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What Does a Mediation Look Like During COVID-19? 

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By Brian Ramsey, Esq.

Brian Ramsey, a senior litigation attorney at TLD Law, held the firm’s first virtual mediation this week through Zoom. The mediation was long set for April before the pandemic. So it was imperative that it continue to go forward at the best interest of all the parties. This was a trust litigation matter where litigants were fighting over proceeds of a trust with claims of elder abuse by an adult beneficiary, interference by a financial advisor and disinherited beneficiaries. A somewhat classic trust litigation matter. This was a case that was scheduled to be tried in Orange County Superior Court.

Because of COVID, the mediator reached out to all the parties to see if they would all unilaterally consent to a virtual mediation as the April date neared. All parties consented quickly.

At the actual mediation, there were approximately 15 participants, so it was a fairly involved matter including myself and our client for this particular mediation. There were two petitioners, three respondents, the mediator, a neutral fiduciary who joined briefly at the beginning, and several attorneys.

Through Zoom, the mediator was able to place each party in their own virtual room. When the mediator was not in our “room”, we were placed on hold. When he was ready for us, he would pop in and it was a one on one Zoom meeting. Towards the end of the meeting when we were haggling over the details of the settlement agreement, the mediator joined all the attorneys in the same “room”, so that it was like a regular multi-party Zoom meeting. This particular mediator seemed to navigate the technology well and was able to navigate the rooms seamlessly and quickly.

When we executed the settlement agreement, it was up to each individual attorney to get it signed by their own client. At the end, the mediator mentioned he was working on technology so that in the future he will be able to distribute the settlement agreement to all parties for Docusign.

If I needed to summon the mediator (for example to tell him I was ready with a counteroffer) I just texted him on his cell phone and he reappeared in my “room” after a few minutes.

For his part, the mediator said this was his ninth such mediation, and he has settled all of them.

All in all, it was an efficient and effective process as there were no major glitches. I tend to be “old-school”, so I still favor the in-person approach, but this was effective, and while the stay at home orders are still in place I cannot think of any good reason (other than if a client lacks the technology) not to do it this way.

It was great to see that in these unprecedented times we are still able to be innovative by using technology to get the job done for our clients.

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