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Episode 155 - Online Dispute Resolution - Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Mediators, Lawyers, and Judges?

Episode 155 - Online Dispute Resolution Image

01/23/2020 3:00 pm

Colin Rule is an Online Dispute Resolution Consultant who has been instrumental in developing software that helps parties settle part or all of their divorce action online. He co-founded the Online Dispute Resolution service provider Modria in 2011. He is presently the VP of Online Dispute Resolution for Tyler Technologies. In this show, he talks with Leh and Todd about the roll that software and artificial intelligence currently plays in legal disputes. His software has been a huge success in helping folks resolve their divorce in record time. They also discuss the future of artificial intelligence and at what point Skynet will take over our legal system (a little Terminator humor). Joking aside, it is a great show about the future of our legal system and how lawyers, judges, and mediators can use software to help people resolve their divorce fairly, quickly, and reduce the financial costs of the process.


Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the Law Firm of Meriwether and Tharp. And you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio. Here you learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to learn more about us, you can always check us out online at Todd.

Todd Orston: Well done. You're looking at me like you want some high five. There you go. Good job.

Leh Meriwether: Well Todd, we've never done a show like this before.

Todd Orston: On the radio? Yes we have.

Leh Meriwether: No, I mean topic.

Todd Orston: Oh, you are correct. Topic.

Leh Meriwether: So if I can't talk today.

Todd Orston: Oh, that just opened up the door to so, Leh, you see everyone else in the room is smiling right now. That was T-ball.

Leh Meriwether: Oh boy. All right. Well today actually we have a special guest. He is calling in and to set the stage, a little while ago I read this article In Family Lawyer Magazine about a really interesting development in family law. We've had a few episodes recently where we've talked about how technology, how it's impacting the practice of family law. How it's changed the practice of law, one episode, how smartphones have impacted family law and families even and so we're going one step further.

Todd Orston: I'm going to say like a hundred steps further.

Leh Meriwether: That's true.

Todd Orston: This is like one step before Terminator stuff and the robots take over.

Leh Meriwether: This is true. Actually, we're going to be talking about online dispute resolution and the future of family law as well as these artificial intelligence to help you resolve your case. With us today is Colin Rule. He is a VP of online dispute resolution for Tyler Technologies. He co-founded the ODR service provider Modria in 2011, serving as the CEO and COO until Tyler acquired Modria in 2017. From 2003 to 2011 he was the director of online dispute resolution for eBay and PayPal. He has worked in the dispute resolution field for two decades as a mediator, trainer and consultant. He holds a master's degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in conflict resolution and technology. And you can read more about him at Colin, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Colin Rule: Thank you so much. I appreciate the invitation. And I do feel a little bit like a sales guy for Skynet, the AI in Terminator that's going to take over. But no, no, that's not what this is. It's got to be a little bit better than that, I hope. But I appreciate you guys having me.

Todd Orston: I am fairly certain that at the beginning of that first movie there was a divorce mediation going on.

Colin Rule: [inaudible 00:03:06].

Todd Orston: Maybe I need to see the movie again. I don't know.

Leh Meriwether: It is an old movie.

Colin Rule: Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator would be a very effective divorce mediator.

Todd Orston: I am, yeah.

Colin Rule: In some of the divorce cases I have seen.

Todd Orston: Yeah, I'm fairly certain he'd have a 100% settlement record.

Leh Meriwether: Especially when he leaves the room to go talk to the other party and goes, "I'll be back."

Colin Rule: Really.

Leh Meriwether: Like, "Oh, please don't."

Todd Orston: All right, so this truly is, Leh's usually the one that says this. I'm going to say it this time. This is really exciting because it's not very often, and I know you're going to speak a lot on this point, but it's not very often that a technology or that there's some kind of an advancement in the practice of family law that that has the potential to really change things in such a dramatic way as what you're going to be talking about today on the show.

Colin Rule: Absolutely. Well, it's funny. On the one hand people talk about these changes as if they're like, "Wow, this is so sci-fi and it's so futuristic." But actually, we've been digitizing our lives for a long time. If you look at medicine, the way we used to get a treatment from doctors back in the 80's and how it's changed to now. Or you think about finance, like how you make investments or how you rebalance your insurance coverage. I mean, all of that stuff has been completely digitized and it doesn't seem weird to us anymore that we would log onto a website and go click, click, click. So the law has been a holdout for awhile. A lot of court cases pretty much work the same way they did in the 80's. But now, finally technology is coming to disrupt the law. And that can be a scary thing, particularly for lawyers that are saying, "Wow, what does this mean for me? What does this mean for my clients? How am I going to have to evolve my practice?" But I think there's a lot of opportunity there to expand access to justice and meet the needs of people going through probably what is the hardest time in their lives. So that's really the way I think about it.

Todd Orston: Well, I like the way you think about it. In fact, a lot of bar associations are finally starting to catch up. I know for instance, the Florida Bar Association now has a CLE requirement for technology. So they have essentially said, well, sort of reading between the lines a few articles I read, that if lawyers aren't keeping up with technology, then they could be committing malpractice. So the--

Colin Rule: Absolutely.

Todd Orston: So it's been a long time coming and I'm glad that you have used all your experience to develop this new technology because it sounds pretty exciting from what I read. Well, let's dive in. So what is Online Dispute Resolution?

Colin Rule: I'm actually not a lawyer. My whole career has been in the field of usually what's called alternative dispute resolution. So I was trained as a mediator. I've done a lot of work in multi-party complex facilitations. But I got sucked this world because I'm a nerd. I love technology. And when the internet really started cropping up in the 90's we started to ask the question, "Well, how are we going to resolve all these disputes that are arising on the internet between strangers, some of whom are in different countries?" So really it was eCommerce And you mentioned that I worked at eBay and PayPal. That was really what animated the growth of the online dispute resolution field. And at eBay we got to the point where we were resolving about 60 million disputes per year in 16 different languages, and 90% of them were resolved in software only. So we wrote computer programs that worked with disputing buyers and sellers to work out their issues. And eventually people started to say, "Hey, wow, if that's working for eBay at that scale, why couldn't it work for small claims cases or landlord tenant cases?" And now I originally, I'll say when I first got involved with ODR, I said I didn't think that family cases were a good fit. It was better for these high-volume kind of transactional interactions between strangers. But the culture has changed a lot, as you said. Every family, everybody's got their phones now. People want to use technology in ways that were probably inconceivable 10 or 15 years ago. And it was actually the parties that pushed me to say, "Hey, why can't we resolve our family disputes? Why can't we draft our parenting plan online? Why can't we adjust our child support and spousal support amounts using an online mechanism?" You know? And so we started to explore it and actually it's turned into a very hot area of online dispute resolution supporting people in the family context.

Leh Meriwether: A lot of times when you talk to lawyers, the initial reaction, do you get to something like this is, "Oh, there's just too many variables. There's no way you can put something together like this online. There's just too much going on." So how did you develop, overcome that objection? Where'd you first start? It was Nevada, right? Clark County?

Colin Rule: Yeah. The first Tyler implementation we did in a court was in Clark County, Nevada. And we worked with the mediation center there. They have 11 mediators who are on staff at the court and they do about 4,000, 5,000 cases a year. And we came in and said, "Hey, how can we help you by building some technology that can assist the work that you're doing?" Really, what I'm focused on is not, people talk about online dispute resolution as if it's about building a digital judge and replacing the court room altogether with an algorithm. And that's actually not what we're doing. We're trying to build tools that mediators can use and parties can use to work out issues as much as they can with the assistance of software. And then humans can come in and handle the remaining issues. So in Clark County what happens is when parties come in, it's all about parenting, it's developing parenting plans. We have one party go through and they answer all the questions. We educate them about what all these things mean, custody and visitation, and they can go and express their preferences and then the other party can come in and they can go through and express their preferences. And then the computer program says, "Okay, well these are the areas where you already have agreement because you pick the same options. And then the mediator can come in and work on the areas where the parties don't agree. So that's what we're doing in Clark County. And we've seen some really interesting statistics about the fact that parties just love having the flexibility to do these things online.

Leh Meriwether: You know, so many people, these cases, as you know, they're driven by emotion and so many people start the process and they think their case is so unique. And I have said to people a time and time again, when you get through the emotion, these cases, there are so many similarities.

Colin Rule: That's true.

Leh Meriwether: And so it sounds like what you've done is you're sort of preying on that fact, on the fact that there really are, when you boil everything down, a lot of similarities that a tool like yours can help people. Can sort of sift through the emotion in a really emotionless way. I mean I, I don't know how maybe your product is full of emotion. I don't know.

Colin Rule: Sure, sure.

Leh Meriwether: There's happy emojis, oh, I've reached an agreement.

Todd Orston: [inaudible 00:09:54] High five, you know. But it sort of considers the fact that there are all these similarities to help people sort of get right to the main point on whatever the issue is, custody, parenting time, whatever. And that's incredible.

Colin Rule: Well, I will say in dispute resolution, we really want to build resolution processes that acknowledge the emotional journey of the participants. People think technology is all so sterile and it's so dehumanizing that it's just kind of coming in and you get put through a bunch of forms and then you get a resolution. But people are just as complicated on either side of a computer terminal as they are face to face. So that's one of the reasons why it's important to have this human element. To focus on apologies, to focus on that human connection, but also compliment it with an algorithmic side that can help to educate parties and structure their choices in a way that sort of optimizes the chance that they're going to be able to work it out.

Todd Orston: When we come back, we're going to talk about how much this has reduced the length of time it's taking to settle a case.

Leh Meriwether: I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to this show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings at WSB. So you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston: Better than counting sheep, I guess, right? That's...

Leh Meriwether: That's right.

Todd Orston: You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether: There you go.

Todd Orston: I'll talk very soft.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. We are partners at the Law Firm of Meriwether and Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio. If you want to learn more about us, you can always check us out online at Well today we're talking about, we've been talking in the past sort of about how technology has changed and got us to the point where we are today and its impact on family law, on families, on law in general. Now we're talking about the future, which is, I'm so excited to have Colin on the phone with us, Colin Rule from Tyler Technologies. He was instrumental in developing an online dispute resolution software to help families resolve their cases. And we just started. Colin, I'm glad you didn't run away after the last segment. Glad you're still here. But I really enjoyed reading your article and that's why I wanted you on the show so much, because something like this is very exciting. And I wanted to take a moment to talk about, how much time does your new online dispute resolution take out of the process based on what you've done so far in Clark County, Nevada?

Colin Rule: Absolutely. Well we have some really interesting data that we're collecting on that. In Clark County in particular, getting your resolution in front of a judge in hearings, usually that takes about two months to get in front of a judge. And a lot of that's waiting, but there's also boxes you got to check before you get there. The mediation center, their average time to resolution is about one month. That's pretty good. That's a 50% reduction in resolution time. But our average resolution time through our tool is about six days and we've had some cases resolved in, 24, 48 hours. The amazing thing is, the majority of our resolutions that the software delivers happens outside of the hours that the court is open. So what you see is late on weekdays or on weekends. That's when people are free to actually sit down and engage with the tool and go in and see what the other side is saying and try and come to an agreement. I think there's a convenience factor that's really driving preference on the part of the parties. Because they don't have to take time off of work in the middle of the week and go down to the judge's chambers and sit there and sit across the table and figure out do they want Christmas or Easter next year. Looking at the person they're really mad at. Instead, they're in their bed on a Saturday evening at 7:00 PM with their laptop open and a glass of Merlot on the bedside table. And maybe mom's on a cell phone and you're saying, "Well, you want Christmas or Easter? What do you think?" And giving people that distance, that cooling distance and allowing them to evaluate their options and do some research. We're finding that parties really like that flexibility. And that's what's driving the preference here. The satisfaction numbers are actually higher for in-person mediation than they are for online just by a little bit. But that's because you get a personal relationship with your mediator when you meet them. But the preference numbers are off the charts for online. And most of that has to do with speed and it has to do with convenience and it has to do with cost. So that's really what's driving the change is demands from the parties.

Todd Orston: I mean, speaking as a lawyer, I can tell you a lot goes into mediation. There's a lot of prep work. There is the cost for having all those people involved, but there's also the time cost. And that can be significant. There's the prep work with your attorney there is heading down to the mediation office. And it is not uncommon for a mediation to take seven, eight hours if there are some complex issues.

Leh Meriwether: So I was in a mediation just a few weeks ago that went until one in the morning.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Actually, my longest one lasted until about one in the morning. It was a 13 hour mediation. And we settled, but the bottom line is it's a big commitment. It's a big, emotional drain, time drain. So the fact that you can turn on this program, I know I'm using very basic terms, and utilize this program and from the comfort of your home, let's say, and it can help drive you in that direction of settlement is pretty impressive.

Leh Meriwether: I keep thinking, I'm going to hear Arnold Schwarzenegger and he may go, "Come with me if you want to settle your case."

Todd Orston: All right. For the record, I'm going to say that is the last Schwarzenegger quote for this show. I'm telling you right now.

Colin Rule: Let's just do the whole interview in a Schwarzenegger voice.

Todd Orston: I, I--

Colin Rule: I'm sure people would love that, yeah.

Todd Orston: Yeah. I'm shaking right now. I--

Leh Meriwether: You're afraid, you're very afraid.

Todd Orston: I don't think I can handle that. I will be praying for Skynet to drop a bomb on this studio.

Colin Rule: The other thing I would say is, when I'm talking about this one piece of post court filing, post e-filing and pre hearing. That's just one area of online dispute resolution in the family context. I'm sure many of your lawyer audience and maybe even some of your parties out there have heard about services like or or Hello Divorce. You know, these are services that individual divorcing couples can go to and they can sign up and then they essentially get an online workbook.

Laura Wasser is the person behind It's Over Easy. And she talks a lot about the good divorce. Like the conscious uncoupling, I think, in Gwyneth Paltrow's phrase. And if you're really going to knock down drag out fight, a lot of these tools aren't necessarily going to make that easier. It is very important to get together face to face and have a lawyer walk you through all your options.

But if you have a working relationship with the counter-party, with your soon-to-be-ex spouse, it can be a really good way. I mean oftentimes mediators, when I mediate, I sit down at a table with the parties and I've got a blank legal pad and say, "Okay, where do we want to get started?"

But these software programs can do a lot to educate parties and build early successes where you get agreement on half of the issues and then you can use the momentum of that to then go into some of the other issues. So the program is educating people about their options. The other thing is, people probably know about OurFamilyWizard and Those are software programs that work post settlement, post divorce to assist with co-parenting and picking up kids and doing financial management.

And that's also dispute resolution, because you're preventing disputes from arising. So there's really technology throughout the ecosystem where it's adding value. So it's an interesting time and I'm sure there's going to be more innovation soon.

Leh Meriwether: Well, the other thing I like about what I read from the article is that not only does, it provides the opportunity to potentially say, settle your case in 24 hours to a few days. But if you can't, you're setting the mediator up to shorten the time that they're spending with the party. So maybe your mediation goes from eight hours to four hours because you've already settled some of the issues. Maybe not all, but you've settled some of the issues.

And as I understand it, the mediator gets emailed some information about the parties and where they're at and they can read about it before they start the mediation. So they're already ahead of the curve. Because a typical mediation, at least here in Georgia, the meteor walks in and they know nothing. And so you spend maybe an hour to bring the mediator up to speed on the issues and what all is going on and the emotion in the room. And if you can sort of accelerate that outside of the mediation context or the actual sit down mediation part, you're accelerating the mediation process.

Colin Rule: Oh yeah. And by the time the mediator comes and sits down with the parties, the parties have already gone through a fairly long process educating them, what is mediation? How does this work? What are the questions that you're going to be asked? What information do you need to bring? So I've had meetings where the parties come in and you say, "Okay, well the first thing we have to do is we have to talk about this." And they say, "Oh wow, well we don't have that information." Okay, well then we have to go do it. Whereas the software can help to set it up.

I'll say also in the court context, a lot of the agreements we achieve through the software are partial agreements. So we may cover seven out of ten issues and get agreement. That means when they go in front of the judge, the judge already has a settlement agreement for those seven issues. They only have to focus on the last three. So again, that's another way that it drives exactly as you said, efficiency, cost savings, time savings. And you know the court loves it too because it means it's less time for them.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. We've kind of talked about what it is and how it's working. Who's currently using it out there, your online dispute resolution software?

Colin Rule: Yeah, I think there's about 60 courts in the US that have ODR solutions integrated into them in one way or another. And it's not just Tyler. We worked with a bunch of different courts. Obviously, Tyler Technologies is kind of like the Microsoft of court tech. So we run all the court case management, we do all the e-filing and we just integrated ODR into our suite of services. So there's a lot of Tyler implementations, but there's other companies too.

There's, TurboCourt has an ODR product. There's another company called Matterhorn, and they're focusing on different niches. Matterhorn is really doing a lot of traffic-type cases and less family. We're the ones who are specializing in family. I was just at a conference where the Chief Justice of Utah, Dino Himonas, he got up and he said, "If your court does not have an ODR program, you're behind the curve. You got to get your act together. Every court in the United States needs to know that ODR is the future of civil justice."

Todd Orston: Wow.

Colin Rule: I'm like, "Wow. Okay, great." You know, if the chief justices are saying that, that's something.

Todd Orston: Where do I send the check? Thank you.

Colin Rule: There you go. Yeah. Exactly.

Todd Orston: Your Honor, I'm only kidding.

Colin Rule: Because I'm going to raise my hand. Come talk to me. But the point is, my guess is within five to seven years, almost 50% of US courts are going to integrate online dispute resolution in one way or another to grease the skids in terms of getting to a settlement. And maybe that's not going to be family first. Maybe it will be small claims first or maybe it will be a debt collection or some other case volume, but it's just, the momentum is really strong within the courts now because they want to increase efficiency.

Todd Orston: Reading your article and listening to you, it has made me really start thinking about all the mediations that I've done and to be honest with you, how inefficient the system really is. It's really amazing how sometimes it just takes someone to sit back and go, "How can I reimagine this process to suddenly allow people's eyes to open and go, yeah, that is not very efficient. We could do this better."

Leh Meriwether: When we come back, I want to talk about is this actually good news or bad news for family lawyers? I know the answer to that, but I want to hear your answers to that and what can lawyers do to sort of embrace this new technology opportunity?

Todd Orston: Hey, everyone, you're listening to our podcast, but you have alternatives. You have choices. You can listen to us live also at 1:00 AM on Monday morning on WSB.

Leh Meriwether: If you're enjoying the show, we would love it if you could go rate us in iTunes or wherever you may be listening to it. Give us a five star rating and tell us why you like the show.

Welcome back, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. You're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio. If you want to learn more about us, you can always check us out online at And by the way, if you're just tuning in and you missed part of the show, you can always find this show and others online at along with the transcripts.

Well, today we're talking about artificial intelligence, how Todd is actually artificially intelligent. No, just kidding. No, we're talking about the use of technology to help people, and family law cases in particular. We're talking about the new technologies including Modrea. Am I saying that right, Colin? Modrea?

Colin Rule: You are, Modrea. My kids torture me by calling it Morea. But Modrea is right.

Leh Meriwether: Okay.

Colin Rule: So you got it dead to rights.

Leh Meriwether: Okay. So with us is Colin Rule. He's the VP of Online Dispute resolution for Tyler Technologies. And I found originally, Colin, online in an article you wrote for Family Lawyer Magazine recently and I reached out to you as soon as I read it. So I'm glad you agreed to come on the show and haven't been run off yet by my terrible Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonations.

Colin Rule: Well, I have to say it has been traumatizing but I've made it so far. So let's just, we'll get to the end.

Todd Orston: You signed a waiver and a release to yeah, you cannot sue us for his bad impersonations. And if you do sue us, we will use your program and we will sign it.

Colin Rule: That's right.

Leh Meriwether: And we'll settle. All right, well let's talk about, you know, is online divorce resolution good or bad news for family lawyers?

Colin Rule: Well I think that's a really rich question. And I do present to lots, I'm very involved with the American Bar Association and I present to bar associations all around the country. And I work with lawyers all day and all night. And I have to say, sometimes we'll go out and get a glass of wine and they'll say, "I'm really nervous about all this stuff. What does this mean for me?" And I think it's absolutely an apt question.

You know, my grandfather ran a lumberyard for many years, and one of the things that he said to me was, "Colin, you don't want to build your business where the highway is. You want to build your business where the highway is going." And I think anybody who's looking around realizes the power of technology and the potential for technology to transform law. It's going to create a lot of challenges and it's going to create a lot of opportunities.

Now, you think about finance. There used to be all these people that would sit on the floor of the Stock Exchange and shake pieces of paper and call out their orders. And all those people are out of work now. But more people work in finance than have ever worked in finance before. It's just now they're writing the computer programs and they're managing the computer programs, who are doing those trades in milliseconds. And I think that's a pretty apt vision of where the law may be going.

So getting smart about this technology and leveraging it and starting to utilize it, I think can create enormous opportunities. I mean, we run an insurance caseload with the American Arbitration Association in New York, and a lot of attorneys were worried when we brought in this technology that it was going to put them out of business.

But many of those attorneys are making a lot more money than they ever did. And they're taking many more cases than they used to take because they don't have to pay the paralegals to sit there and do the Xeroxes and they don't have to drive across town. They can do all of this stuff online and just share the digital document.

So what I would say to any attorney who's hearing this is now is, "Now is the time to get smart about this and engage with this and start to build it into your practice." And I think it's going to generate more opportunities than it displaces. But those attorneys who say, "No, I'm not going to do this. My grandfather did it this way and my dad did it this way and I'm not going to change." You know, I think that you're kind of shaking your fist at the rainstorm. It's not going to slow things down. It's just going to mean that you may miss the bus. So that's the way that I think about it.

Leh Meriwether: So I liked what your response to your wife when she asked you about this technology?

Colin Rule: Yeah. My wife always says, "It's so creepy that every day you're writing computer programs to help people get divorced." And I said, "Well, how do you think people are finding their spouses now? It's all and Plenty of Fish." And they'd go out there, click, click, click, and you get put together with your potential spouse. So the younger generation is not creeped out by the idea of using technology, not only to find their spouse, but also to end their marriage. They do everything online. You know, the joke with millennials is if there's not an app for it, they'll quit their job and go build one.

So it may be creepy. It's not like I'm just starting a website that says, "You want to get a divorce, click here. Okay, now you're divorced." There's a lot of thought and work that goes into this. But I can understand how people from the prior generation, the non technology savvy would say, "Wow, this is really creepy that we're doing this online."

Leh Meriwether: And as I understand it, part of what you put together is an algorithm so that if someone answers a question this way, is there a proposed answer? This is some of the details I'm curious about, how the software works.

Colin Rule: Yeah, well one of the concepts we have in what we call the online dispute resolution field, and you can learn more at We have this idea of the fourth party, well that's technology participates in the dispute. The parties are party one and party two, the disputants, the human neutral, the mediator or the arbitrator or even the judges, the third party. Technology is the fourth party.

And the question is, What is the fourth party good at? What are some things that the fourth party can do that the third party can't do? And also vice versa. What are some things the third party can't do, the fourth party can't do? One of those is algorithms. So many states have calculators. You can download from the State Judicial Council, a spreadsheet. You go in, you put in income and healthcare and tuition and it'll say, "Okay, this is what we think a fair amount of spousal support or child support should be."

So the parties don't have to come up with that number out of whole cloth. They can use this calculator to get some guidance. People talk a lot about machine learning and we talked about artificial intelligence and there is a lot of potential there. Sometimes I think it's a little bit overblown in terms of what it can do today.

You can't just come in and type a whole paragraph and explain your situation and then an algorithm will read it and say, "Okay, here's your separation agreement." But we're getting there. Computers are getting smarter all the time and more powerful and we're getting more data and we're able to train these algorithms. So, you can ask a computer, maybe you even ask your Echo or Amazon Alexa or Siri, "What do you think a fair resolution to this would be?"

And that algorithm can go out and read millions and millions of cases and say, "Well, based on the research we've done, I think a fair resolution is this." And we may get to the point where the parties really rely on those kind of algorithmic machine learning powered mechanisms for getting a sense of what would be a fair resolution.

But some of that I think is still five or ten years down the road. Just like we're going to automate driving of all of our cars and our grandkids and great grandkids will never get driver's licenses. We may be Uberizing the courts in a sense by utilizing some of these algorithmic techniques. And in the future they may think human power justice systems are a relic. So we'll see. We'll see where it all heads.

Leh Meriwether: Wow. Now the judges might be getting worried.

Todd Orston: Well Leh's--

Colin Rule: They are worried. Yeah.

Todd Orston: Leh's already--

Colin Rule: The worry about the spiral of irrelevance. Yeah, sure.

Todd Orston: Leh's already a relic so it's fine. And he's ahead of the curve, I guess you could say.

Leh Meriwether: Oh, my.

Todd Orston: You're not a relic. He's crying.

Colin Rule: No, no, Leh, us nerds let you come along. All you got to do is...

Leh Meriwether: It's funny you mentioned that. I'm actually kind of a nerd. I mean I've tried cases where everything was on my iPad. I came into court without any paper. People were looking at me crazy, what? No pen and paper?

Colin Rule: Well, I went to a conference of arbitrators ten years ago and I was talking about this stuff and the body language was fascinating. They're all glaring at me with their arms crossed like, This is never going to happen. And now I go to these conferences and they've all got their iPads. They're like, how do we speed this up? How do we get all my hearings, my pleadings. I want to go, click, click, click and write all my decisions. I mean, so it's amazing the degree to which technology has insinuated itself into our lives. People don't see it as threatening. Now they really want to embrace it because they feel it can make their lives better, so--

Leh Meriwether: You know, it's--

Todd Orston: Thank you, Steve jobs.

Leh Meriwether: What's interesting is that, so Todd and I've talked on a lot of our shows about how the court system is clogged up because people, one of the big complaints is, Why is it taking so long? But in many courts, I'm going to use Georgia now because I've got numbers. But you might have one judge who has 1200 family law cases on their current docket and then 1200 criminal cases.

Because in Georgia we don't have a separate family law court except for one county, where other states like Florida and New Jersey and some those have their own family law court. But here in Georgia you have judges that get real, so their calendar gets really backed up. So you may want to, you've settled everything you can, you need now the judge to make a ruling and it could take three, four months for you to get the court date where the judge actually hears the case.

So we already know there's a backlog. So this would actually, I don't think it's going to take away the jobs of judges. It's just going to allow them to get to cases that can't settle a lot quicker.

Todd Orston: But I also think that there's a secondary component here of, how much of that backlog is comprised of people who, if they had better guidance, look at how many pro se litigants there are. And if they had access, maybe not to an attorney, but at least to a program that could say, "Here are the issues, here are the things you need to think about." You know, it might give them the information that they need. Our firm, we're all about giving as much information as we can so people can make educated decisions.

Colin Rule: Absolutely.

Todd Orston: Having a tool like this could be invaluable and could dramatically reduce those numbers.

Colin Rule: Well, you're 100% right and you know, how much patience do you think judges have for people to get into court and argue with each other.

Todd Orston: Zero?

Colin Rule: When you've got all these cases stacked up. You know, most family courts, mediation is mandatory and that's where it's headed. Yep.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Judges have no patience for it and some less than others.

Leh Meriwether: This is very true. Oh my. Yeah. And some of them, they just don't even want to make, well, I've heard some judges say, "The last thing I want to do is tell two grown adults how to deal with rest of their lives and how to deal with their children." And so sometimes they'll say, "You haven't settled yet? Go back outside and try again." Like, "Judge, we've tried five times." "Go for number six."

Colin Rule: Try again.

Leh Meriwether: Yep. So well, Hey Colin, when we come back, I want to talk more about the future of this and I want to have you lay down a hard prediction on when AI is really going to take hold to help decide these cases.

I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to the show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings WSB so you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston: Better than counting sheep, I guess, right?

Leh Meriwether: That's right.

Todd Orston: You can turn on the show and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether: There you go. I

Todd Orston: I'll talk real soft.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the Law Firm of Meriwether and Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio.

If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at If you want to go back, if you listen to something in this episode and you're like, "Man, what did he say?" Or, "How do I get that website?" You can go to and there's actually going to be a transcript of the show there along with our previous shows. You can also listen to these shows in Apple podcasts and anywhere you might listen to podcasts, period because we try to broadcast it everywhere.

All right, well with us today is Colin Rule. He's the VP of Online Dispute Resolution for Tyler Technologies and he's been telling us all about this amazing software that he and his company and Modrea, they've developed to help people. Right now it's focused on pro se parties, is that right?

Colin Rule: That's right, mainly pro se. Yeah.

Leh Meriwether: So to help them resolve their divorce case without it taking forever in the court system. All right, so thanks again for coming on the show, Colin. I did want to ask you some questions about the future of this technology.

Colin Rule: Sure.

Leh Meriwether: And I wanted you to give a prediction. So you had mentioned in the last segment about how you thought that software is heading towards an algorithm perhaps where you can plug in some data points and I think you said talk to your Amazon Echo and say, "Hey, if I had this situation, what do you think would be a good outcome?" And at some point artificial intelligence would actually be able to give an answer. "Hey, I think a parenting plan like this, alimony like that." If there's even alimony in the future, and an equitable division that looks like this would be fair. Like how far off do you think something like that is?

Colin Rule: Well, it is interesting. There is a lot of stuff technology is doing today, but there's no question in my mind that five or six years from now, all the stuff that we're doing today is going to look really primitive. Just like the technology five, six years ago. You know, people are always impatient for it to go faster. And it's always a dicey proposition to predict the future. But one of the things we talked about out here in Silicon Valley a lot is something called Moore's Law.

And not to nerd out on you, but Moore's Law essentially says the power of a computer processor doubles every two years. And it's been true since the 70's and it's continuing. So that means then it's an exponential growth rate. And there's something called the singularity that a futuristic guy named Ray Kurzweil came up with, and that's the date at which one computer processor exceeds the processing capacity of the human brain.

And based on Moore's Law, that's going to happen in the late 2020's. So it will be 2028 or 2029. And what that means is two years after that, a computer processor will be twice as powerful as the human brain. So I think if you really look out like eight or nine years from now, I think the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence is just going to explode.

And it's going to be transformative within society. We're going to rely on algorithms to tell us everything, where our kids should go to school, who should do our heart surgery. But we're also going to learn to trust these algorithms as being better at giving that advice than humans. So I really think that that eight or nine year timeframe may be when we see a switchover. And parties will start to rely on this algorithmic advice and artificial intelligence more than they rely on people.

And just like you're never going to go back to the way the world was before we had cell phones. My kids don't know, how did you pick anybody up at the airport? I don't remember. We just got on the white courtesy phones, you know. They just don't get it. And that's when I think we're going to see a big social transformation. And that may be the beginning of the era of what some people are calling digital justice. So you've got eight or nine years to figure out how to navigate this, but that's how long I think it's going to take.

Todd Orston: And to buy your mountain cabin that's off the grid. So let me---

Leh Meriwether: Away from Skynet.

Todd Orston: Yeah, that's right.

Colin Rule: Exactly. That's exactly right.

Todd Orston: So I have a lot to do in the next few years.

Leh Meriwether: So what I'm hearing, the author of Terminator, he was off by, what, 30 years? He said 1999 it should have been 2029.

Todd Orston: All right.

Colin Rule: 2029, that's right. But it's interesting, you know, if you think about where we were two or three decades ago. All the things that we thought. Oh my gosh, maybe one day we'll have watches where we can speak into them and talk to people like Dick Tracy. We got a lot of that. I mean, it's amazing the degree to which technology, and I think it's still accelerating. Who knows what the big minds over at Google are inventing right now. Maybe we'll just screw an antenna into our temple and we'll be able to communicate telepathically with each other. I don't know.

There is no question there's going to be more breakthrough technologies. And people are going, because they use them in every area of their lives. They text with their spouse in the next room. We rely on this technology, when the data goes out at my house, my kids lose their minds. They have no idea what to do with themselves. And we didn't even have that 20 years ago.

So the point that I'm making is, it's not about where we are today. It's about what's possible. And if you get smart about this and you start to accelerate into it and you can leverage some of these technologies, your parties are going to seek you out and find you because you're on the leading edge of that curve. And that's what they're looking for. So divorce attorneys that are out there, there is opportunity here.

It's just, it takes time to get smart about it and start to leverage it. And I think actually there is a brighter future for all of us, both parties and courts and lawyers down the road. We just got to embrace it.

Leh Meriwether: You know, I just thought of something. So as we can gather data, like with our phones, they gather so much data now they tell us how many miles we walk in a day. If you're wearing an Apple Watch for example, or Fitbit tells you your heart rate, all those things. I could see just five years from now, like if there's say a contested custody fight and one parent's going, "Well, I'm the one who did all the work." And the other parent's like, "What are you talking about? You never picked the kids up from school. You never took him to the doctor." And then you go to the phones and you pull the data off the phones and suddenly it shows--

Colin Rule: It's all there. That's right.

Leh Meriwether: It shows that mom was the one, in this example, was the one who was actually, because you can pair up the kids' phones and mom's phone and the doctor's location because it tracks your locations. I mean I could see that being, okay, well let's just pull the data from our phones. Oh nope, dad, you're wrong. That's not true.

Colin Rule: Yeah, totally. Totally. Yeah, and if you look at sites like coParenter and OurFamilyWizard, they collect that information and sometimes judges will require in high conflict divorces, they utilize those tools. So you're right, it captures all the data. There's times when the parties literally can't communicate with each other and they're constantly giving messages to their kids to shuttle back and forth. Well the technology can put all that in one place. All the medical records, all the financial records and everything. It's all shared and it's all automatic. So the software is actually proactively preventing issues from arising by delivering all that structure.

Todd Orston: So let me ask, my understanding is that right now the system is working within you said about 60 court systems. For people to make use of the tool, is it only in those court systems? Is it only, also maybe let's say if an attorney makes use of or a mediator makes use of the tool, can just laypeople, can pro se litigants just somehow get their hands on the tool to be able to use it to try and resolve whatever their case is about?

Colin Rule: Yeah. Actually Tyler's technology right now is not available direct to end user parties. So as you say, it's only within the courts. So the courts are the ones who are buying it and implementing it. And then when people file into the courts, it automatically opens up and then they use it. But some of the other sites I mentioned before, like It's Over Easy and Hello Divorce and wevorce. They are using those same approaches. And you can go to those websites and sign up directly and work with them. And wevorce, too, they're always looking for attorneys that can come in and join their network and then they give them all the tools and give them the software.

But there's going to be a lot more, there's going to be a lot of innovation. And if there's anything, it's a very entrepreneurial area of the law. That's one way that lawyers can get involved is in your particular geography to deploy some technology like this and provide it to your parties. It can be a real competitive differentiator.

Leh Meriwether: Well to the extent you can answer this, is there any plan for Tyler Technologies to go into the private market with lawyers and say, "Hey, we haven't been able to get into Georgia yet, the Georgia courts, but hey, we lawyers, here's our software program that you can use with your clients to help them out."

Colin Rule: There have been some discussions about that and Tyler does have some products like research where they sell direct to lawyers. So we may head in that direction. But Tyler, again, they're very focused on local government, very focused on courts and justice. You know, they actually shut down when they acquired me. They shut down some of my other private initiatives because it was outside of that focus on that. But I think a lot of lawyers want to get access to this technology and I think Modrea is the most advanced out there. So that might be something that we do in the future. So stay tuned.

Leh Meriwether: So are there any plans to try to get into Georgia?

Colin Rule: Yeah, we've been having a lot of conversations with Fulton. Not the family courts, I think. I think mainly they're doing small claims, initially and [inaudible 00:43:14] cases. But I've talked with Gwinette, I've talked with Cobb, I've talked with a lot of the folks in the Atlanta area. So yeah, Georgia has been actually on the leading edge of a lot of this stuff. They're very forward-thinking in terms of dispute resolution and the use of technology. So, again, stay tuned. I think there's going to be more announcements.

Leh Meriwether: Well I'm looking forward to it.

Todd Orston: Me too.

Leh Meriwether: Because just part of the reason we do this show is to help educate our clients. Because we do have a lot of, we've had some shows that just focus on here's how you get ready for trial and, and so rather than us having to charge them for every little phone call, they can listen to shows, past episodes of this show to help them be better prepared and it not cost them a fortune. So I'm looking forward to this and I'm looking forward to seeing the future of Modrea and how lawyers such as the ones inside our firm can actually use that.

Well, unfortunately we are out of time. Colin, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Colin Rule: Thank you guys.

Leh Meriwether: You're welcome.

Colin Rule: This has been a lot of fun.

Leh Meriwether: So if there's a government agency out there that happens to hear this and wants to learn more about Tyler Technologies and how you can help them, what's the best way for them to reach you?

Colin Rule: Best way to reach me is Collin, C O L I N, dot Rule R U L E at And I would love to hear from anybody who wants to learn more. Thank you.

Leh Meriwether: Fantastic, everyone. Thanks so much for listening.