A digital alternative to the courthouse

A commercial dispute can have a just outcome without the hassle of a court case.

Resolving commercial disputes by way of traditional litigation can be an enormous drain on finances and energy. While big companies might have deep pockets to fund prolonged disputes, smaller businesses and individuals can be put off by often eye-watering costs and lengthy timeframes.

“What I’ve seen as a barrister is that the time, cost, energy and resources it takes to get to court and to trial often outweigh the benefits, regardless of which side you’re on,” says Laura Keily. “Even if you ‘win’, it doesn’t always yield a commercial result or one that’s good for both parties, or even for you.”

Having worked as a top-tier corporate lawyer, in-house counsel for listed corporates and as a barrister, Keily has seen how litigation can significantly impact finances, with business relationships often strained and even destroyed in the process.

“That traditional pathway is there for a reason but, once you get on, it’s very difficult to get off and avoid the associated costs. You must prove your case, which may or may not yield what you consider to be justice, often depending on how much money you have.”

A 2017 report from the Law Society of NSW examining innovation in the legal profession found that “delays in court proceedings can cause serious societal ills” and that there is growing interest in the use of technology in the legal sector.

Hoping to provide an easier alternative to the traditional, combative approach, Keily founded Immediation, which she believes is the world’s first comprehensive online dispute resolution platform. It is designed to take commercial disputes out of the courtroom and deal with them 100 per cent online.

“My view was that there should be a readily accessible alternative, where people can deal with things more efficiently and more commercially, in the sense of getting an acceptable result for both parties in a reasonable timeframe,” she says.

Clients, including lawyers, create a claim by lodging the facts of the issue and uploading documentation to the Immediation platform, which then communicates with the other party for them. The other party then uploads their side of the case.

“If the respondent wants to try resolving the dispute efficiently, we appoint a mediator from our expert panel who conducts online mediation using our customised video conference technology.”

Immediation’s panel of 90 from across Australia includes former judges, top-tier partners and respected barristers, arbitrators and mediators. Keily notes that the standard timeframe is 30 days, creating significant potential savings in both money and energy. Fees are fixed, transparent and related to the value of the dispute, to democratise access to dispute resolution, she says.

“By the time you’d gone to a lawyer, opened a file and had your first conversation, for the same amount of money the matter is done and dusted.”

Former Google engineers helped design Immediation from the ground up, ensuring that it is accessible to people who aren’t legal experts. “It has been designed so that any competent executive with a grasp of the facts can drive the process.”

Early results are promising, with pilot clients reporting potential savings of up to 98 per cent of the cost of standard litigation, says Keily.

“Often businesses or individuals in their first experience of the court system or traditional pathways don’t realise how expensive it can get. They can get stuck in the system and spend too much to resolve the matter quickly.

“The Immediation platform has been designed to give non-lawyer clients much more power and control over the process.”