By: Sharon Corsentino
If you’re getting ready to attend a virtual mediation, you may understandably be nervous about how it’s going to work. In order to get you ready, I want to walk you step-by-step through the process I follow, so that you know what to expect when mediation day arrives. Hopefully, reading through this article and doing some advance preparation will help you understand the technology and calm your nerves.
You will need to set up a Zoom account. It’s free of charge, but it adds an extra layer of security to the process by requiring you to sign in to participate in the meeting. You may note that the free account only allows you to host meetings that are no longer than 40 minutes at a time. Do not worry about the time-limit, because, as the mediator, I have a paid plan and can host the meeting for as long as I need. Your free account will not limit your participation in the mediation. https://zoom.us/
If you’re planning to participate on an IPad or other mobile device, it’s a good idea to download the free app in advance. The app is available for both Apple and Android devices.
If you’re curious about how Zoom works, Zoom has some good tutorial videos on their website that you can watch to better understand the technology. https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206618765-Zoom-Video-Tutorials?_ga=2.196287212.1593449367.1588602378-1087473795.1584459412 It’s also a good idea to test logging on in advance of mediation day. That way, you’ll know how to connect when mediation day arrives.
Some people have had challenges with their internet service slowing down during mediation. While a slowdown is not completely avoidable, I’ve found that it helps to disconnect other devices from the internet during the mediation. For example, disconnecting your mobile phone from the internet (unless you’re using it for the mediation) and not streaming music or television during the meeting helps save some bandwidth for the mediation itself.
The parties and their attorneys, if any, will be provided with a unique meeting ID number and password for the meeting. Do not share this ID number or password with anyone. Confidentiality and privacy are paramount to mediation and there should not be any outside third parties attempting to participate in the mediation without the consent of all parties.
When you arrive for the mediation, you will first be in a waiting room. When you’re in the waiting room, you will not be able to see or hear anyone else, including the mediator who is hosting the meeting. The mediator can send you a message to let you know she’s aware you’ve arrived, but you will not be able to communicate with her until she’s admitted you to the mediation.
If the parties are represented by counsel, then the mediator will admit the party and their attorney and then put them into a breakout room, which is a virtual conference room, where they can speak privately and get settled. Once everyone has arrived and gotten settled, the mediator will bring everyone together for a short joint session to go over the mediator’s rules and set expectations for the mediation.
After the mediator concludes her introduction, the parties will be moved into their own breakout rooms where the mediator will meet with them separately. When parties are in breakout rooms, they will not be able to see or hear the other parties outside of their breakout room. It is just like being in a real conference room with the door closed and the other parties being in a separate conference room down the hall. If a party leaves a breakout room, they will be disconnected from the meeting and have to rejoin. In other words, you cannot virtually wander the halls to attempt entry into other breakout rooms.
When you’re in the breakout room, you can request the mediator to come back to your room by using the “ask for help” button on your toolbar. It will send the mediator a message that your room is requesting her return.
Some parties have complained that they cannot see everyone at the same time and only see a big window of the person who is talking with the other parties in smaller windows along the top of the screen. There is a button on your screen that says “gallery view” or “speaker view.” If you change that to gallery view, you will be able to see everyone in the breakout room at the same time.
If at any time you become disconnected from the meeting, rejoin as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to send the mediator an email or text to let her know that you’ve been disconnected, because she will need to admit you back into the meeting when you reconnect. If she’s in a breakout room, she won’t receive a notification that you’re in the waiting room, unless you let her know. The mediator’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and her telephone number is 214-937-9209.
The mediation session will not be recorded via Zoom and the mediator does not consent to any outside recordings of the session by the parties via other means.
Be patient. Technology can present challenges from time-to-time, but, overall, it’s proving to be a great way to keep your case on track while our ability to meet in person is limited.