The COVID-19 pandemic caused many things that used to occur in person to be done differently. Families celebrated Christmas by telephone or video conference, doctors treated patients using Telehealth, and most legal work was done remotely. As the world begins to emerge from the pandemic, some of the technology used to complete common tasks will stick around to become part of everyday life. Engaging in mediation in an attempt to settle your legal case, which was most frequently done in person before the pandemic, can efficiently and easily be done virtually during and even after the pandemic is over.
In order to participate in a virtual mediation, you will need certain things. First, it is important that you have a private and quiet space to participate in the mediation. Mediation is a confidential process, so you cannot participate from a public place such as a library or coffee shop. In addition, it is important to make sure that you have secured childcare, have taken the time off work, and are able to fully focus on the mediation. If your children or others are in the room with you, the mediator may end the mediation session due to the lack of confidentiality. You will also need a computer, tablet, or smart phone with video and audio capability. You will need access to a private email address in order to receive and send documents. Finally, you will need access to the specific video conferencing program that the mediator is using. These programs, such as Zoom, are generally free to download and do not cost additional money for you to use for mediation (even if they have paid subscriptions available).
Prior to mediation, you should receive from your mediator or attorney a web link or access code which you will use to join the electronic meeting. Do not share the link or access code with others, as no one other than the parties and their attorneys will be allowed to join the virtual meeting. Once you have joined, you are likely to be placed into an “electronic room” with your attorney. This means that you and your attorney can hear and see one another. The mediator can move in and out of your electronic room, but you are likely to remain there during the mediation. Feel free to speak privately with your attorney in your private electronic room. Be careful, however, using any available chat function of the video conferencing program, as it is easy to accidentally send a message outside your electronic room which can be seen by others. It is best to use regular email with your attorney if you need to communicate in writing.
As your mediation progresses, you may be given the opportunity to review documents and other information on your screen that the mediator wants to show to you. This screen sharing function allows you to “pass around” a document inside your room just as you would in person. If you reach an agreement, you will likely either receive a draft to review by email or you will review it on the screen with your attorney. In order to sign the mediated agreement, which is a standard step at the conclusion of mediation, you will need to either print, sign and scan the document to be emailed back to the mediator or you will use an electronic signature program provided by your mediator. If you do not have access to a printer or scanner, let your mediator know in advance.
Whether in person or completed virtually, mediation is a very important day. It is crucial that you devote your full attention to the mediation session even if you are completing it at home. Come prepared with the information needed to settle your case and don’t schedule any activities or events that conflict with the scheduled mediation. Mediation can sometimes be a long day but resolving your case will make it worth your time.