Zooming through the Court System? Virtual Mediation is Moving Cases
The American justice system is known for a lot of things but certainly not speed and economy. And, the broad swath of Covid-19 has created a host of challenges for the system. A recent positive development is that virtual mediation has gained momentum as an expedient and efficient alternative to traditional litigation.
The Slow Pace, Logistical Challenges & High Cost of Court Cases. Before Covid, the average civil court case took 6-24 months from filing to disposition. If appealed, add another 6-36 months. The cost of taking a case through the system was also substantial. The cost of a typical civil trial ranged from an average of $43,000 for an automobile accident claim to over $100,000 for a medical malpractice claim. Discovery, pre-trial and post-trial motions, and the trial itself, required substantial attorney time and fees, as well as expenses for travel, expert witnesses, consultants and exhibit preparation. The Coronavirus shutdowns and restrictions have caused additional delays in the system. Participants and their attorneys have become increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of their cases and the logistical challenges of conducting trials in the Covid-era.
Mediation as a Proven, Sensible Alternative. All of these factors have contributed to the rapid growth of mediation, and now, virtual mediation, as a prompt and efficient way to resolve cases. Mediation is an informal process for discussing and settling cases with the help of a neutral professional known as a mediator. Judges often refer cases to mediation. Other times, attorneys and parties select mediation on their own. Mediation has been around since Ancient Greece but has gained popularity in the United States in the last 20-30 years. Depending on the state and the type of case, the settlement rate for mediated cases has ranged between 50-85% and cases are normally resolved in one day-- for a fraction of the cost of a trial. Participants like that the outcome of a mediated case is determined by the parties themselves, the proceedings are cloaked in confidentiality, and, when settled, cases are rarely eligible for appeal.
The Strong Case for Virtual Mediation. The heavy Covid-induced utilization of Zoom, Go-to-Meeting, Microsoft Teams, and dozens of other web-based meeting platforms has transformed the mediation process. Now, mediators throughout the country are holding virtual mediations where the mediator, the parties and their attorneys meet together virtually, from the comfort of their own homes and offices, and negotiate their cases. Much to the surprise of mediators, attorneys and parties, virtual mediation has proven to be as successful as in-person mediation. And, virtual mediation works for all types of cases, from personal injury and employment cases to complex multi-party contract and construction cases. “I have hosted over 100 Zoom mediations since March and do not believe the outcome of any of them was adversely affected by the video conferencing format,” reports Mike Smith, a 28 year full-time mediator from Pensacola, Florida. “The mediation process works almost as well in a Zoom conference as it does when we all get together in person.” Some mediators report that virtual mediation cases are being settled in shorter, highly-efficient sessions with parties saving thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees, mediator fees, and travel and expenses.
A Bright Future for Virtual Mediations. Virtual mediation has proven to be so successful that many participants are now predicting that the virtual mediation process will continue to be heavily utilized by attorneys and their clients even after Covid-19 subsides and things return to “normal.” Virtual mediation has proven to be an effective, efficient and successful way to bring civil cases to resolution. Cases are literally Zooming through the system.
Mike Perkins is an Alabama-registered and Florida Circuit Civil Certified Mediator who conducts in-person and virtual mediations throughout the United States. Contact Mike at 833/PERKADR or firstname.lastname@example.org.