With new technology constantly emerging, general communication has become easier through Skype, WebEx, ooVoo, and numerous other video chat and conferencing programs. The legal profession has also seen the effects of newer technology, particularly through online mediation. Online mediation has its own set of benefits when the circumstances are right and the logistics of meeting in person are difficult due to the geographical locations of the participants.
While online mediation is becoming more common, it isn’t entirely new to the ADR landscape. Online mediation started over a decade ago, right about the time Skype was initially released to the public. Video communication has made it possible for individuals to conduct live meetings and conversations with people virtually anywhere in the world and still have the feel of face-to-face interaction. Online mediation is no different, and it also can provide for certain advantages to in-person mediation.
Although general online communications give users the ability to connect in real time to others, online mediation also provides parties with the ability to take time to form responses to parts of the mediation. The real-time element can still be present, but the mediation itself can be done in segments online, with parties taking time in-between sessions to think about issues that were raised by the other party or the mediator. This makes it possible for parties to not only take the time to formulate responses, but it also allows them to be in different geographic areas throughout the mediation process.
This brings us to the next advantage – location. Online mediation offers a unique benefit to both the parties and the mediator. Parties can be in entirely different locations and still have the ability to conduct an effective and efficient mediation.
The location advantage leads into benefits specific to the parties and to the mediator. The ability to be in a different physical location from the other party allows the parties to avoid what may be an uncomfortable confrontation. Although mediation is considered much less confrontational than litigation, it is still a form of dispute resolution. For certain people, conflict in general can be overly nerve-racking and stressful, so the ability to work toward a solution in one’s home or office can ease the stress.
The mediator can also benefit from the location advantage because it allows a practice to reach out to a larger area than just one city or region. It allows the mediator to focus more on the mediation process itself, rather than logistics and unnecessary stress. When parties reside or do business in distant areas, the mediation process can become more costly and difficult to coordinate. However, online mediation affords any party with an Internet connection the ability to resolve a conflict.
Although online mediation has become more popular, even being offered through the American Arbitration Association (for certain conflicts), there are still some who shy away from the practice. Critics of online mediation argue that the in-person element is part of the mediation process itself. While this is true, it is important to remember that the emergence of technology is constantly changing the legal profession as a whole. The overarching benefit of online mediation is that it can be used in different ways in order to ensure the most effective and successful dispute resolution for the parties. It can be incorporated in whole or in part. A party may choose to have a mediation session online, but prefer to meet with the mediator in person regarding certain issues. Online mediation is another aspect of the mediation process that allows for efficiency, lower costs, and results for the parties. In choosing online mediation, the parties and the mediator must make an agreement in advance concerning the mediator’s role, confidentiality issues and the expectations of the parties and the mediator. It is also imperative that the parties and the mediator make a determination that this is the right process to address the conflict.
A mediator that is able to master the software and technical aspects of online mediation can open the door to a more efficient mediation process and optimal experience and result for the parties.