During the Coronavirus pandemic, many people turned to Zoom and other virtual platforms for mediations. Zoom and other virtual platforms provided a social distancing alternative to traditional face-to-face mediations.
When considering whether or not to mediate using Zoom or another virtual platform, there are a few pros and cons to consider.
Advantages of Zoom/Virtual Mediation
Virtual mediation can be substantially less expensive than in-person. The biggest reason for this is the lack of travel time and expenses for the mediator and parties. What might have involved a day of travel or even an overnight hotel stay for a face-to-face mediation is not necessary when mediating virtually. This reduces costs for parties, their attorneys, and the mediator because they will not need to travel to attend the mediation session. This lower cost can also make mediation financially feasible in smaller cases.
Eliminates Geographical Barriers
Zoom mediations offer much more flexibility for parties spread across geographical locations. In many cases, time devoted to the mediation process can be reduced substantially. With virtual mediation, scheduling becomes easier. Zoom mediation can eliminate geographical barriers and physical barriers for those who are severely disabled, in poor health, or who reside a great distance from the mediator.
Security and Privacy
Virtual platforms for mediation now have security and privacy capabilities such as Zoom’s waiting room feature which gives the mediator the ability to have control over when the parties join the mediation. Zoom allows the parties to enable end-to-end encryption which secures the participants’ communications with cryptographic keys that are only known to the devices of those participants. Keeping the meeting’s private keys secure ensures that unwanted third parties will be able to access the meeting. However, enabling end-to-end encryption can disable certain Zoom features that are useful in mediation such as breakout rooms. The parties and the mediator have the ability to select the security and convenience features that work best for their particular mediation.
Breakout rooms in Zoom allow the mediator to meet privately with each party and their attorney. The mediator can put each party in a private breakout room and have independent discussions in the same way that the mediator would use separate conference rooms in an office.
Disadvantages of Zoom/Virtual Mediation
While the following disadvantages of Zoom mediation may not be present in every situation, there are some potential downsides to conducting mediation virtually.
Less Non-Verbal Communication
Meeting with people on a screen has some major differences from meeting face-to-face. Virtual mediation may deprive parties of the opportunity to read non-verbal cues and body language. When the mediator has never met the parties or lawyers in person, they must work differently to establish the same rapport. Having video mode on is certainly more beneficial than strictly audio calls, but it still may be difficult to observe eye contact, body language, and other forms of non-verbal communication. People who are unfamiliar with Zoom or other such platforms might feel that they cannot establish the same level of connection with the mediator or the other side, which may hurt the chances for a successful mediation. While remote mediation does change some aspects of human interaction, most people do find that feelings of discomfort dissipate with time and genuine connections are still attainable. We have found that Zoom mediations can be very effective.
The lower cost and greater convenience of virtual mediation is one of its greatest advantages. But, this advantage is also one of the biggest disadvantages of virtual mediation. Because virtual mediation is less expensive and more convenient than in-person mediation, the parties can be less committed to the mediation process in some cases. There is a legitimate concern that one or all parties will not take the process as seriously as if they had to dedicate travel time and expenses. When a party sends a representative across town, or books a flight on an airplane, they’re more likely to be serious about getting something accomplished. For mediation to work, the parties must be committed to the process. Although this disadvantage is real, we have found that the mediator and the parties can work together in advance of the mediation to make sure everyone is committed. When the parties are mediating by Zoom, it is important for the parties and the mediator to frankly discuss the issue of commitment.
Technical issues can cause distractions and impact the success of the mediation. If a party’s internet connection is not strong, or if their laptop or computer is malfunctioning, it can interrupt the flow of the mediation and this can impact the parties’ ability to get the most out of the mediation. It is the mediator’s responsibility to work with the parties in advance to be sure that the parties have the technology to participate in the mediation in a meaningful way.
Virtual mediation on platforms like Zoom developed rapidly out of necessity, but it is here to stay. Although there can be drawbacks to virtual mediation, there is no reason that virtual mediations cannot be successful if the parties plan for and consider the advantages and limitations of the technology.
At Morefield Speicher Bachman, LC, Rick Morefield is prepared to serve as a mediator in person or over Zoom. He has had experience and success with both virtual and in-person mediations and is comfortable assisting parties who have never mediated over Zoom. All of the lawyers at Morefield Speicher Bachman, LC are prepared to mediate for their clients in both virtual and in-person settings.
Your preferences are important to us and we will continue to offer to each and every one of our clients the opportunity to meet with us–on your terms. We are here for you. Contact us today at (913) 839 2808 to discuss our mediation services.