Mediating in a New Normal

By Winter N. Wheeler, Esq.

 

Reflecting on the first mediations in a new space while welcoming those to come.

 

On March 1 of this year, Miles Mediation & Arbitration opened its new Atlanta headquarters. By the middle of that same month, the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to close the building. And within that two-week span, my colleagues and I conducted our first mediations in our new office space. When looking back on those initial sessions, I find myself surprised by how vividly I recall the welcoming nature of the office’s detailed design. Front, glass double doors giving way to spacious yet nuanced interiors, all bathed in the natural light of an early spring sun.

 

 

The comfortably sleek chairs, tables, desks and individual offices blending seamlessly into the look of the building itself. And of course, the place was completed by the people: attorneys and their clients being welcomed by breakfast and fresh cups of coffee. While my colleagues—fellow mediators and support staff, welcoming each other with our usual hugs and inquiries about homelife. Though a new space, I found it filled with the same sense of shared urgency and purpose amongst the parties that every mediator wants for their sessions.

 

In the ensuing two and a half months, the quarantine has effectively moved our practice into a virtual space. During this time, I have learned that while virtual mediation may not be a novel concept in of itself, mediating strictly via video conferencing is indeed a new norm for most attorneys. As such, my colleagues and I have created a wealth of supportive digital content, sharing insights and guidance  through blog posts, podcast interviews with distinguished members of the legal community, and even a popular CLE webinar series titled Tips and Tricks for Virtual Mediation. Instead of welcoming office design we used supportive knowledge sharing techniques to help attorneys and their clients navigate a new virtual frontier.

 

One reality we have faced along the way is that there are some for whom virtual mediation is an uncomfortable arena—and that is more than okay! I remain very supportive of the virtual model and I am thankful that I will still be able to provide it as an option for those who want and/or need it. But that does not take away from the fact that I became a mediator because I fell in love with the in-person model. I understand those who choose to only mediate in-person. If you find yourself in that category, circle the date of June 1st because on that day, Miles Mediation & Arbitration will reopen its office.

 

As we transition back, we are preparing to meet yet another new normal, where some will exclusively prefer the in-person model while others will opt for virtual mediation. We should—and will—reflect on the lessons learned during the quarantine period, applying them across our mediations as we move forward.

 

For example, the screen sharing features of virtual mediations have resulted in parties investing more time and energy into their opening statements. As a mediator, I find this trend very encouraging. And as if by happenstance, the new office space is replete with the kind of state-of-the-art technology that will allow opening statements as well as day-in-the-life videos, photographs, indeed any type of visual evidence to shine. We have also heard from attorneys how much they want their mediator to be in the room with their clients; to look them in the eye and provide empathetic support along with the occasional hard truth.

 

Some parties need to spend the day in an independent office where their sole focus is the mediation. They believe that is the best way to ensure professionalism while conveying the urgency and weight of the case at hand. Some parties simply thrive in environments that promote personal connection and interaction. Luckily, this will all soon be an option as the new office is three times larger than our previous location.  This will allow Miles Mediation & Arbitration the room to effectively practice and adhere to social distancing guidelines while still maintaining a collegial atmosphere, which many parties have said is often critical to moving their clients toward resolution.

 

 

This kind of intentionality—welcoming and supporting; reflecting and applying—is and has long been a hallmark of how Miles Mediation & Arbitration conducts its practice and embraces the attorneys with whom we work. I know how much I appreciate this approach and have learned during the last two months how many others in the legal community do, too. And with that, I look forward to welcoming you on June 1st and beyond to 115 Perimeter Center Place so that you can experience our approach in-person.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winter Wheeler mediates complex disputes in areas of wrongful death, catastrophic injury, personal injury, premises liability, legal malpractice, medical malpractice, products liability, automotive and trucking liability.