Last September, prior to the launch of the Consumer Code for Online Dispute Resolutions new online platform, I flew to London to complete my specialised training as a SEN Mediator. Little did I know that a few short months later, I would be learning a whole new set of skills as I, based in Northern Ireland, mediated a dispute online using videoconferencing for parties based in Croydon, England.
At first it was a bit daunting moving out of my comfort zone. To my mind – maybe the lawyer in me – there were more questions than answers. I was concerned, as we are all not in the same room,would aspects such as body language be missed? Would I be able to manage the process effectively? Would the technology perform? Would the parties be able to use it?
I have some great colleagues and they agreed to me using them as a ‘Guinea pig’. The mediation was the next day.After about 30 minutes I was at least familiar with the relevant parts of the video conferencing tool. I had learned how to mute parties which could prove to be invaluable to enable a party uninterrupted time. I learned how to set up break out rooms, again potentially useful for obvious reasons. Lastly, I ensured I had upgraded to a ‘Pro’ account as it would have been overly ambitious to expect to have matters resolved within the self-imposed 40 minute time frame. I decided to make it clear to the parties that this was new to me and to bear with me. The message I received back was loud and clear that I shouldn’t worry as it was all new to them, too!
I can honestly say it was one of my best mediations to date. I thought the uninterrupted time worked better than it ever did in a ‘in person’ mediation. My impression was that the parties were more succinct and kept to their main concerns and issues. The result was that resolution was found in a relatively short time, and at a lower cost than hiring a neutral mediation space for a day and travelling to and from the mediation site.
In this case, the distance between the parties involved and myself caused online mediation to be the only necessary method for facilitation, however I have continued to use video conferencing in my practice where appropriate after this positive first experience and have been introduced to the many benefits of expanding my work into the online space.
The use of video conferencing has got to be a valuable tool to a mediator going forward post Covid-19. I was reminded of a recent trip to Derry / Londonderry for a mediation which resolved after 2 hours but the round trip for me was more than twice that. Why would I not use this tool going forward? When one considers the saving in time and traveling costs,not to mention the positive impact that not making the trip has on the planet,it seems to me to be a ‘no brainer’ for many circumstances.
Without doubt the rise of Online Dispute Resolution will be further aided by the recent familiarity with video conferencing forced on many people as a result of remote working and ‘virtual’ meet-ups, and with the recent launch of the Consumer Code for Online Dispute Resolution’s purpose-built online platform designed especially for hosting online dispute resolutions, there has never been a better time for ADR practitioners and Mediators to broaden their reach and begin facilitating mediations online in a secure, end-to-end encrypted way.
For more information on the benefits of subscribing to the Consumer Code for Online Dispute Resolution’s newly-launched online mediation platform, please contact our team.
John Keers BL
John Keers is a practising mediator, qualified barrister and Course Director at Ulster University for the LLM in International Commercial Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution where he lectures extensively in the area of ADR and ODR. John is also a Co-Founder and Director of the Consumer Code for Online Dispute Resolution.