Working around Covid-19 remotely

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Working around Covid-19 remotely

Published 15 abril 2020

The effects of the outbreak of the Covid-19 outbreak have had far reaching effects on global businesses, offices and public services.  While current restrictions have disrupted the business continuity of the Courts, we have seen other areas, such as alternative dispute resolution procedures, continuing to operate relatively uninterrupted.  In order to maintain as far as possible a ‘business as usual’ approach, all of our staff at DAC Beachcroft are fully agile and are continuing to work remotely, while also being currently involved in a number of remote mediations and arbitrations.

Remote Mediation

We have seen recently in Ireland and the UK the successful completion of mediations remotely via video-link. Remote mediations can take place on a variety of different video-conferencing platforms. A remote mediation is designed to work in very much the same way as a face to face mediation. 

Privacy and confidentiality

When parties log-in to their virtual mediation, the mediator can use the video-conferencing platform to put people into virtual breakout rooms. As in face to face mediations, each virtual breakout room is completely private and conversation there will only be heard by the participants in the room. It is clear at all times who is in the breakout room.

Most platforms will also contain a private chat function where you have the ability to privately message other participant in the mediation. The virtual mediation is not recorded and participants have the option to mute their microphone at any time.

If, as happens in face to face mediation, the mediator feels that it would be useful to bring different individuals together (e.g. for a lawyer to lawyer meeting) a separate breakout room can be created to enable that conversation to happen.

As with all mediations, parties will be asked to sign a mediation agreement which binds all parties to confidentiality. The standard mediation agreement does not require any major amendments to cater for remote mediation.

Technology

For most platforms, it is very simple to join a remote mediation simply by clicking a link which is sent to recipients by email or text message. You can join from whatever device is convenient (desktop computer, laptop, tablet or phone) and usually it is not necessary to have any software downloaded. A video connection is not essential and a participant can partake simply by using an audio connection. For those participants who are anxious about using a remote platform for the first time, it is also possible to conduct a test session in advance of the mediation so that participants can familiarise themselves with the technology.

Potential issues

One potentially difficult area for remote mediations is in relation to the sharing of documents and signing agreements. Most platforms contain a share screen function which allows participants to show documents to other parties on their screens without having to electronically send the document. Generally, an electronic signature can be used in any case where a “wet ink” signature is permitted or required. Software providers such as DocuSign make the application of electronic signatures to documents very straightforward.

Remote mediations will be easier and more welcome for some clients and difficult for others – for instance elderly clients who may also lack the wherewithal to operate the technologies involved or indeed may not even have access to internet.  In such cases, it may be possible for those representing any such clients to attend the mediation remotely while maintaining a direct line of access to their client by phone in order to explain what is being said and suggested.

Another point to note is the unprecedented demand which a number of the platforms have experienced recently which has resulted in reports of video conferences, where were thought to be private and encrypted, being hacked by third parties. This is obviously a concern for those conducting remote mediations and parties should ensure that the platform they use is fully encrypted and meets the necessary standards to ensure confidentiality.

Advantages

There are significant costs savings associated with remote mediation: parties do not need to travel, nor do venues need to be booked. It enables participants to be very agile and to take part from different locations around the world. There is also no limit on the number of participants who can attend a remote mediation. Most significantly, during this difficult time where social distancing restrictions are still in force, parties have the ability to progress their cases in order to reach settlement, without the need for an indefinite delay.

Authors

David Freeman

David Freeman

Dublin

+353 1588 2558

Key Contacts

Rowena McCormack

Rowena McCormack

Dublin

+353 (0)1 231 9628

Simon Halpin

Simon Halpin

Dublin

+353 (0) 123 19639

Charlotte Burke

Charlotte Burke

Dublin

+353 (0)1 2319679

Julie-Anne Binchy

Julie-Anne Binchy

Dublin

+353 (0) 123 19636

Lisa Broderick

Lisa Broderick

Dublin

+353 (0) 1 231 9683

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