Start MediationOnline Via Zoom

All Posts by Mac-Arthur Pierre-Louis

We are getting feedback on the Instant Mediations App, now downloadable on iOS and Android from the AppStore and Google Play Store. To address the questions we’ve received, we find it worthwhile to share in blog form answers to frequently asked questions, and to provide  tips on using the App and explain its main functions. Part of the reason for educating about the App is because the whole concept of a “mediation app” is new. Some queries we’ve received from mediators focus on the concept of why such a tool exists, who the target audience is, and how they might benefit from using the App. If something has never existed before, or existed in a different format (ex. ODR software), then there will be questions and a need to explain and clarify.  

What the Instant Mediations App is NOT

First, to bring some clarity, what is the App NOT? It is not another expensive and closed dispute resolution platform for mediators to adopt and learn, and train to their parties. That model has been attempted for years, but has never truly taken off on a large scale. The covid-induced pandemic has re-ignited the race to market ODR software to mediators, but the approach continues to be the same: rigid one-size-fits-all video-conferencing platforms promising to help mediators handle tasks like scheduling, collaboration, invoicing, and e-signing. 

But mediators remain a diverse group, from many different jurisdictions, who prefer to use the online tools they already pay for. With the plethora of tools available on the market, another “Zoom” for online mediation may not be as important to the online mediator as a platform that helps bring order to the tools they already use and integrate them in a way that makes sense. Thus, the commodity of knowledge, in addition to tech, is a key ingredient that has been missing from past solutions in this space. The App addresses this.

What the App is Intended to be

The Instant Mediations App is meant to be:

  • A bridge that connects mediators and parties, and serves as a neutral starting point for their common online mediation experience;
  • A hub that seeks to aggregate the web-based tools most mediators already pay for and use to run their online mediation practices, and a system that promotes the interoperable use of those web-tools to create unique and customized e-mediation solutions;
  • An extension of the InstantMediations site that meets the 5 core needs of online mediator entrepreneurs (get found, get booked, get paid, get mediating, get e-signatures), plus the 2 needs of any growing professional (get trained and get networked); 
  • A tool that brings legitimacy to the online mediation process on a broad scale, together with informative content and training that promote quality online mediations; 
  • Free to access basic content regardless of income-level to promote access to justice and lessen the digital divide.
  • International in scope to expand the online mediator community and to promote the use of cross-border mediations to resolve disputes, especially among multicultural and multilingual parties.

Responses to Initial Questions About Key Features in the App (Version 1.1.1)

Language

What is the language used in the App? The App is starting off in English (American). We wish to perfect its functionality in English before progressing to add additional languages, such as Spanish (Mexican) (coming soon). Additional languages will grow based on usage and feedback by mediators and participants. Note that the created Jurisdictions allow online mediators to converse in a specific language common in that jurisdiction. For example, German-speaking online mediators may prefer to dialogue in German and English in their German Jurisdiction group on the App. Argentinian mediators may prefer to connect with others in their Spanish.

Jurisdictions

What is the purpose of the Jurisdiction groups? We set up special groups for online mediators called Jurisdictions. We have discovered that any large global group, such as the Online Mediators Facebook Group,  will suffer from a lack of participation by members when topics are so broad and universal, members do not get the practical knowledge they need to actually help their practice. Conversely, tuning in to topics so narrow to one jurisdiction, may be futile when the information cannot be applied to the matters in a different jurisdiction. For example, how does sharing a specific Florida mediation article in a global group necessarily help the online mediator in Nigeria do their best work? We’ve therefore developed Jurisdiction groups to fulfill 3 functions:

1. Promote collaboration among a smaller group of geographically local online mediators; 

2. Establish brain-trusts of knowledge and information focused on the nuances and complexities common to mediation in specific localities;

3. Provide outsiders (non-jurisdiction members) with mediation referral groups at the state or country level, especially when language is an issue for participants.

More jurisdictions will continue to be added over time. Check back to see if your locality has made the list. If you wish to contribute toward leading the creation of your Jurisdiction, just connect with us at team@instantmediations.com.

Registration

Do I need to register for this App? To get the most use of the App you should register with your name and email address to create a free members account (note: you must be a mediator in good standing in your credentialing jurisdiction to register). Upon registering, you will receive a confirmation email, which will let you join jurisdictions, enroll in certain courses, and participate in the community. You may use your login details for both the InstantMediations App or website. You may opt to create your free Mediator Profile Page for the public and submit it for approval, but that is not necessary to participate as an online mediator member. 

Zoom

Does the App have Zoom built in? We intentionally choose not to integrate Zoom’s API into the App. The main reasons for this are that most online mediators already have the Zoom App on their devices, and most will utilize their computers for online mediation anyway, not their mobile phone or tablet. Another reason we opted not to build in Zoom is because we aim to remain platform-agnostic in order to help as many mediators and participants get online instantly no matter what platform they use. While the App (and website) right now is heavily centered around Zoom, over time we plan to publish more content that cater to Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, and other platforms common to online mediators. Because Zoom is arguably the most popular platform online mediators utilize today, and because it’s wildly popular among mediation participants who require virtually no training, the Zoom Start Mediation button remains prominent on the site, along with public access to the instantmediations.zoom.us launch page. So whether a person uses their free 40-minute Zoom to conduct quick meetings or paid unlimited Zoom to conduct mediations, the App is for them. Whether they choose to use a different video-conference platform entirely, the App is still for them. 

Audience

Who is this App geared towards? The app contains two zones – one for the Mediation Participants and the other for online mediators. While only Mediators are invited to log into the App and collaborate and train, mediation participants will find some useful resources there like the Technology Guide, General Guide, and the Guide For Family Law Mediations. These guides will grow over time for the benefit of new and returning online mediation participants. We want online mediators to direct their participants to this one concise set of guides containing all the valuable information participants need to prepare for and attend their quality mediations. 

Download today, have a look, try it out, and message us with your thoughts. 

In spring 2020, when covid-19 shut everything down in Southeast Texas, including the ability to host in-person mediations, we went to work helping volunteer mediators at the Montgomery County Dispute Resolution Center. Our aim was to help them help their clients work on resolving pending legal disputes in a time of uncertainty. In those early days of court and mediation office closures, no one knew when courthouses would reopen, or how far civil and family cases would be backlogged. Many parties with pending custody, divorce, and civil claims were destined to spend their summer months in legal limbo unless they found a solution that facilitated virtual mediations.

Having learned about the predicament many volunteer mediators found themselves in at the DRC, we volunteered a couple days, and later contributed many Zoom hours, to train on the basics of online mediation to help mediators interested in connecting with parties remotely.

Receiving this award is an unexpected surprise and it humbles us to know our efforts were appreciated, and that many mediators were equipped to help their mediation clients attempt virtual settlements outside of courts.

IM’s work after the early days of lockdown has only grown. But as in the spring, mediators interested in getting help mediating online can still access helpful training videos on our Lawyers & Mediators Channel, as well as access helpful online mediator forms to help their mediations succeed.

Learn more about my mediation work by visiting my profile.

Instant Mediations Internet Bar Certificate Seal

The InstantMediations Academy is hosting an E-Mediation Certification Course with Daniel Rainey, of Holistic Solutions, Inc., which trains mediators in online mediations that leads to certification by InternetBar.org.

While October’s course is fully booked, you can register for November’s course here. Each course lasts 4 weeks, and consists of self-paced and live-sessions, and role plays. Zoom links for live sessions will arrive to students via email after enrollment. Members of InstantMediations Complete and InternetBar get discounts. So be sure to join these organizations to get your discount.

Dates

  • Thursday, October 8 (1PM EST):  Online Orientation Meeting (1hour)
  • Thursday, October 15 (11AM EST):  Online Session #1 (2 hours) ODR and Communication
  • Thursday, October 22 (2PM EST):  Online Session #2 (2 hours) -Working Online and Choosing Platforms
  • Friday, October 23- Wednesday, October 28- Mediation Case Role Play
  • Thursday, October 29 (1PM EST):  Online Session #3 (2 hours) Ethics and Review of Practice

This article is being published after the recent integration of the e-signature tool for mediators into InstantMediation.com

After successfully negotiating a final settlement agreement between disputing parties, mediators find themselves needing to draft the settlement terms, and most of the time, needing to obtain the parties’ signatures beneath those terms.

In traditional in-person mediations, a mediator would typically type up the mediated terms, present the draft to the parties for review, and if the draft accurately captured the parties’  agreement, have them sign the agreement. The parties would then leave with their copy (sometimes containing the mediator’s signature as well), and all would be right with the world.

However, in the age of online mediations, mediators found themselves resorting to e-signature platforms such as DocuSign, HelloSign, and Adobe Sign, just to name a few. They did this for the ease and convenience it offered in securing electronic signatures from remote parties. They saw the flexibility it provided all participants to be able to sign with their finger on a smartphone screen instead of doing the 2005-era email-print-sign-scan-email dance, or worse, 1995-era faxing thing. And they were comforted by the growing legitimacy and legality e-signatures were afforded by businesses and courts–See the United States Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN), the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. All discussing e-signatures in some form or another, including the validity of an individual’s electronic signature, and the protections that come with it.

But the benefits utilizing e-signatures was not without its costs, some literally. Some e-signature platforms would charge $30 or more each month for an individual to send out electronic signature requests to clients. Other platforms would cut corners in protecting customers’ personal data. On the implementation side, some users failed to  utilize quality controls in their workflows to ensure their e-signing clients received a copy of their signed document. Or they failed to destroy incomplete documents containing signatures of just one or some parties.

The following are some tips I would give to online mediators to protect the e-signing process and make sure their parties have a quality experience.

1. ALL SHOULD SIGN BEFORE THE MEDIATION SESSION ENDS – The mediation is not over until you the mediator declare an impasse or the parties have signed off on their agreement. Letting parties go prematurely with their promise that they will later sign the agreement is a recipe for disaster. Be sure to keep your Zoom meeting running until everyone has signed off on the agreement, and you have sent parties their final copy containing all e-signatures.

2. PREPARE A COMPLETED DOCUMENT – Make sure the document to be signed is a thoroughly completed representation of what the parties will actually review and sign. Unlike when using pen and paper in in-person mediation, you cannot just scratch out, or write in and initial changes in an electronic document once it’s sent out for review and e-signature. You should make sure you think through all the terms that need to be typed into the mediation agreement BEFORE sending it out to the parties. These terms should include the parties’ agreement terms, as well as the state laws or jurisdictional rules that may also need to be written into the document to give it legitimacy. In Texas for example, there are certain words regarding the binding nature of the  mediation agreement that must be written conspicuously into the document itself for all parties to see and read before they sign. So be sure you have typed in all necessary information into the mediation agreement. It may help to keep a checklist on the side to help you remember all the topics that must make it into the final document before it’s sent out for signature.

3. BE VIGILANT AGAINST DURESS — A benefit of in-person mediations is the ability to see the party sign in front of you. With online or remote mediations, oftentimes parties are signing from a distance, and they may be in an environment where they are facing threats, coercion, or pressure. Mediation is a voluntary process (unless court-ordered), and people need to come to negotiated settlement agreements without fear of threats, and they should not sign under duress. Make sure to repeatedly ask parties if the agreement is THEIR agreement, if they will stand by THEIR agreement, and if they are entering into THEIR agreement voluntarily. If you sense something is wrong, listen to your gut. If you sense an individual is signing under duress from their location, especially if they are residing with the other signing party, then you as a mediator have an ethical decision to make, which includes possibly declaring an impasse and ending the mediation. I’m not talking about the “crying signer.” Not every waffling party who cannot make up their mind justifies canceling a mediation. But we are discussing clear cases of abuse, threats of harm, and other situations where it is plain to see a person is being coerced into a decision not their own. Be careful. Be vigilant. Try your best to make sure e-signers are signing from their location voluntarily and without duress.

4. DESTROY UNOFFICIAL COPIES  – In the drafting process, it’s normal by the end of the mediation session to end up with loose pieces of information that never make it into the finalized signed document. But the last thing you need is having multiple conflicting pieces of information become post-mediation fodder for arguments between the parties. The parties should walk away with the same copy of their e-signed mediated settlement agreement, signed by all official parties to the mediation. Control the potential damage that might come out of post mediation disputes by making sure everyone relies on only one official copy. Destroy everything else to prevent confusion between the parties.  This means also deleting unused, unsigned, and incomplete draft versions of mediation agreements sent to the parties for e-signature still inside your e-signature software. You should keep your own templates of course, but these should not contain other parties’ terms or information.

Danielle Comeaux, a mediator at DANIELLE CLARKE COMEAUX, PC, and early adopter of InstantMediations, agreed to sit down and share her experiences mediating cases online. Danielle hosts multiple online mediations each week during the Coronavirus pandemic, and has become a go-to mediator for getting cases settled. Her insightful and candid responses below may be of value to other online mediators expanding into online mediations.

  1. Where do you work and what percentage of your practice is devoted to mediations?
    • I work at Greenway Mediation Center in Houston, Texas. 100% of my practice is devoted to mediation. I do nothing else other than mediate full time. 
  2. How long have you been doing online mediations?
    • I only recently started mediating online – courtesy of COVID-19. Prior to that, I was a die hard believer that face to face mediations was the only way to do it. I’m not sure, in the long run, my belief has change, but right now, I’m thankful for the alternative option as on-line mediation has allowed me to, overnight, convert entirely from face to face to on-line.
  3. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, were you prepared to handle parties and attorneys online for mediations?
    • No. In fact, I was a firm objector to on-line mediations. But, once it started to become obvious that we might not be able to accommodate face to face mediations because of the pandemic, I immediately sought out the best format to offer online mediations – and that was Zoom.
  4. What does your online mediation desk look like when you are hosting a mediation online?
    • I still go into my office every day. I have taken over one of our conference rooms. I have stacked some books upon which I place my laptop in order to have a better visual platform. I do have an Ipad I carry with me as well – some of my clients cannot use Zoom and need to attend via Webex, so I have a different device so I can accommodate different software running at the same time. I have since learned that I can run multiple on-line mediation software programs simultaneously on m laptop, and so I don’t need the Ipad as much now.
  5. What is one challenge you have faced hosting online mediations through Zoom?
    • The greatest challenge, because there are a few, is in the on-boarding – getting the lawyers and their clients into the meetings – it’s not something that people even knew about 8 weeks ago, and now everyone is having to figure this out. On the fly. I have a fantastic staff who is dedicated to help everyone join the meetings. From there, there are few challenges, if any.  Probably the only other major challenge I have to  face is the objection to doing it at all, and/or the medium to do it. I have a few clients that cannot use Zoom, so finding a way to utilize multiple software mediums at the same time has been an issue. 
  6. What is one surprising benefit you have experienced while hosting online mediations?
    • The willingness of everyone to try it out! I didn’t lose a single mediation when we had to convert from face to face to online. I am truly amazed at everyone’s willingness to participate. And, even the old dogs can learn new tricks! 
  7. What is one tip you would give mediators who are new to online mediations?
    • Be patient, both with yourself and with others. This is new to everyone, so patience is key for all. It always works out – just give everyone time. 
  8. What is one way the InstantMediations platform has helped you do your work as a mediator?
    • It gave me an immediate referral source to lean on to learn – everyone has been incredibly helpful, and we all share our issues and exchange helpful hints – it’s a great resource. And, connecting with people all over the world – well that’s just cool as all get out!! 
  9. What is one interesting thing about you as a mediator few people in the public know?
    • As a mediator, I’m not sure there is anything that sets me apart from others. Generally, I am licensed to practice in Texas and the United States Virgin Island, and I lived and practiced in the USVI for almost 6 years. There, I learned an entirely different culture and a way of life which gave me a tremendous outlook on different perspectives on cultures and ways of living.
  10. Are there any developments you hope to see in the practice of online mediations as this trend continues?
    • Honestly, for me, I’d like to see the return of face to face mediations because that’s what gives me the greatest joy as a mediator. With that said, I hope that now that we know we can successfully use technology to gather people electronically, we will have more “attendance” remotely when otherwise, parties would not intend to appear except by telephone. 

Mediator and InstantMediations.com Advisor Fran Brochstein, whose mediation experience spans decades, provides mediation tips to mediators and parties engaged in dispute resolution. She is based in Marble Falls, Texas and can mediate online with parties from anywhere. Contact her through her site Familylaw4you.com at Fran@Familylaw4you.com. If you have any suggestions for future columns, please feel free to contact Fran.

After being an attorney almost 30 years, I have learned that I have never
had the exact same case twice. What I like about family law mediation is that it allows me to think outside the box and to be creative. Unlike when criminal defense lawyers see bad people at their best, in family law, we see good people at their worst.

My Experience and Tips

Hopefully I can share some stories so that you can avoid some of the
mistakes that I’ve made. What I learned is that if you follow the mediation
guidelines you were taught, you will stay out of the way and let the process
work. Keep your ego out of it. It takes some time but the mediation process
works if you just let the magic happen. Like making a delicious soup, sometimes it takes awhile for the ingredients to all come together. As the mediator, it’s important that you don’t stand in the way of things coming together. It might not be the way you think it should be, but it’s not your agreement.

It is your job to treat each person with dignity and respect. People want to
be heard. Many people are paralyzed by fear and they feel like they are the
only one in the world with their problems. As a mediator you must take the time to address their fears, worries, concerns, etc. But after you have heard the same thing three times, it’s time to cut it off gently but firmly. I find that
I cannot settle a case until each person has told me their story. I try to use
the same words that they used so that they feel heard.

I never get invested in the number of cases I settle. I’ve had many cases
settle 24-72 hours after mediation. As a mediator, I try to plant some seeds
and many times it takes awhile for the seeds to sprout.

You are in control – As the mediator, it’s YOUR mediation. Attorneys often
think that they are in control. I let them think they are in control, but I
usually let them say their peace and just move forward. I had one attorney who refused to let his client talk to me. So I just talked to the attorney and within a few minutes his client was chiming it. I could have argued with the attorney, but by simply going forward with the mediation, I moved the mediation process along.

Third Parties in Attendance

Third parties – I’ve had good luck with allowing 3rd parties attend
mediations. Sometimes the 3rd party is the actual decision maker or the
problem. Of course, at the beginning of the mediation, I state that they are
there as long as I feel that their input is productive. If I feel they are
negatively impacting the mediation, then I can ask them to leave

One positive story – I had a dad (the maternal grandfather) who came with
his adult daughter who was getting a divorce. The daughter had a young child, and the daughter was attending college. She and the child lived with her parents. For this dad, understanding how child support, custody, rights & duties, etc. were determined in Texas, was vital. By having him present, it
make the likelihood of her future co-parenting with her ex much easier.

One negative story – I had a nurse, a friend to a wife, show up half-way
through the mediation. She was argumentative and disagreed with everything the wife and her attorney had discussed. I had her leave the room. Toward the end of the mediation I brought the nurse back because she knowledgeable about the divorcing couple’s finances. Her attitude was much better after she sat in the waiting room for an hour. Upon her return, I made it clear that she was not a participant to the mediation, but merely present to assist her friend in making sure the finances were divided fairly. She was used to giving orders and I made it clear that she was not going to control the mediation. Only with that understanding was her presence effective at the mediation.

Working with Pro Se Parties

I have done many Pro Se (no attorney) mediations. I screen them carefully.
In the initial phone call and again at the beginning of the mediation, I make
it crystal clear what my role as their mediator is and what I’m not allowed to do. I developed a list of attorneys for them to use to do the post-mediation legal paperwork, or they are free to hire any attorney they want to do the paperwork.

One positive positive story – I have done mediations with couples worth
millions. Most have already talked to several board certified attorneys so they know how much their deposit and hourly rate will be if the attorney was retained. One man said that they decided to use me to resolve their issues and use the money saved in legal fees to pay for their child’s college fund. He told me that he was sure that I saved them around $100,000 in legal fees since just discovery of their vast assets would have cost a lot of money. Of course, I made sure that both spouses were knowledgeable about their finances and that neither thought the other was hiding assets. It goes to show, Pro Se parties can be extremely sensible and a joy to work with.

One negative story – A man called and wanted to mediate. I had a bad feeling but he called/texted and emailed so many times that I finally scheduled him. I had his wife arrive 30 minutes early and I put his wife in a separate room. She said that he had threatened her if she did not show up. She was terrified of him. I handed him back 100% of his money and asked him to leave. I told him that I was not the right mediator for him and that it would be a disservice to take his money. He argued with me but I made it all about him and his needs so eventually he left. I did not let his wife leave until 30 minutes after he left. This incident reminded me to trust my gut. When red flags are raised, heed them as warnings. Especially if the parties lack legal representation.

An Informative Website

I have a lot of people call me because I include so much free information on
my website. Even people with attorneys feel more comfortable after looking at my website and reading all the information I have on my page. At least
semi-annually I review my website.

For example, I have a short-hand rendition of the parental rights and duties
in Texas. Most people have never heard or seen these before. I added this page to my website so that people can look at it ahead of time and begin to become familiar with how Texas courts expect parents to behave as they co-parent their children.

When marketing yourself as a mediator to the public, make sure to provide
some free information to help parties prepare to meet you. It will save you a lot of time and energy in explaining concepts at the mediation.

Recently, on the Lawyer 2 Lawyer podcase hosted on the Legal Talk Network, Attorney Kelly Chang Rickert discuss the pros and cons of mediation over litigation in divorce proceedings, and the impact on the couple going forward.

Now that the age of online mediations is upon us, internet security is on the top of everyone’s mind. Safety for mediation participants from threats such as online bullying or stalking is important. So are security of their information, including credit card information used to pay for mediation services, or digital data shared between the parties with their lawyers or mediators. Or what about ensuring confidentiality of the parties’ private talk. The meditation process is supposed to be a confidential one, free from the fear that what one says at a supposed confidential discussion will one day return to haunt them. 

A rationale for confidentiality is simple: people will not enter frank discussions and make offers if those offers will later be used against them. The confidential nature of mediation helps parties know that they can speak freely to try to reach agreement and compromise on their differences. 

In the traditional in-office mediation model, as long as the parties have 4 walls, and are all present for the meeting, controlling against spying, secret recordings, and uninvented friends, or family is somewhat easy. Once the mediation leaves the traditional walls of the mediator’s office, things become difficult. Virtual or remote mediations require different precautions to protect the integrity of the mediation process.

Some important assurances a mediator hosting a remote mediation should have are: 

1. The mediation communications should be encrypted to guard against spies and hackers.

2. The parties should be reminded up to the commencement of the mediation of the strict confidentiality rules that exists, and the consequences for breaking them.

3. Technology preventing recording and screenshotting  should be utilized whenever possible to prevent the unauthorized capture of the mediation process.

4. Parties who are remote on laptops or phones should use headphones with microphones  when possible to make sure only they are participating in the listening of the discussions. 

Mediators should work hard to ensure confidentiality, remembering that while technology offers wide opportunities to reach potential parties who wish to find non-court ways to resolve their legal disputes, the technology also invites unscrupulous individuals with the ability to breach confidential discussions. Mediators should use good technology, and common sense to ward off such threats.

The traditional model of formal alternative dispute resolution required that mediators own or rent office space to meet parties and their legal representatives. In that model, a mediator might use their space containing a conference room and several caucus rooms for small group meetings. They might also rent shared space among a group of mediators, including sharing a receptionist who calendars mediations for multiple mediators. But in the age of online mediations, is access to physical office space for mediators an absolute necessity? The answer is Yes and No.

Yes: As every practicing mediator knows, whenever one deals with multiple parties, disagreements will come up. In fact, parties do not need to disagree, there may be complications based on preferences…

As the number of mediators grows, so does increased competition…