Mediation in the Time of COVID-19: Forging Ahead with Technology

By Winter Wheeler

 

Drastic, yet necessary, steps are being taken to protect our communities from the anticipated exponential spread of COVID-19. Services vital to our neighbors’ abilities to work and to support their families—specifically, schools and childcare facilities—have been closed indefinitely. We have all been asked to limit our activities and to engage in social distancing and self-isolation when possible.

 

While some of the most important parts of our personal lives have come to a grinding halt, our work still requires our attention. Frankly, the health of our economy depends on it. For most of us this means working from home. Now we are all faced with figuring out the logistics to successfully do so.

 

I admit that I was initially hesitant to self-isolate, because I was concerned with the potential impact on my career. I am a mediator and arbitrator, and the vast majority of my work requires person-to-person interaction. Anyone who has ever participated in a mediation or arbitration knows just what I mean.

 

I was also really saddened by the thought of not getting to be physically present with my clients and colleagues. I feel most energized when I am connecting with people and helping them solve problems and find common ground, which is why I became a neutral in the first place. But my personal wants are far outweighed by the need to avoid contributing to the current public health crisis.

 

Add to the stress the fact that my four children (the oldest of which is 8) are home and I am being looked at to educate them. There are so many reasons that I did not choose childhood education as a career, yet here I am! My children, thankfully, have extended me grace well beyond what I imagined they were capable of showing. Thankfully so, because as I nervously wait for more changes to come, I still need to make a living. My clients do, too.

 

We have all seen the meme about the meeting that could have been an email. Well, it turns out that most of our meetings really could have either been emails or conference calls. The meeting that you would have driven all the way to the office to attend? You can attend from home while in your pajamas.

 

All kidding aside, what does it really mean for our profession that the isolation period is indefinite? It means that mediations and arbitrations need to move forward as scheduled. And they are. I am doing my part to keep the economy moving by keeping my appointments and continuing to take new bookings. I have been able to do that thanks to the rapid adoption of technology that allows those who do not want to physically come to an office to fully participate and successfully resolve their cases.

 

I am using a videoconferencing system that is simple, intuitive, and perfectly designed for dispute resolution. The transition to virtual mediations and arbitrations has been essentially seamless since I also provide my clients with training in the technology. 

 

While I was initially concerned with losing the human element, time has proven that the personal component still shines through. The human connection remains strong. Plus, videoconferencing from home allows my clients to spend the mediation down time multitasking. For example, they can make lunch for their now homeschooled children while I talk with the opposing party, and never risk missing a moment of the mediation. Turn off your video and mute your sound for privacy while you complete your chores, and simply pop back in when and as needed.

 

COVID-19 has changed every aspect of our daily lives, and that is far from an exaggeration. But it seems amid all of the negativity and fear, we may have stumbled upon the work flexibility that the legal profession has long since needed. If this is our new normal—and it very well may be—I welcome it.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a mediator at Miles, Winter Wheeler handles wrongful death, catastrophic injury, personal injury, premises liability, nursing home, legal malpractice, medical malpractice, products liability, toxic torts, automotive and trucking liability.