How technology supports sustainable arbitration

Carlos Carvalho

Technology plays a crucial role in supporting sustainable arbitration by enhancing efficiency, transparency, and accessibility in the dispute resolution process.  

Within arbitration, and the business world more generally, there’s a growing interest in and awareness about the importance of adopting more sustainable practices. As clients and law firms explore ways to reduce their environmental impact, they’re finding that technology and sustainability in arbitration can go hand-in-hand. 

In this article, we’ll share specific ways that technology supports sustainable arbitration while delivering additional benefits. We’ll also provide a few considerations to keep in mind as you evaluate arbitration software and technology solutions. Finally, we’ll share a list of helpful resources about sustainability in arbitration. 

The impact of traditional arbitration 

Traditionally, settling disputes through arbitration took a lot of time and involved a complex, face-to-face process. A ton of paperwork added to the hassle, with documents traveling long distances in boxes to reach institutions, parties, and arbitrators. 

We cannot claim that all of this is in the past, but recently there’s been a shift in how we talk about making arbitration more sustainable. Clients are demanding it, and initiatives like the Campaign for Greener Arbitrations and the Greener Litigation Pledge are pushing for eco-friendly practices in legal proceedings. 

Technology is vital to this journey as law firms become more sustainable. It’s not just about making things easier; using advanced technology in arbitration is helping to complete the whole process more efficiently. The perception around this is still not widespread, mainly because there isn’t a consistent approach to using technology in arbitration proceedings. Still, we will get there sooner than one might think. 

The legal services industry is undergoing a remarkable shift in mindset. We are now prioritising the future of our profession more than ever before. This change is essential to ensure that we stay ahead of the curve and continue to provide exceptional services to our clients.

Sustainability benefits when using new technology in arbitration

Reducing the use of paper

Reducing paper usage in arbitration is not solely an environmental consideration, but the shift towards paperless processes undeniably aligns with sustainability goals. Beyond the well-discussed impact of printing, the advent of digital storage introduces a crucial dimension. Modern technologies and case management systems play a pivotal role in this shift, facilitating collaboration and curbing the proliferation of duplicate documents. 

The transition to paperless practices extends beyond a mere substitution of printed bundles with PDFs; it entails a comprehensive digitization of the entire arbitration process. This digitization not only minimizes paper waste but also streamlines interactive tasks and enhances the efficient management and sharing of data.  

Notably, eDiscovery stands as a testament to the transformative power of technology in arbitration. In fact, many other stages, such as case preparation, hearings, and post-hearing steps like deliberations and award drafting, are also reaping significant benefits from modern technology and following a similar path.  

Embracing modern arbitration technology not only reduces paper usage but also unlocks additional advantages: 

AI integration
Digital documents and processes pave the way for future applications of artificial intelligence (AI), enhancing the analytical capabilities of the arbitration process.

Enhanced data security
A digital approach provides greater control over data security, ensuring that access to critical information is monitored and auditable, addressing concerns related to confidentiality and integrity. 

Management of digital media
New technologies are designed to handle case-related digital media, including emails, text messages, and other forms of information, further streamlining the arbitration process.

In essence, the move towards a digital approach in arbitration not only aligns with environmental sustainability but also unlocks a host of benefits, ranging from AI integration to improved data security and efficient management of digital media. 

Leveraging hybrid hearings to connect participants virtually 

One of the significant advancements that technology brings to sustainable arbitration lies in its capacity to virtually connect participants to hearings, minimising the necessity for extensive long-haul flights to resolve disputes. 

Hybrid hearings, a product of technological innovation enabled by electronic hearings, including e-bundles, electronic presentation of evidence, and real-time transcription, allow primary participants to attend in person, while other can contribute remotely.  

The technology for virtual hearings extends beyond mere convenience, offering additional Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) benefits: 

Enhanced access to arbitration
While in-person arbitration proves effective for centrally located parties, it presents challenges for international arbitration historically concentrated in major cities like London, New York, Geneva, and Paris. This concentration becomes a barrier for smaller organisations and emerging players, especially in cases involving developing countries. Technology-enabled virtual hearings break down geographical barriers, enabling broader access to arbitration for those who lack the means or logistical expertise for in-person proceedings.

Educational opportunities for junior lawyers
Technology-enabled hybrid hearings open doors for early-career participants to observe, assist, and learn from proceedings without the financial burden of attending in person. This inclusive approach not only fosters diversity within the sector but also creates positive impacts and better outcomes by providing valuable educational experiences for junior lawyers. The integration of technology thus extends beyond convenience, contributing to the educational and professional growth of emerging legal talent. 

The success of hybrid hearings in achieving positive and sustainable outcomes depends on the circumstances of each case, particularly the location of the primary participants involved. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that when utilised correctly, this technology-enabled tool can significantly mitigate the impact of arbitrations. 

Sustainability considerations when adopting arbitration technology

If you’re thinking of adopting technology for arbitration, it’s important to ask questions about a vendor’s sustainability practices as part of your selection process. 

How do you handle your documents? 

Different technologies will take distinct approaches to document management. If you have your documents sitting on a server being accessed via Windows Explorer it is likely that the team will share those documents via e-mail or save local versions to make annotations, for example, generating an enormous amount of duplicates saved in different servers and, therefore, contributing to energy waste.  

If, on the other hand, you use a case management system that works both as a document repository and a centralized place to create annotations and collaborative tasks like Opus 2 there is no need to send documents via e-mail or save them locally. In fact, there will be little or no need for any e-mail exchange at all. 

From the perspective of multiple parties interacting in proceedings, this also applies to the conduct of the case and hearings. Having a centralised repository from which parties can work and prepare for the hearing stage without saving local copies for tagging documents, making annotations, and creating custom bundles generates efficiency while reducing the impact of the use of technology.  

How do you control the work process?

When working with larger teams and external resources, keeping track of different versions of documents and ensuring accountability can be a challenge. This becomes even more difficult when using legacy technology like email, which lacks the necessary supervision tools required for managing teams and interacting with external stakeholders.  

However, new case management and preparation solutions can effectively address these challenges. These solutions ensure effective monitoring while providing enhanced security features and access controls, which ensure that only authorised collaborators can access specific case-related documents. 

Besides improving control and security, these cutting-edge systems for managing and preparing cases allow arbitration teams to work concurrently, effectively, and with less data dispersion. This is essential in reducing the impact of technology. 

What are they doing to be a sustainable and responsible business?

It’s also important to remember that when it comes to improving sustainability in arbitration, it’s not merely about adopting new technologies. It’s about partnering with vendors who share a commitment to sustainability. When looking at potential vendor partners, it is becoming increasingly important to  consider and assess their focus on sustainability.

Have they adopted sustainability policies and initiatives across their organisation? Have they publicly communicated their sustainability commitments? Do they measure their own environmental impact and have they set targets? How do they empower and educate their team? These are only a handful of the questions clients should be asking when reviewing vendors. Many organisations voluntarily participate in sustainability assessments such as EcoVadis and CDP and make the results available to their clients and supply chain.

Additional resources on sustainability in arbitration 

There are lots of ways beyond technology use to improve the sustainability of arbitration. As the industry becomes more aware of their role in enhancing sustainability, the number of resources available increases. Whether you’re just starting to explore sustainability initiatives or looking to increase your impact, there’s plenty of information available. Here are a few you might find useful.
Campaign for Greener Arbitrations 
The Greener Arbitrations Campaign was launched in 2019 to raise awareness of the environmental impact associated with dispute resolution and take steps to significantly reduce carbon emissions within the arbitration community. The organisation offers helpful information and encourages arbitration stakeholders, including counsel, arbitrators, parties to disputes, and institutions, to commit to mimising their environmental impact as part of The Green Pledge

Cycle to PAW
This year, a group of arbitration professionals are putting their sustainability beliefs into action by cycling from London to Paris to attend this year’s Paris Arbitration Week. The inaugural Cycle to PAW event is being hosted in partnership with Club Peloton and will raise funds for three worthy causes. You can learn more and sign up here. Or, you can see our riders’ and contribute to their fundraising efforts via JustGiving

Report from Herbert Smith Freehills  
Herbert Smith Freehills conducted an arbitration case study to pinpoint sources of carbon emissions in their operations, aiming to reduce environmental impact. The study, published by the Campaign for Greener Arbitrations, identifies key areas contributing to carbon emissions and suggests actions to minimise and control them. Read more here – Inside Arbitration: Towards greener arbitrations: Achieving greater environmental sustainability in the way we work. 

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