10 Reasons Why You Need to Embrace the Future of Dispute Resolution #MustRead

By Sachin Malhan


Perspective is 70 IQ Points.

– Alan Kay, father of the graphic user interface.

Ok, I don’t really have 10 reasons. That was very buzzfeedish of me – but I do have five with the force of ten.

For the longest time, the litigation option has been seen by law students as fraught with risk – endless hours in a day stuck in courts, none to low starting salaries, an over-dependence on connections, and the despondence of facing broken systems of justice day in and day out.

There was always that undercurrent of attraction and outsized respect for those – go, you rockstars! – who took that path and made it, but the cons hung like hammers.

Then, and this is a gross oversimplification, there were three waves that began to transform things –

1995 onwards – the entry into the practice of first-generation lawyers, freshly minted from the new national law schools, and powered by something other than being beta-of-this or beti-of-that.

2000 onwards – the surge in popularity of arbitration and the recognition that there could be institutions or instruments other than courts by which disputes could be resolved.

2010 onwards – the growth of mediation as a realistic solution for disputes other than just family disputes. It should be known that mediation is as native to India as is having an argument! (Also, mediation is vastly misunderstood. It’s not an adjudicated process but one where a trained ‘mediator’ helps both partners come to a settlement. It’s the parties that decide the terms of their settlement).

And now we’re in the midst of the fourth wave – technology. Yes, that T-word again. In twenty years it could glibly refine what it means to be a “lawyer” or “judge”, or even a “dispute” or a “court”.

As we move into the AI phase of the technology wave one thing is certain – change. Everything will change, faster and faster, and uncertainty is something we will have to live with. Go watch AlphaGo on Netflix.

Rather than run around like a headless chicken wanting to know what the future holds, let’s get a grip on some clear trends and the rather massive opportunities they present.

But before we do that, I want to do a little exercise. I want you to think about the best things in your life. Did they come to you through fear or through adventure, curiosity, creativity and other things of the Light?

Straight up – almost nothing good comes from fear. So, when you look at all the things changing fast in front of you and feel fear and anxiety about your career prospects, accept that feeling, but don’t act out of it. The other side of fear is usually an incredible opportunity – and so is the case here.

Bring your creative ‘A’ game. Ready? Ok – now let’s get a grip on things:

One, ‘dispute resolution’ needs to replace ‘litigation’ as the career category students should consider.

It means that it may not be enough to have adversarial skills if you want to solve the problem for clients, you’ll need to understand a wider range including mediation advocacy and, possibly, negotiation. Equipped with this full range of skills to address your client needs you can go about solving problems.

The biggest opportunity is that you can walk into the profession with clear competitive advantages i.e. the ability to bring a range of creative solutions to address client needs. University platforms such as the NMC by NLSIU will be critical in increasing awareness and skill development in the years to come.

Two, technology is and will be everywhere.

Understand the potential implications before assuming that learning Python is the answer to all of your failed right swipes.

Understand the impact on areas such as legal research, case management, court management, conferencing and hearings, predictive sciences, adjudication, and enforcement. Here are some good reads on this:

Three, there are career opportunities not just in the handful of big matters that young lawyers latch onto, but in a large value of small or medium size matters that could be quickly resolved with the help of technology.

Just the way that private taxi operators realized the bigger opportunity in short distance rides as compared to day-long out-of-city trips, thanks to the Ubers and Olas, dispute resolution professionals need to realize the big opportunity in resolving smaller/medium size disputes quickly, at scale.

The future could include several days when you’re working with technology to handle tens, if not more, of disputes per day.

Check out the E-ADR Challenge that is currently live. It’s part of an initiative to develop an institution that can resolve hundreds of thousands of disputes using various dispute resolution processes, almost entirely online.

Four, once you’ve understood the various areas that tech will transform (see point two above), set about understanding and mastering those critical areas to give you the competitive advantage.

Those who are future-ready in legal research, contract management, online dispute resolution, online case management, virtual conferencing (like you don’t do it 20 times a day), and third-party litigation funding, will find themselves ready for what the future holds.

Five, become an ‘infinite learner’ (do read Letter to a Young Law Student).

Make learning brand new subjects a fundamental part of your professional lifestyle. The better you understand different subject areas, the more quickly you will grasp the nature of disputes and be able to play a constructive role in addressing them.

The rule of law is the foundation of democracy. Those who understand the laws and its systems will always have a critical place in society and the economy.

The roles will change, and so they must, with new opportunities replacing dead habits, but careers in law will continue to grow as many more people enter the formal economy, begin to trust our public and private institutions and enforce their rights.

In AlphaGo, which is a really great watch, Lee Sedol, the Go world champion, responds to his losses to the AI software by saying: “The typical, traditional, classical beliefs of how to play — I’ve come to question them a bit.”

And so must you learn to question the ‘typical, traditional, classical beliefs’ about what it means to be a practicing lawyer.

sachin malhan

Sachin Malhan is the co-founder and C.E.O. of HumLab, which is seeking to build an ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in the legal industry, and law and justice delivery. HumLab is the co-organiser of the Agami Prize along with justice accelerator Vayam.

Earlier, Sachin led a major international programme at the leading non-profit Ashoka, and co-founded and led three ventures in the law and legal industry, including Law School Tutorials (LST), Rainmaker, and Inclusive Planet. For his work in technology, media, social impact, and education, Sachin was made an INK Fellow in 2010.

Sachin is a graduate of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru and began his career with the law firm Amarchand Mangaldas at their Mumbai offices.


This post was first published on: 7 Mar 2019

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