Doing business online is nothing new, however, many legal services have remained in-person only for a number of reasons. Whether out of tradition, security concerns or the need to sign paperwork, the legal profession has been slow to adapt to online technology when conducting meetings and especially for dispute resolution services. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our collective priorities and instigated an overhaul in how we do business. For that reason, the practice of conducting mediations and arbitrations online has become standard, and even necessary, in recent months. Through the use of online conference technology and document-signing programs, we can conduct a mediation online that mirrors what would normally occur if all the participants were gathered in a conference room. Of course, as with any process, there are benefits and pitfalls to be aware of, but with proper planning and adherence to security measures, online mediation can be just as secure and effective as in-person mediation, while protecting the safety of the participants.
What are the benefits of online mediation?
Facilitating Mediations for Parties Who Can’t Meet in Person
Online mediation is of course beneficial during the current circumstance that limits our ability to meet freely in person, especially indoors and in close contact. But this technology has benefits that reach beyond just allowing for social distancing. It can also be employed in many other circumstances that could be greatly improved by the use of remote technology. For example, some parties going through a divorce, or renegotiating the terms of their existing support obligations don’t live in close proximity. Our firm represents many clients who live in separate provincial or national jurisdictions from their former spouse or partner. This technology allows us to conduct a mediation conveniently while saving parties the inconvenience and expense of travelling to Ontario to participate in person.
In other cases, there might be issues between the parties that may hinder a successful mediation, such as an abusive relationship or a significant power imbalance. In these situations, if mediation is possible at all, we don’t recommend that all parties be in the same room, as this can affect a person’s ability to speak freely, or even to feel safe. For some individuals, remote technology makes it easier to participate without feeling intimidated. In a remote mediation, it is still possible to have the parties and their lawyers in separate virtual break out rooms. Using remote technology allows us to pursue an alternative dispute resolution method while keeping clients safe.
Saving Time and Money
Mediation is often a great way to save time and money in comparison to traditional contested litigation. In situations where the parties can successfully work together, directly or through their representatives, a dispute can be resolved much more quickly than by going to court. Mediation is a private process, giving control over things such as scheduling, to the participants. This means not having to wait for courtroom availability at a time when courts are already facing backlogs. Further, the process is more informal, reducing the need for multiple preliminary meetings, which saves clients money.
Moving the process from in-person to online has additional cost and time-saving benefits. There is no need to travel to an in-person conference, which can be a major convenience, particularly for those who live far apart.
What are the pitfalls to watch out for when mediating online?
The potential pitfalls of online mediation most revolve around the technology itself, but there are precautions all parties can take to ensure a smooth process.
Parties Require Certain Equipment
First and foremost, everyone participating must be able to access and use the necessary technology. For example, parties will need to have access to a computer and a camera, to facilitate on-screen discussions. Anyone who is concerned about this should ensure they have all equipment they might need in advance (such as having the ability to sign documents electronically on their smartphone or tablet or, if not, a printer and scanner), and that they are familiar with how to operate them.
Programs such as Zoom don’t require participants to download any particular software (other than the person facilitating the meeting), so it is fairly user-friendly. With a couple of clicks, participants should be online and ready to negotiate.
There was a lot of talk, particularly at the start of the pandemic, about Zoom meetings being infiltrated by third parties. This has largely been addressed by Zoom itself since then, by setting up precautions a facilitator can take to ensure the security of a meeting. The facilitator will set a passcode required by anyone to join a meeting, and further, to authorize individual participants before they are granted access to the main ‘room’.
For those participating from home, they should ensure they are somewhere private where others cannot overhear them, to protect their own privacy and that of any other participants.
At Boulby Weinberg LLP, we have extensive experience facilitating and representing clients during family mediation. To arrange a consultation with a knowledgeable lawyer at Boulby Weinberg LLP, please complete our confidential online questionnaire, which will provide you with valuable preliminary information tailored to your situation. A representative from our firm will contact you within one business day to discuss your matter further and arrange an initial meeting. To contact our firm without completing the questionnaire, please reach out to us online, or call us at 647-494-0113 ext. 102.