A mediation used to be a meeting of all the participants in a physical place. I mediated in a range of different venues around the country including parties’ business premises, solicitors’ offices and the International Dispute Resolution Centre.
Meetings of all types have stopped for the time being, so business meetings, university lectures, and religious services have moved to video conferencing platforms such as MS Teams, Skype and Zoom.
In my experience, Zoom is currently the best alternative to face to face mediations, as it replicates a typical mediation set-up, with a main room for joint sessions, and breakout rooms for individual sessions.
Disputes can also be mediated on the telephone. In the past, I was a conciliator in many disputes between Accountants and their clients, using just the telephone and email.
However, no virtual meeting (or telephone conference call) can replace engaging with other individuals face to face, listening to their stories, and building an understanding of their needs, interests and priorities.
Will everything go back to ‘normal’ at some point? Perhaps, for more complex mediations with several parties and lawyers attending with numerous bundles of documents, and some venues have bookings for later this year. However, for other mediations, people will ask whether additional time and money should be spent travelling to meet for mediations, especially if home working becomes widely accepted as a ‘new normal’ way of working.