Here I want to share some of what I have learned. If you are a beginner, or have had some rocky first meetings, practice by conferencing with just yourself on multiple devices. Anything with a camera that receives email will work. So, from your laptop, conference in your smartphone and iPad too – also mute everything to avoid audio feedback. Practice with me, myself and I first, then perhaps add family members later. Paying clients come after you know what you are doing.
Mediators need to build rapport with their clients, and a critical way to do that at the outset of a mediation is to show clients their controls, e.g. show how to mute video and audio, and how to change from speaker view to gallery view. If you have experienced doing this from smartphones and tablets, not just from your laptop, you will perform better as a mediator because you will better understand what your clients are facing.
Zoom has an excellent help center with documentation, including video tutorials, so that you can actually see how Zoom works on other devices besides your own. You will have clients who want to phone in, and when the internet is unstable you may want a client to phone in for audio, but perhaps keep their alter ego on another device for video and screen sharing.
Caucusing in break-out rooms is perhaps the key skill for mediators to learn. Some of us keep parties together and only caucus occasionally, while other mediators do almost everything in caucus; with parties only getting fleeting glimpses of each other at the outset of a mediation. You will need the Pro account with Zoom to set up breakout rooms.
If you work with attorney plus client teams you will need to learn how to pair the correct attorney and client screens into their separate rooms, and then you will need to learn how to move between rooms. In a real building, I often ask counsel to meet me in the corridor without their clients. In Zoom-speak, you will have to ask them to click “leave breakout room” to join you in the main session while leaving their clients behind in separate rooms.
Mediation needs to be confidential. As a mediator, when you set up your account for hosting meetings, make sure nobody can use the “record” feature without your permission. Zoom meetings are encrypted online, so they are not more hazardous than email in most respects.
I take a simple approach in terms of how invite people to my mediations. I still send out confirmation letters and mediation agreements for clients to sign. These documents include the meeting ID associated with my Zoom account, in place of a street address or other physical mediation location. As with real buildings, you don’t want people to walk in unannounced, and Zoom will let you close a meeting to new attendees. There is also a wealth of calendaring and other options, especially for larger meetings.
I have used Zoom for board meetings, and with the record feature turned on, Zoom is an ideal platform for making a record in arbitration hearings, but those are all very different circumstances, demanding still more from your Zoom technique.
I have touched on building rapport, holding caucus sessions, and ensuring mediation confidentiality. There is so much more that could be said on these and other topics. For instance, consider buying a good quality external microphone if you are hosting, and don’t sit in silhouette with bright window behind you: make sure you look good.
Nervous, anxious and flustered mediators tend to crash and burn their mediations because nobody can have confidence in them. You may have impeccable mediation skills, so don’t fall short on your virtual skills.