COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our citizens and our institutions. Our courts have been shut down and are only slowly coming back online. As we are seeing on our college campuses and at other institutions, decision makers are forced to scale back or cancel plans to open. Even as our courts reopen, necessary restrictions will result in far fewer cases being scheduled. The ability of our courts to “return to normal,“ is likely tied to the development and availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, which may not arrive until next year.
So, how can disputes be resolved in the interim? You may want to consider arbitration or mediation. At JAMS, we have been busy all summer, having great success with remote mediations and arbitrations. In contrast to in-person sessions where everyone is wearing a mask, is trying to stay six feet apart and may not be totally comfortable in an indoor space, virtual platforms like Zoom allow participants to appear from the comfort of their home of office. Plus, it is so much easier to schedule sessions when no one has to travel. Yes, there can occasionally be technical glitches, but they are few and far between as lawyers, litigants, witnesses and neutrals have used virtual platforms more routinely in their personal and work lives. For those who haven’t, there is real time help and pre-session training, which can be beneficial in helping you take the first step in embracing virtual alternative dispute resolution.
Like everyone else, I will welcome the eventual return to in person sessions at our JAMS Resolution Centers, but for now, virtual mediation is a very productive alternative. The delay in getting a case to trial is costly in more than just the monetary aspect. Mediation offers the opportunity to get your case resolved effectively and efficiently. There really is no downside, just three clear upsides:
1) Full-service technical support and experienced neutrals
- Familiarity with each case’s most pressing concerns (access to technology, confidentiality, testimony, sharing exhibits, conferring with co-counsel and clients)
- Complimentary training and practices sessions on the selected online platform
- A dedicated technical liaison who is present or on-call throughout the proceeding so that the neutral can fully focus on the matter at hand
2) Convenience of location and timing
- Key decisionmakers can participate remotely with great flexibility
- Virtual breakout rooms can accommodate confidential conversations among representatives with the authority to settle (insurance carriers, senior-level business executives, etc.)
- Travel is eliminated
3) The ability to take control of the outcome
- No need to wait for courts to reopen
- No need to worry about wellbeing and social-distancing protocols
- Timely resolutions
These last few months have been a time of learning and embracing change. I encourage you to think about virtual mediation as a solid and effective solution.