The attorneys at Hance Law Group have already participated in numerous virtual mediations with our clients during the quarantine. Based on those experiences, as well as our discussions with other lawyers and mediators about best practices with virtual mediation, here are five practical tips for participating in a virtual mediation:
1. Preparation is important (even more than before)
We routinely meet with clients in advance of mediation not only to work on potential settlement scenarios and offers but also to prepare them for the mechanics of the day of mediation. With virtual mediation, this step is perhaps even more important. Because the mediator will not be in the same physical location as you, it is important to have an outline of terms and a spreadsheet (if applicable) in a format that can easily be emailed to or screen shared with the mediator.
2. Dry run
While we prepare for the substantive portion of mediation with spreadsheets and outlines, virtual mediation has its own set of mechanics that we want to make sure our clients are comfortable with beforehand. One way to do this is to practice using the virtual technology during the pre-mediation meeting. In that meeting, utilize the same technology you plan to use the day of mediation. Set up a video conference. Test out the screen share features. Test your camera and microphone. Getting any kinks out in the dry run will help you avoid using any of the precious time during mediation fixing technology issues.
3. Mute is your friend
Using the mute feature in any virtual conference is an important tool to get used to, especially when there are more than 2 people on the conference. Zoom has a feature built into its platform that is meant to amplify the volume of the person speaking. You can see this when the video box is highlighted in yellow. If there is residual background noise on someone’s audio feed other than the person speaking, Zoom will jump audio from speaker to speaker—causing choppy audio—ultimately resulting in the speaker needing to repeat themselves. To avoid this, leave your mute button on unless you are about to speak. In fact, Zoom has a feature where you can leave yourself muted and temporarily unmute yourself by holding down the spacebar (similar to holding down the talk button on a two-way radio). While this is still not as simple as good old-fashioned, in-person conversation that we all have been recently deprived of, utilizing mute will make virtual video conversations with all parties involved (e.g. mediator, client, and lawyer) much smoother.
Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms will default to use your computer microphone; however, you can plug in headphones with a microphone to your computer or dial in through a conference call line from your phone. Using headphones (even basic Apple iPhone headphones) usually equates to less background noise than using your computer microphone. During your dry run before mediation, test out which microphone comes through clearer and with less background noise.
5. Turn off notifications
Most new computer operating systems and Outlook are notorious for constantly pinging you with notifications. For both privacy reasons and distraction reasons, turn these notifications off during the mediation. Windows 10 has a nifty feature called “focus assist” that you can use to stop or at least limit desktop notifications. When this feature is on, notifications will pop up in the bottom right corner of your screen. Outlook has a similar feature. To turn on focus assist in Windows 10, click the notification button on the bottom right of the taskbar, and then click focus assist to review those options. In Outlook, click file>options>mail>message arrival, then uncheck those notifications for sound and pop-ups to your preference.
Virtual mediation has become an invaluable tool during the COVID-19 quarantine. Taking steps to be prepared for and comfortable with the technology before you turn on the webcam the day of mediation allows virtual mediation to be just as an effective and efficient process as in-person mediation.