Remote mediation I’m 62. I wasn’t looking to Zoom. I’m glad I did.

By Mike McKnight

There is a lot that I will hope to purge from my memory about the early days of the covid-19 pandemic. But while anyone who knows me knows that I am a die-hard pessimist, let me tell you of a possible silver lining to this mess: Each of us can do many of the tasks related to the practice of law by making better use of available technology. Let me explain.

These days I am a mediator—and working on developing that practice as best I can. I am also 62 years old with some underlying health issues that place me in the dreaded higher-risk category for the virus. You can see my dilemma:  How do I effectively mediate when I need to “shelter in place” and “social distance”? In the past I had participated in a weather-spawned telephone mediation or two with limited success. But when I learned that one of the party participants in a recent mediation was not willing to travel and wished to participate by telephone, I had to figure out some way to keep this mediation on schedule. I immediately thought of Skype. I think I had used it once, but I really had no clue how it might work for me for a mediation. I also had FaceTime and figured we could make that work if need be. Then one of the mediation groups I belong to mentioned a program called Zoom (now, suddenly, a household name—but this was early on). I had used it before to participate in a webinar or two. The selling point for me was learning that it would allow for “breakout rooms,” which sounded like just what I needed for mediations.

The swipe of a card and $150 later, I was a subscriber to Zoom Pro, which gives me unlimited time (the free version only allows 40 minute meetings) and accommodates up to 100 participants. My wife and one of my lovely daughters helped me with a test run—which, give or take a couple of minor glitches, worked perfectly. In my first week I mediated three cases using Zoom. After a short explanation to the group as a whole, I placed each side in their own private breakout rooms and went about my business. I shuttled between the rooms during the course of the mediation, just like I would in an in-person mediation. (Two of the lawyers actually said it was every bit as good as being in person.) One of the mediations was in a case venued 350 miles away. When we finished at 5:00, instead of going to my hotel or, worse, driving back home, I was able to shut down my computer and walk down the hall to dinner. You can’t beat that commute!

I will tell you I was skeptical at first, but now I am sold. I see a lot of advantages to using this technology more even after this damn virus ends. It saves the parties and clients time and money. Scheduling remote mediations just became a lot easier. And most importantly to me, it saves wear and tear on my body. I think nearly every lawyer reading this can use this kind of technology to keep your practice going during this difficult time. Who knows, it just might make your life easier and make you a better lawyer. Quite a silver lining for this old pessimist to find. 

Originally from Silver Bay, MIKE MCKNIGHT joined the Minnesota bar in 2019. He retired from the Boyce Law Firm in 2020 after 34 years of practice to focus exclusively on mediation and arbitration. He currently lives in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife and his two Labrador retrievers.