Finra has begun modernizing its arbitration process by moving elements of it onto the web.

Central to that process, says Rick Berry, Finra executive vice president and director of dispute resolution, is the two-year rollout of online portals for arbitrators, claimants, respondents and attorneys.

“As of July 20, our online portal is available to any party in any case,” Berry says. “We hope to eventually make it mandatory for parties. You can serve claims and motions by hitting a button. With one click, you serve to all parties in a case.

“The system doesn’t let parties and counsel make some common mistakes on paperwork and forms,” he adds. “That’s going to be key. It’s going to make the process more efficient.”

Launched in 2013, the portals bring much of Finra’s arbitration pre-hearing procedures online. The agency also now allows small claims to be heard through teleconferencing, which may help reduce the costs disputants face to retain attorneys and expert witnesses.

“We started small on purpose with two firms in the portal,” Berry says. “We wanted feedback in those cases. We reached out to see what needed to be enhanced, and now we’re going through a series of quarterly enhancements as we continue to get feedback. It’s really going to make everyone’s lives easier.”

Jeremy Hyndman is a principal at Investor Defense Law, a Los Angeles-based securities litigation firm focused on helping investors recover their losses. Before representing claimants, he was an associate representing brokerages and other defendants in Finra arbitration at national securities law firms.

“If I were making the rules, Finra arbitration would not be mandatory for investors, because I like having the option of saying that this is a case that needs a lot of discovery, so it needs to go to court,” Hyndman says. “In other cases, where all the facts are clear, we can fast-track it to Finra arbitration. I would like to have that option. But is it fair for me to have that option while the brokerage firm doesn’t? Maybe not.”

So why is mandatory arbitration generally supported by attorneys, the professionals with the most to gain from its prohibition, but overwhelmingly panned by the clients and brokerages who stand to benefit most from the process?

It could be that Americans don’t like to be told what to do, says former Finra arbitrator and securities law expert David Robbins, a partner at New York-based Kaufmann Gildin & Robbins.

“We’re troubled by mandatory anything in this country,” Robbins says. “Nobody likes to be told that you have to do this.”

It’s also the nature of the legal process.

Christine Lazaro is director of the Securities Arbitration Clinic at St. John’s University’s School of Law. The clinic provides pro bono advice and counsel for investors with potential securities arbitration claims.

“It really depends on whether you win or you lose,” Lazaro says. “If you’re on the losing end, the process feels pretty unfair.”

That makes Berry’s task one of great complexity, but little recognition.

“We’re never going to be overwhelmingly popular because this is an adversarial process,” Berry says. “Somebody will win and somebody will lose, and sometimes both parties may walk away unhappy with the outcome. Through that lens, we really strive to demonstrate our fairness and how hard we try to make the process work. We have had quite a few commentators, including professors and public advocates, use Finra dispute resolution as an example of what arbitration should be, though. I can’t take credit for that, but it makes me proud. That’s the kind of reputation we want to have.”