Coping With Coronavirus Using Online Mediation

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Introduction

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and current government restrictions face-to-face mediations are not currently possible. However, all our mediators are able to offer online mediation. This will enable clients to proceed with mediation, and thus avoid delay in resolution of their disputes, without anyone being put at additional risk of catching the virus.

Our mediators would normally prefer to have a face-to-face mediation. However, we are confident that the likelihood of settlement will not be diminished by holding the mediation online. Our experience is that once the discussion develops the technology becomes less obvious. Indeed, in some cases, the greater sense of security felt by a client who is in their own environment and knows that there is no risk of having to deal with the stress of potential conflict, face to face, can actually be a very positive factor.

The chosen mediator will set up the mediation and explain clearly both in advance and on the day of the mediation how it works.

Zoom / virtual breakout rooms

The Property Mediators use Zoom for online mediation. It is very easy to use and has a facility for virtual breakout rooms. This allows parties to have private confidential meetings, and so is particularly suited to mediation.

The client and the lawyer and any other members of their team can be in separate physical locations or even countries but the mediator will put them into the same virtual breakout room. They will be able to talk to each other and share documents with one another without the mediator or any other person overhearing. Participants can always see a list of everyone present in their current room, and no one can come into a private breakout room unless the mediator has placed them there.

The mediator (and only the mediator) will be able to enter the private breakout rooms at any time but will, so far as possible, give notice of this via text message/email to the solicitor. An equivalent to “knocking on the door”.

If the people in the breakout room wish to contact the mediator they can use the “Ask for help” facility.  The mediator will also have given everyone his / her telephone number.

If the parties want to see each other, without their lawyers, a separate breakout room can be created for that purpose. As with face to face mediation, the mediator can either be present at that meeting or not, depending on the wish of the parties.

A separate breakout room can also be arranged for the lawyers, experts or any other combination of participants if they wish to meet separately.

Joint meetings can also be held if desired with everyone present in the same virtual room.

Hardware

Any device can be used; computer, tablet, iPhone etc.  Obviously the better the equipment the lower the risk of cutting out. The same with wifi.  However, it usually works fine on anything.

Setting up the meeting

To start up a mediation is simple. The mediator will send you in advance an email with a link in it. All you and the other participants will need to do at the start time is to click on that link. That will automatically take you to the “waiting area”, from where you will be admitted to the meeting individually by the mediator. You cannot see or hear anyone else in the waiting area.

Prior to the mediation all you need to do is to download software. You can do so at this link. It is free. You do not need to purchase the upgrade.

https://zoom.us/download

Before the meeting

Shortly after receiving instructions, the mediator will usually try to arrange a three-way Zoom meeting with the solicitor for each party. This will allow them to experience the technology and jointly discuss the process, and the documents that will be needed etc. It may be that some useful initial discussions can also take place, which might shorten the actual mediation.

In the days prior to the mediation the mediator will also briefly check with every other individual, by way of a short one to one Zoom meeting, to make sure it is working on that person’s device. This will also allow the mediator to introduce himself / herself prior to the actual day of the mediation and the participant to become familiar with the Zoom interface.

It will therefore be necessary to give the mediator the email address of every person attending. The mediator should also be given a telephone number that they can telephone on the day, should there be any problem with the technology.

Participants

You should think carefully about who will be at the mediation. The smaller the group of people the easier it will be to manage. This is true of all mediations but particularly applies to online mediations. However, anyone who is going to be in a position to hear the discussions should be a signatory to the mediation agreement, confirming that they agree to be bound by the confidentiality provisions. The agreement will need to be signed by everybody and copies returned to the mediator before the day of the mediation.

On the day of the mediation

On the day of the mediation the mediator will send the email with the link to all the participants. Clicking on this link will bring each participant to a “waiting area”, where they will wait on their own until admitted. The mediator is automatically notified of that person’s presence. Once the mediator is sure that the person seeking to enter is a participant, they will be permitted to enter and put into their side’s breakout room. If parties wish to hold private discussions with their own team before the official start time of the mediation, the mediator will open the meeting earlier by arrangement and allow the attendees into their separate breakout rooms.

The mediator controls who is admitted to the mediation and which breakout room each participant is in at any point in time. No one will be unexpectedly confronted by a hostile opponent, and no one can crash into a room where they are not permitted by the mediator to be.

Once everyone has checked in, at or around the official start time of the mediation the mediator will generally bring everyone together in the full meeting room and run through the basics of how the day will work. If the parties wish to have a normal joint session at that point they can do so. If not, the mediator will put them back into their own private breakout rooms.

Whether or not the parties wish to have an opening session will be checked with the parties’ solicitors prior to the day of the mediation. That decision can obviously be reviewed during the course of the mediation in the normal way.

Confidentiality

If an individual participant in an online mediation is in an environment where other people might be present (eg their home) it is important to ensure that the people who may be around during the mediation is limited, and that anyone else who is present has signed up to the confidentiality clause in the mediation agreement and the need for confidentiality. It is a good idea to use earphones wherever possible to limit the risk of conversations being overheard and confidence breached.

Security

The meeting is a private one and is controlled by the mediator. Only people with permission will be permitted to enter the meeting. If a participant needs to leave the meeting for a period of time, or if they experience technological problems and are unwillingly ejected from the mediation by a signal or other failure, they can return to the waiting room by using the link in the original email. The mediator will then readmit the participant and place them back into the relevant breakout room.

As stated above, when you click on the link in the email inviting you to the meeting you will be held in a “waiting area”. The mediator will see that you have requested to enter. The mediator will only allow those involved in the dispute to enter. Thus, even if someone else does obtain the link they will not be able to enter the meeting without the knowledge and permission of the mediator.

The facility to record the meeting is disabled. Parties are reminded that in any event the mediation agreement prohibits recording of the meeting.

Although Zoom has a Chat facility, this is also disabled when we use the platform for online mediations. We suggest that parties make arrangements in advance so that they are also able to communicate with one another individually and privately during the day by email, text, WhatsApp etc.

Further questions

If you have any queries please don’t hesitate to contact the mediator or our office.

Zoom also provide some excellent short videos which explain how Zoom works.

https://zoom.us/resources

Comments 1

  1. Great idea! Good luck with it. Parties will be even more mindful of litigation now due to costs when clients’ incomes are being reduced and with now have inevitable delay as courts are slowing down or even stopping.

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