THIS MORNING I MEDIATED FOR THE FIRST TIME VIRTUALLY.
We, not I, for I have a very solid and dedicated support staff that helped make it happen, used Zoom technology to communicate with all parties.
While the matter did not settle, in my experienced view, there was a genuine exchange of information and perspectives and both parties left with a much better understanding of the case.
When the internet was younger and I was much braver although not as intelligent, I often spent more time in the few ‘virtual’ mediations I did trying to get the computers to work, than I did settling the claim. The only thing virtual in those days was the pain in the rear.
There were technical glitches today, but they were easily and quickly overcome (thanks to my tech guy Marlon). I am sure the hiccups will ebb as everyone’s familiarity with equipment and software flows. The important point is that the technology did not distract from the negotiation.
In a post-mediation debrief individually with each counsel involved both said that while they weren’t technocrats by any means, they actually found their participation was unencumbered by technology and easier than they had expected.
The ‘record’ feature on the software was firmly and permanently turned off. It if were turned on a red light would appear on the screen. Can’t stop the guy with his cel phone in his pocket from covertly breaching confidentiality but the software today made it impossible to happen through Zoom.
Also, no part of the process on Zoom is captured in file format, so once the meeting is over there is no documentary trail, so it doesn’t matter that Zoom is an American product or the servers are in the home of the Patriot Act.
My coordinators, MZ Logistical Support, (thanks Marusia and Zoey) revised the standard confirmation note to include a live link. All that was necessary for each party to get into the meeting was to click on the link once their web browsers were open.
There was also a secure phone line number for those without video capability. I exchanged cel phone numbers so people could wander away from their computers when they were not needed, and I could text them back when they were.
I greeted them in the ‘waiting room’. Then, after we were all together there, I asked if they were all comfortable being bound by the Terms of Mediation document previously sent to all as an attachment to the confirmation note. They were. No signatures required.
That saved time and started the meeting off with some common ground. I did spend more time going over the process with the plaintiff in caucus before the start of the joint session to make sure she was comfortable with how the process would and did work.
As a mediator I was able to move parties from the waiting room to the individual caucus rooms, and later to the joint session and then back to caucus rooms as required by the process.
I was able to come and go to parties in caucus as required.
There is no equivalent to knocking on a caucus door before entering but I am readily visible the moment I enter as my image pops up on everyone’s computer screen. For those participating by telephone I did break into conversations to announce my arrival in the caucus room so that I didn’t overhear anything participants weren’t comfortable with me hearing. No one can be in the caucus room without an image popping up for all with a video link to see.
The participants in caucus have a button they can click which immediately notifies me that they would like me back in to talk if I am elsewhere at the time.
Zoom has a feature where a document I pull up on my computer screen can be seen by all. This is the virtual equivalent to all parties leaning over my shoulder and providing input as I write up a Memo of Agreement.
Settlement didn’t happen today, but we do have another program called Docusign that facilitates legally valid signatures on Memos of Agreement and Releases. Stay tuned for further updates from me on how that technology works in the next virtual mediation where a settlement is achieved at the table computer.
Thanks to all the fellow mediators in my group, Jim Russell, Mike McCrodan, Kathy Sainty and Scott Snider for the hours of mock mediations we all did to become conversant in the software over the last week. It definitely was a key to today’s success.
Do I think this is better than in person mediations? No. I think its use would be questionable in larger, more complicated mediations and where there are very significant emotional components.
Is it better than having your file stall out because of the current pandemic? Definitely.
Is it something that can continue to be used even when were all able to move around freely again? I’d recommend it within the parameters noted here.