By: Sharon Corsentino
I look forward to serving as your mediator soon and want to make sure you know what to expect during the process. It’s been nearly two years since I started mediating via Zoom, and it’s working really well. In fact, a lot of attorneys and parties now prefer Zoom mediation to in person sessions, so I suspect that Zoom mediation is here to stay for the long-term. There’s definitely something to be said for being in the comfort of your own space during the process.
We’ve learned a lot of things along the way and Zoom has updated the technology in a lot of helpful ways since 2020 that we’ve been able to adapt to make the mediation process go more smoothly. Below is an updated primer on what to expect and how to prepare for your upcoming mediation.
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, 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 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.
- 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 and test it. The app is available for both Apple and Android devices. Please do not wait until the morning of mediation to download the app for the first time.
- Be sure to test your video, microphone, and audio in advance, so that you can hear me and I can hear and see you. If you are logging in on two devices, which some people do for both video and audio, you will need to completely mute one of the devices or you will get a lot of feedback and not be able to hear. Also be sure to have a charger for your device(s), in case the battery is running low.
- If there are documents that you think will be useful during the mediation, then please have them available in electronic format to view on shared screen. Holding documents up to the camera is ineffective and also does not provide the option for the mediator to view them with the other party, if needed.
- 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.
- Please make sure that you’re in a quiet place where no one else will be able to hear or see the mediation. Confidentiality is paramount to the mediation process and no third parties may attend the mediation without the express agreement of the other party. If you intend to have a third party, other than a current spouse, attend mediation with you, please notify the other side and me in advance to determine whether there are any objections. If I become aware of a third party presence that has not been disclosed and agreed upon by all parties, I reserve the right to terminate the mediation.
- Do not drive while participating in Zoom mediation.
- 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 me. I may send you a message to let you know I’m aware you’ve arrived, but you will not be able to communicate with me until I’ve admitted you to the mediation.
- If the parties are represented by counsel, then I 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, I will bring everyone together for a short joint session to go over the mediator’s procedures and rules to set expectations for the mediation. During this joint session, if you feel more comfortable with your camera off, that’s fine so long as you can hear me. We will not discuss anything case specific and you will not be asked to speak, unless you have a question about the process.
- After I conclude the joint introduction, the parties will be moved into their own breakout rooms where I 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 me to come back to your room by using the “ask for help” button on your toolbar. It will send the me a message that your room is requesting my 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. As soon as I see that you’re in the waiting room, I’ll get you put back into your breakout room.
- The mediation session will not be recorded via Zoom and I do not consent to any outside recordings of the session by the parties via other means.
- If you ever need a break at any time, do not be afraid to speak up. It’s not always easy to read the room when we’re in different places and I want to make sure you’re comfortable. If you need a drink, something to eat, some fresh air, or to use the restroom, just let me know and you can take a short break and then regroup. You’ll also have some downtime when I’m working with the other side.
- When we get to the point of signing a Mediated Settlement Agreement, I use an online document signing service and you’ll need access to your email to be able to view and sign the agreement. Most people prefer to use a personal email address versus an employer email address. Please have your email address handy and make sure that you’re able to access your email from your device.
- 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.
I hope that this information has been helpful to you. I’m looking forward to meeting you on Zoom very soon.