The new reality – five stages of adaptation

The world we entered in 2020 is very different from the world we left behind in 2019. Covid-19 has changed lives, businesses and practices all over the globe. Most countries’ reactions to the pandemic, whether through lockdowns or restrictions, were put in place in a matter of days and the efforts to adapt to this new reality have been record fast in many industries. Arbitration is no exception.

First stage – pause

The virus and the subsequent lockdowns and restrictions, however necessary, lead to immediate and significant loss. Most severely of course the loss of lives, but also the loss of business, practices and a way of life. The societal response showed the tracings of the classic stages of grief, often with initial denial, followed by anger and bargaining. But also, hesitation. For arbitration, this initial stage meant pressing the pause button - cancelled events, delayed processes and postponed hearings while parties and tribunals tried to figure out if this was something that could be weathered and if not, how to adapt to it.

Second stage – digitalisation

It soon became clear that this is not something we can hold our breath through – we need to adapt to it. In order to recreate the values lost, processes all over the world are turning digital at an unprecedented speed. Using all the opportunities offered by existing technologies, we try to mimic the analogue processes that we have spent years or even centuries developing and perfecting. In arbitration, meetings and hearings are moving online, conferences and events are turning into webinars,  and the interest for digital case management platform increases. While there is no doubt that some value will get lost in the transition to digital, it’s equally true that in many cases, digitalisation has improved existing processes. Digital meetings, for instance, have numerous benefits, not just for the environment and peoples’ schedules and comfort, but also with the various added functionalities provided in the digital world.

Third stage – re-examination

In the sometimes painstaking process of digitalisation, the question arises whether there are other ways to achieve the same end-result as before – a high-quality, enforceable ruling. Which steps are truly essential, which steps can be replaced by others, and are some steps even superfluous? Institutions, tribunals and parties are re-examining the procedural toolbox in search of new paths in this changed world. This includes for example tools that might allow you to avoid or shorten the hearing, like deciding the matter on the documents, or more concise pleadings.

Fourth stage – re-invention

Where the third stage focuses on reaching the same goal in a different and more efficient way, the fourth stage will be to examine whether we still want to pursue the same goals. For most parties in a dispute, a high-quality, enforceable ruling is not the main goal. The main goal is ending a dispute in an efficient manner with minimal impact on the business. With increased digitalisation and the disruption of the current processes, we will see a greater uptake of alternative dispute resolution methods. Both in the use of existing ADR tools but also in the development and uptake of new types of digital dispute resolution tools.  

Fifth stage – fusion

Life will not stay like this forever, sooner or later Covid-19 too shall pass. The big question is what will happen then. How long does the current restrictions need to last for the changes in processes and mindset to become permanent? When life goes back to normal, how much of the old processes do we want to bring back? This stage will bring a new wave of innovation. With the ability to combine the best of both worlds we will build solutions that are not just based in necessity, but are simply better, all things considered.

Until then, stay safe everyone.


Lise Alm

Head of Business Development

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