology has no boundaries.…it is now in the grasp of many people to attempt to work out issues with each other without even visiting a courtroom. This is marvelous, and may lead to depleting the courtrooms overuse.”
- “What we liked most about negotiating online was that every word exchanged was ‘on the record.’ In such a format, it was more difficult for our counterparts (and us) to employ devious negotiation tactics. Specifically, with the record of our conversations before us, it was difficult, if not impossible, for either party to recant a previous assertion.”
- “Becoming more familiar with the technology caused us to realize how effective it can truly be. While we initially feared that the fact that the negotiations were online would make our words sound impersonal or, worse, insincere, our worries turned out to be unfounded.”
ICODR is the product of volunteer efforts and donations, coordinated by Alan Gaitenby, Executive Director of the Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution and in conjunction with Professor Benjamin Davis of the University of Toledo College of Law. As such, the Center has successfully partnered with the Harvard Program on Negotiation, Thompson West Corporation, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Chamber of Commerce Institute of World Business Law, Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, University of Toledo College of Law, Hamline University School of Law, SquareTrade.com and SmartSettle.com, to provide expertise, cases and competition platforms.
For more information, go to http://www.odr.info/icodr.php.
June 28, 2006