Interview by Amelia Chew & Josh Lee

Interview with Thomas G. Giglione, Online Dispute Resolution expert and Convenor of the 8th Asia Pacific Mediation Forum Conference

The 8th Asia Pacific Mediation Forum (APMF) Conference taking place in Da Nang, Vietnam from 11 to 13 November 2017 aims to enhance cooperation, collaboration and networking on issues relating to mediation and other conflict transformation processes. The theme for the conference this year is “The Future of Mediation in the Asia Pacific Region” and the role of technology in dispute resolution processes is set to be a key topic discussed at the conference. We sat down with the Convener for the 2017 APMF Conference, Thomas G. Giglione, to find out more about the plans for the conference.

Congratulations on securing the opportunity to hold the 8th APMF Conference in Da Nang, Vietnam in November, Thomas! How is the 8th APMF Conference this year set to be different from previous editions of the conference?

In previous years, the conferences focused a lot on community and social mediation, and less so on commercial mediation and advances in law tech. In particular, it’s the first time that we will be discussing the area of online dispute resolution (ODR). Our keynote speaker is Mr Colin Rule, co-founder of the ODR service provider Modria who has extensive experience in building ODR platforms for arbitration, mediation and negotiation. The theme will focus on the future of dispute resolution processes.

On the topic of ODR and the role of technology in dispute resolution, what are some of the challenges currently faced in growing ODR in Asia?

First off, there is no uniformity in the legal community with respect to resolving disputes. There are many different arbitration and mediation centres with different hybrid models for how they conduct dispute resolution. If the parties to a dispute are from different countries, they have to learn how the dispute resolution process in another country works. The dispute resolution processes in Singapore and Vietnam, for instance, are completely different. This lack of a common model across the different jurisdictions in Southeast Asia is a major  obstacle.

The other obstacle is the lack of knowledge about the various dispute resolution processes, and more specifically online platforms. On one level, there is a lack of understanding about the various dispute resolution mechanisms.

The second level is the lack of understanding of online legal services and their potential. In Vietnam, for instance, people are skeptical about products or services offered online  While there is online shopping, people are resistant towards other online services due to the prevalence of online scams. People in Singapore accept e-signatures, but this is much less accepted within the legal community in Vietnam. A lot of the tools that we use online are not accepted in Vietnam. This is partially a cultural barrier.

Another concern that people have is with regards to online security. The legal community fears that exchanging documents online and archiving on a secure website is not secure. However, the reality is that according to security experts, law firm email servers are the second most common  targets for hackers after banking.  The lawyers continue to exchange sensitive documents via unsecured email. Most online platforms have  three to seven levels of security and the majority of email servers have none. Email servers could be hacked by anybody wanting to retrieve such documents and law firms have been the target of such attacks before.

We understand that you are currently working on some projects that aim to harness technology to improve access to justice for  so that the public can public know all their available options in resolving disputes including online legal consultation services. Could you tell us about some of these projects?

I am currently pitching to potential investors on my online app known as  Win-Win ASAP. My vision is for Win-Win ASAP to be a one-stop platform that empowers people to access self-service dispute resolution services online. We’re bringing together several online platforms that provides legal service referrals, or allow clients to create their own customised legal documents and other alternative options to resolve disputes. These include Asia Law Network, a platform that connects lawyers and clients to one another, and Dragon Law, which provides an online platform that helps people draft business contracts and provides legal software to high-growth fintech companies. Asia Law Network assists a client to find a lawyer to seek a quick legal consultation at a flat fee on the next steps for resolving his dispute. Or if he simply needs to draft a contract, he can head to Dragon Law. The idea is to give the public more options to resolve their disputes online, whether through a lawyer or a mediator.

The longer-term goal is to harness artificial intelligence (AI) to make the resolution of dispute more efficient. As it is, ODR platforms such as Modria use AI to resolve about 90% of their disputes instead of companies outsourcing their customer service problems to costly call-centers. Let me give you an example. When I was living in Canada and had a problem with my wireless network, I would call the company and it would direct me to a call centre in India. The call centre would have a list of responses, and they had to follow a script. If I was not happy with their response  and said “this is the tenth time that this has happened, I want a refund”, they would go to a script. They would say “I understand how you feel” and so on. The call centres are a huge multi-million dollar industry and is a large added cost for many large corporations without creating a better customer service experience for the customer.

This is a great instance in which you can use AI because disputes are predictable. Modria is the leader in this. It greatly shortens the time it takes to resolve disputes. With Modria, disputes are resolved with just a click of a button. It also helps companies to save money. That’s not the future. It’s here now, just not in some places in North America and Europe and you will be hearing more about this in the not too distant future.

You mentioned that you’re currently working with some legal tech startups in Asia. Are they also involved in the APMF Conference?

Cherilyn from Asia Law Network will be speaking at the APMF Conference.

Asia Law Network is sponsoring the APMF Peace Prize this year. Any member of the APMF or anyone who registers to the conference can nominate someone from the Asia Pacific region who worked towards  some peace initiative either on their own or through an organization.

We are working with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to arrange to have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau present the 2017 APMF Peace Prize.

What kind of issues can people expect to discuss at the conference?

We have a range of themes, which shouldn’t be confused for topics. And we hope to see people who might be interested in the various themes at the conference. For one, we hope to see people from the law and tech scene, and particularly in ODR, especially since we have Mr Colin Rule, a world renowned expert on ODR as our keynote speaker. He’ll be speaking about ODR in court systems. It would be great if we could have members of the law tech community involved to speak about artificial intelligence and its relevance. In Asia, including Vietnam and Singapore, there is a lot of talk about developing smart cities. Legal tech should be part of that movement. We would love to have people from other countries share about what’s happening in their respective countries when it comes to online dispute resolution that also includes online arbitration.

As for community law, we hope to see people who are interested in mediation for family law disputes. There will be a speaker from the Women’s Union in Vietnam, which conducts mediation training for disputes involving domestic violence, support for children, and so on. Single mothers are not getting support from their former spouses. While there are laws available, it is not being enforced as women don’t have the money or resources to go to court. Doing things online is another way to resolve that.

There are an increasing number of disputes involving the environment. With large corporations investing in Southeast Asia, many disputes involving environmental pollution and mismanagement can be better resolved online

Another big area is human resources (HR). We will have international experts at the conference to talk about disputes in the workplace. While there is employment law in place in Vietnam, bosses here can be very dictatorial, and employees don’t always know their rights. We hope to explore how to train HR managers to resolve employment disputes in the workplace.

How can people get involved in the APMF beyond being a participant?

There will be a range of pre and post conference workshops, as well as workshops during the conference itself. Conferences typically involve a lot of networking, collecting business cards and losing them. This conference will have focused on practical workshop sessions based on different areas of the dispute resolution spectrum. We will set up working groups to facilitate networking and discussion.

We invite more presenters to submit workshops or presentations on the conference website. For example, legal tech startups could deliver a one-day workshop on startups, involving the law tech industry. There is a lot of flexibility about how people can go about this – it can be pre-conference or during the conference, free or paid workshops.

For instance, Professor Dale Bagshaw who has worked on accreditation for mediators in Vietnam is going to do a post-conference two-day mediation training workshop. She normally charges a great deal more but is conducting this training at a greatly discounted rate for the conference. This would be a good stepping stone for developing a made-in-Vietnam mediator training and accreditation for and creating a national roster of approved mediators.

What do you hope to see after this conference?

In many ways, I see this conference as a stepping stone. It is an excellent avenue for legal practitioners in the region to come together to discuss pressing issues in their home countries, such as training and accreditation. I talked about accreditation for mediators earlier, but we could even think about accreditation for ODR practitioners. This is a very specific niche, with specific skills required, given that ODR involves different challenges from regular dispute resolution.

We see that the trend all around the world is that the economy is moving from being bricks-and-mortar to going online. Since more of the economy is going to go online, there will be more disputes that need to be resolved online. There is going to be immense potential for ODR. The APMF Conference is a much needed avenue to discuss all these latest developments and start building the frameworks that will allow online mediation and ODR to become a reality in the near future.


About the 8th APMF Conference

The 8th Asia Pacific Mediation Forum (APMF) three-day conference will be held in Da Nang, Vietnam from 11th to 13th November 2017. The conference will be convened by Thomas G. Giglione and a Conference Organising Committee in cooperation with the Asia Pacific Mediation Forum, an international organization which aims to promote effective ways to bring peace and cross-cultural understanding to the Asia Pacific region by holding bi-annual conferences in different countries in the region.

Topics to be covered include the approaches to and management of conflicts and disputes in courts, families, communities, workplaces, education and human resource management, e-commerce and online dispute resolution, cross-cultural dispute resolution, environmental conflicts and land disputes.

To register for this conference or to submit a proposal to present a paper, poster or workshop, please visit the conference website: https://apmf2017.mediation.vn

Early bird registration of $286 is available until July 31st 2017 and will then increase to $386. Student volunteers are entitled to a subsidised rate of $15 per conference ticket. The registration fee of the conference includes a two-year membership subscription to the APMF Organization.

About Thomas G. Gigilione, convener of 8th APMF Conference and Member of the APMF Executive Committee

Thomas G. Giglione is the official convener for the 8th Asia Pacific Mediation Forum Conference and is on the executive committee of the APMF. Thomas is also a guest lecturer at Hanoi Law University teaching 4th-year law students negotiation and lawyering skills that are majoring in International Trade and Business Law.

He has over 20 years of working experience as a mediation trainer, commercial mediator and institutional arbitrator. Thomas is an accomplished dispute resolution professional who has mediated in a wide range of commercial cases including class action matters, primarily employment, construction, regulatory, consumer, general contract and business disputes as court appointed Roster mediator for the Supreme Court of Ontario, Canada. He offers online mediation services for the Virtual Courthouse and at Mediation Solutions.

Thomas has been a guest lecturer at the Judicial Academy of Vietnam and has provided mediation training at the Judicial Academy and also for legal officers at the Ministry of Justice of Vietnam.

Thomas was invited to Vietnam in 2015 to give training to the lecturers of the Judicial Academy. The Vice Director of the Judicial Academy Dr. Doc Hong Ha stated that “We do appreciate your contribution and capacity of our trainer/lawyers regarding mediation skills.” The feedback was extremely positive and the success of your training was so obvious”.  Becoming aware of the potentials of his policy allows you to start experiencing the inner sense of realizing how he organize and deliver public presentations about mediation to different organizations.

Thomas holds a Canadian Arbitration Certificate while serving as an institutional arbitrator. He was recently invited to a mediation conference in October 2016 by the THAC (Thailand Arbitration Center) and the World Mediation Organization where he holds the position on the Advisory to speak about the court annexed mediation system in Toronto Canada and hybrid models of arbitration such as the ARB-MED-ARB protocol that has been recently been implemented at SIAC (Singapore International Arbitration Center).

Thomas presents an engaging and pro-participative workshop-style on world-class topic relevant to the audience. His audience is “tuned-in” to his proven negotiation techniques and they quickly discover that a WIN-WIN result is achievable. Naturally, you’ll find more than enough reasons to go ahead today as the most reliable mediation professional that would suit your needs is within your reach.

Thomas Giglione’s credentials and contributions include becoming one of the founding members and Chairman of Upper Canada Dispute Resolution back in 1997. The past, Chair Peter Baker says, “Tom provides excellent instruction and is sensitive to the learning needs of new practitioners.”

Thomas’s knowledge in mediation is astounding and his presentation on ARB-MED-ARB clearly emphasizes the necessity for the two-ADR process to merge to further extend the benefits of mediation from local to global mediation. “The Thailand Arbitration Center (THAC) would like to express our sincere gratitude for his enlightenment on how mediation could settle cross-border disputes, the necessity mechanism for an amicable dispute settlement in today’s globalization. Thank you for sharing with us.”

Thomas’ session on the ARB-MED-ARB concept was both thought provoking and visionary as I am now convinced more than before that the insertion of ARB-MED-ARB hybrid clause in contractual agreements or MOUs is necessary.  Thomas’ articulated perfectly the need to include mediators in a unified and consistent ARB-MED- ARB protocol that includes mediation, at all arbitration centers in SE Asia. And I stand by his vision.

His presentation and speech at the WMO Symposium hosted by THAC (Thailand Arbitration Center) in Bangkok made me a believer that if arbitration is our “best ticket” into the commercial sphere, then we must take it. I believe that Thomas’s presentation was the clear “winner because his proactive approach to integrating mediation into the legal process. It was very informative and thoughtful as he introduced a practical approach of making mediation a part of the arbitration protocol by educating the legal community through the cooperation of all arbitration centers in Asia, of the importance of inserting the ARB- MED- ARB clause for all commercial contracts.