This past year has been unlike any other in almost every aspect of life. I feel blessed that my family and I have remained healthy, and that through Zoom technology and NAM's IT department, I have been able to continue to work, and preside over mediations and arbitrations. Zoom has been a godsend for the legal community, allowing cases to be resolved, and move forward.
I must say, I have learned to enjoy my “commute” to my basement office, and I've gotten used to going in and out of breakout rooms while negotiating cases. After the first month of Virtual Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), I mastered the technology, and most attorneys seem to have done the same. Still, I do miss in-person ADR. I haven't seen my colleagues, NAM staff, and friends in more than a year. I haven't been able to enjoy a work lunch, friendly banter, informal negotiations, or gossip in and around the kitchen at the NAM offices. In the past, I have seen more than one case settle next to the Keurig machine. However, the benefits of Virtual ADR have ensured that it is here to stay.
In March of this year, I was very happy to be contacted by NAM to see if I was willing to do an in-person mediation in approximately six weeks. I had just received my first vaccine and would be fully vaccinated by the mediation date. I could not agree to the assignment fast enough. The last time I had presided over a case in-person was June of last year and prior to that, in March. I was assured that all safety protocols would be followed, which of course, I had no problem with. While continuing along with my virtual work life, I was quite excited knowing I would be returning to a conference room, in-person, to conduct a mediation.
On the day of the mediation, I wore a suit for the first time in ten months. The case was held in NAM'S Westchester office. We utilized a large conference room and kept the door open. In addition, each side was able to utilize their own breakout room. Of course, everyone wore a mask. The case involved a young child, and she and her father had no issues with any of the safety precautions. I'm happy to report that other than the fact that everyone was wearing a mask, the negotiations proceeded normally. I certainly did not feel uneasy during the mediation, and counsel seemed to be acting no differently than in a typical case. After the case settled, we did not shake hands, rather we engaged in the new custom of the elbow bump.
It really felt great to be back in a conference room. Looking ahead, I am optimistic that in-person mediations and arbitrations will be used in conjunction with our new-found fondness for digital conferencing, once the courts and businesses fully open up, and things get back to normal. I can unequivocally say that Virtual ADR will now be a permanent option for everyone, and I will be very happy conducting both in-person and digital hearings as we move forward post-pandemic.