At the start of 2020, very few people knew much about – let alone utilized – online meeting platforms such as Zoom.
But the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns it brought worldwide changed all that.
Seemingly overnight, business as well as private individuals were flocking to these services in an effort to keep business moving despite historic numbers of companies going all-in on remote working.
Zoom, which boasted easy access and high speed (which keeps conversations feeling natural) made the platform an “overnight sensation” despite it having originated in 2013.
A Seismic Shift
In December 2019, Zoom hosted 10 million meetings. By March 2020, that figure had risen to 200 million meetings. One month later, Zoom hosted 300 million virtual meetings. While Zoom’s growth overshadowed that of competing platforms, Skype and others also saw rapid growth in usage.
So it should come as no surprise that with the operations of courts impeded by the pandemic, mediators and arbitrators quickly pivoted to virtual meetings.
Courts in venues across the country began handling traffic cases and other non-violent crime related matters virtually just a few months into the pandemic, though mediators and arbitrators were in many cases even faster in making the change due to the fact that alternative dispute resolution is often less formal and more efficient for resolving disputes.
Mediations Before COVID
Many disputes that are headed to court or already being litigated end up going to mediation with the goal of more quickly and less expensively reaching a resolution.
Mediators have advanced training in a range of negotiation skills, human/interpersonal dynamics, listening skills and communication strategies. Mediations traditionally take place in-person, often in the office of a mediator and may be scheduled at any time, including weekends and evenings.
The parties involved and the mediator sign an Agreement to Mediate document which reinforces the idea that a mediation is a confidential process and establishes that should the mediation fail, the mediator will not be available as a witness in any subsequent litigation.
Also, all documents or information brought into mediation meetings are regarded as confidential. No record of discussions in a mediation is kept with a final Settlement Agreement documenting the agreed-upon resolution to the dispute being the only record of the proceedings.
Virtual Mediations Become The New Normal
Now that we are in the “new normal,” mediations held online are similar to in-person mediations of the past.
The notable change, obviously, is that virtual mediations no longer take place in-person at a mediator’s – or anyone else’s – office.
Obviously, documents either or both parties would use as part of a mediation must still be available to everyone involved, including the mediator. Recognizing the importance of maintaining confidentiality and data security, all document submission is facilitated by encrypted, cloud-based platforms.
As in a conventional in-person mediation, both parties sign an agreement to mediate and all parties must maintain strict confidentiality. And should a resolution be reached, a settlement agreement documents the resolution, effectively resolving the dispute.
In terms of location, the parties involved in the dispute may each attend from their attorney’s office, from their own place of business or even from home. And as with in-person mediations, meetings may take place at any time agreed upon by the disputing parties and the mediator.
All preparation meetings each party conducts with his or her attorney, may be held in-person or virtually, depending upon the client and attorney’s preferences and comfort levels.
Perhaps most important, just as with an in-person mediation, the success of virtual mediations still depend on both parties being committed to the mediation process and on the mediator’s skills in bring the two sides together as they work toward a resolution.
Finally, while it may seem obvious, it’s important to each party and his/her attorney to be familiar with the technology to be used and to log on early, in case of any technical glitches.
Virtual or In-Person, Mediation Is Often The Best Choice
Mediation offers parties in a dispute what may well be a speedy, low-cost alternative to litigation. Virtual mediation still requires the disputing parties to work together – with the help of a mediator – to develop a resolution to their dispute, but it can be just as successful as in-person!
For more information on virtual mediation or to book Kim as you mediator, please contact KIM KIRN today.