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Digital trial

On the medium's influence (physical or online), on the effectiveness, accessibility and fairness of legal proceedings between landlords and tenants in the USA, during the Corona period

"I'm not a cat" A lawyer from Texas got into trouble with the filter during a Zoom trial. Screenshot
"I'm not a cat" A lawyer from Texas got into trouble with the filter during a Zoom trial. Screenshot

A legal procedure ("procedural trial") is the way in which a matter is determined in a court of law. The rules of legal procedure deal with the way the trial is conducted and guide the parties and the court. They deal with the execution of the stages of the trial, from the submission of the documents necessary to open the case to its conclusion with a verdict and sometimes an appeal.

Since the legal procedure does not determine the essential rights of the people - suspects, accused, plaintiffs and defendants - in the trial being conducted, but only the way in which the trial will be conducted and arbitrated, it may be perceived as a technical and secondary matter, and this is indeed how it was perceived in the past. But in recent decades, the recognition of its importance in the discussion arrangements has increased.

What is the question? How does the management of a legal process affect its participants?

Prof. Arna Rabinovitch-Aini from the Faculty of Law at the University of Haifa researches formal and alternative legal procedures (those that are concluded outside the court, for example mediation, arbitration, negotiation and settlement rulings). According to her, "the way the legal process is conducted and its fairness can affect the results. Sometimes they are even more important than the results because they affect the satisfaction of the participants (plaintiffs and defendants) and their feelings towards the legal system and the legitimacy they attribute to it. In the past, the legal process was seen as less important than the result, but today, thanks to many years of research in the field, we understand that this is not the case."

In her research, Prof. Rabinovitch-Eini also delves into the interface between the legal process and the medium in which it is conducted - face to face (in a court or in a mediation room), on video (for example on Zoom) or in writing (documents and answering online questions); That is, the way in which the medium affects the accessibility and fairness of the procedure and the satisfaction of the parties.

According to her, "With the spread of technology, the question began to be asked whether the legal procedure must take place face to face or whether it can also be implemented online. The growth of online procedures began in the 90s, with the advent of electronic commerce. As soon as the online transactions started, so did the conflicts, and it was clear that it was unthinkable to physically come to the court from different parts of the world. This is how online procedures began to grow in the network that were parallel to those known from the physical arena, such as negotiation, mediation and arbitration. Later, mainly from 2015 onwards, with the introduction of the smartphone and social networks and the expansion of online trade from products to services, the use of online procedures expanded and they penetrated courts in various places, including the USA. These procedures were applied in various areas, mainly small claims, traffic and family law. Another revolution in the field occurred during the Corona period - when mainly visual committee procedures were used and the online procedures expanded. This is how we learned that technology has a significant role in the legal process and that it may affect the perceptions of the participants and the results."

In her upcoming research, Prof. Rabinovitch-Eini, with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation, will examine cases of disputes between tenants and landlords in the USA from the Corona period onwards; Some of them were conducted face-to-face and some were done online - that is, in writing or in video discussions. "During the Corona period, renters and landlords in the US experienced a major crisis and the burden on the courts increased. That's why it paid off for landlords to turn to an alternative, online procedure," explains Prof. Rabinovitch-Aini.

The study will examine cases of disputes between tenants and landlords in the United States, from the Corona period onwards; Some of them were conducted face-to-face and some were done online - that is, in writing or in video discussions.

The purpose of the study is to examine how effective and accessible the procedure in each medium was (quick and saves legal time and does not make the participants give up justified claims due to its length); Fair to the participants and satisfying them. "Each choice in conducting a procedure and in a certain medium reflects a different basket of values ​​and therefore will lead to different experiences and results among different participants," says Prof. Rabinovitch-Aini. "So, for example, we tend to think that a person from a low socioeconomic background will have difficulty in an online procedure, but forget that it may be more difficult for him to stand up in court against another party that may be stronger than him. Therefore, research that deals with the variety of mediums can teach about the correct planning of legal procedures, so that they are more efficient, accessible and fair". The book cover of Prof. Arna Rabinowitz and Prof. Eitan Katsch

Prof. Rabinovitch-Eini Lydia will receive the cases from courts through cooperation with the American company Matterhorn - which deals with the resolution of online disputes in a variety of fields in more than 100 courts in the USA. Among other things, you will examine objective data in them, such as the demographic characteristics of the participants, the duration of the procedure, as well as the medium through which it was carried out, and its results. In addition, the participants of the procedure will be given surveys that will evaluate their perceptions regarding the accessibility and fairness of the procedure and the legitimacy they attribute to the legal system. The data and results obtained will be analyzed with statistical tools with the aim of establishing the relationship between the characteristics of the procedure and its participants and its efficiency, accessibility and fairness in the context of the types of conflicts that will be examined.

Prof. Rabinovitch-Aini hypothesizes that the perceptions of fairness and accessibility will be the highest in the written procedure and the lowest in the video. According to her, "It is easier for people (and certainly for renters) to proceed with a written procedure because its writing style is accessible to those who are not well versed in the field of law. In addition, it is not conducted in real time, so you can ask for help in understanding and drafting from family members, friends and neighbors. Video, on the other hand, poses difficult challenges for disadvantaged parties - for example, a lack of bandwidth and difficulty connecting to the Internet, and living in a crowded place where it is difficult to have a quiet discussion."

"It is difficult for researchers in the field to receive cases from courts, collect their data and establish a causal relationship between the way the cases are managed and their effect on the perceptions of the participants and the results of the procedure," says Prof. Rabinovitch-Aini. "But for us as a company it is important and therefore I hope that in this research I will overcome the methodological difficulties. In addition, I hope that we can learn from the research on online procedures in the US to help their assimilation into the legal system in Israel as well - a process that is in progress".

Life itself:

Arna Rabinovitch-Eini

Prof. Arna Rabinovich-Eini, 50 years old, married + three children (19, 15, 12), lives in Tel Aviv. In her free time she likes to spend time with her family and friends, go for walks, practice yoga and kickboxing, and watch movies.

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