Image: Judge.me

Family court judge Judith “Judy” Sheindlin has built a successful television career settling arbitrations in a mock court. Now, a startup called Judge.me is offering the same service in 146 countries, targeting freelancers, designers, and other online professionals.

Once two parties agree to and pay for an arbitration, an arbitrator is assigned to the case, who reviews statements and evidence, asks further questions if necessary, and makes a legally binding decision. Outcomes cannot be appealed.

Founder Peter-Jan Celis, who is from Belgium but currently works from Chile, thinks the world of online disputes is especially ripe for a legal startup, since the community of web professionals is often tight-knit socially, even when it is spread out geographically.

“I think the market is ripe for online arbitration that tracks reputation because most people now have an internet presence worth protecting and moreover, in recent years people became comfortable using their real names online,” Celis said.

Sociologically, Celis says the effect that powers Judge.me is the threat of ostracism: An individual or company against which accusations have been made, but which refuses to agree to an arbitration, risks losing business or valuable social opportunities even if the dispute never ends up in court.

The limitation to such a system of governance, he conceded, is the number of people with whom the average person can maintain meaningful social relationships. Researchers have termed that figure — which is generally assumed to lie between one and two hundred odd bonds — Dunbar’s number.

“[Ostracism] is how communities self-governed for ages,” he said. “However, the principle has its limits as humans are only capable of tracking the reputation of a fixed amount of other people.”

The prevalence of search engines, though, means that unsettled complaints have a long shelf life — and that’s a risk that many potentially dishonest employers or contractors in the tech space aren’t willing to take.

Advantages to using the service, according to Judge.me, are speed, ease of use (parties are discouraged from hiring an attorney) and the fact that decisions are internationally binding.

An arbitration on Judge.me costs $150 per party. The project has received $40,000 in funding from incubator Startup Chile.

Featured Image: Big Ticket Television

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