This interview by Hilary Linton, a Toronto family lawyer, mediator, arbitrator and trainer at Riverdale Mediation Ltd, and a Director at the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (FDRIO), was done for publication in the FDRIO November 2019 newsletter. Jim will be speaking at the FDRIO annual conference November 18, 2019 in Toronto. For full conference details click here. To sign up for the free monthly FDRIO newsletter click here.
Jim Melamed began mediating in 1983 and was the first President and Executive Director of the Oregon Mediation Association (1985). After this, Jim served for 6 years as Executive Director of the Academy of Family Mediators (1987-93) and then co-founded Mediate.com with John Helie in 1995. Jim has been CEO of Mediate.com ever since.
How did you get started in mediation?
I took an ADR survey course in law school (mostly arbitration) in 1980 and then did law school independent study of Oregon’s new Conciliation Courts system and environmental mediation in the Northwest. After law school, I practiced in a small Eugene, OR firm for a year and a half and then hung my shingle out as a mediator in private practice in 1983.
How has technology been associated with the growth of mediation?
I did my first 3 mediations on a typewriter and had a near coronary each time clients wanted to make substantial changes to their agreement. It was then, in 1983, that I got my first dedicated word processor (before WordPerfect and Word) and it changed my life. I could now comfortably offer endless edits and refinements, insert optional arrangements, use bold, italics, strike-through, underline, you name it! And that green monochrome screen was to die for! I am thoroughly convinced that word processing was essential to the rapid growth of the mediation profession during the 80’s and 90’s.
Technology was also huge for mediation organizations! I remember my first AFM Conference in New York where the program was done on “mimeo” paper. It was a big deal for mediation organizations when desk top publishing came along and suddenly we could turn out nice looking newsletters, conference brochures, and membership materials.
In 1987, after being hired by the Academy of Family Mediators as their Executive Director, I was being driven nuts by endless individual board member phone calls and pink message. I could tell that ringing phones, missed calls and “phone tag” were going to kill me in short order, that is until I met John Helie at the NCPCR (North American Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution) in Montreal in March of 1988. John had just started ConflictNet, a new email and bulletin board service back in the day of Compuserve and Prodigy (8 years before the dot com Internet). John showed me how board members could send messages to both me and to others, and reply to me and to others, and that we could also have a bulletin-board archive for all future “late joiners” to get caught up on discussions. I was sold and showed up at our next board meeting with 13 modems and a strongly suggested board protocol to check their email and the bulletin board at least once a day. Overnight, my life changed. No more individual phone calls and message slips. Silence and peace were restored to the kingdom.
Over the years, it has become clear that growing mediation is ultimately about sharing information and educating. The Internet has allowed us to do this “to scale.” We now, remarkably, have access to billions of digital devices worldwide. We just need to get better and better at conveying attention grabbing and valuable information about the value of mediation. When the leading options are lack of resolution or litigation, we compare favorably! We are the only process that purposefully seeks “most capable resolutions,” not just barely sufficient ones. We have a lot going for us. And now, with online mediation, I see a huge additional viable option for offering mediation services more broadly.
Tell us more about Mediate.com
John Helie and I founded Mediate.com in 1995 believing 3 things: 1) even though only 3% currently had email, every mediator would soon need email; 2) new graphical interfaces called websites would be particularly attractive to mediators given qualification disclosure and transparency requirements and the benefit of being able to make valuable information available 365/24/7 as an information storefront; and that mediators would want to be found in new directory services called “search engines.” Over 25 years, we have now assisted literally thousands of mediators and mediation organizations to get online and being found.
One of the neat things about the Internet is that, overtime, it tends to reward valuable and relevant content and earned reputation. Because we got started early and have applied a steady “shoulder” (keystrokes) to the content digital “wheel,” we have been able to build Mediate’s traffic (eyeballs) overtime to be the leading mediation and dispute resolution site in the world. You can see data on this here.
Mediate now has over 15,000 articles and blog postings, over 5,000 news items, and over 500 posted videos. We are also proud to offer “This Week in Mediation” at www.mediate.com/Newsletter (free). We are about to post Edition #803.
With all this traffic, Mediate.com does rather well in search engines, especially Google. Mediate is thus also able to assist mediators listed on our site to get business both by being in our professional directories (www.mediate.com/Membership) and by our area code based “Featured Mediator Placement,” where we make a limited number of mediators “super-visible” in their home market. In addition to the Mediate directory, we also offer Arbitrate.com, CollabLaw.com, OnlineMediators.com and 5 additional professional directories. Being in our directories is great for mediator website “SEO” (search engine optimization).
Of late, Mediate has been expanding both geographically and into the world of online mediation. Over the past year, we have established both MediateCanada! and MediateIndia! in addition to our Main (US) Edition. We are also rather vigorously moving into the world of online mediation with our establishment of OnlineMediators.com, including our new Online Mediator Certification program. We have also now dramatically expanded our “Mediate University” online mediation courses and continuing education offerings.
Wow, that is a lot! Final question, what’s next?
Every case is now an online case. Mediation participants learn about mediation online, they search and review mediators online, contact mediators, schedule, submit documents and forms, and now jointly edit developed agreements which they sign online. The average mediation is thus now a “choreography of communications,” potentially utilizing all modalities of communication: text, image, audio, video, online and face to face, synchronous and asynchronous. So, our short term challenge is to continue assisting mediators and mediation organizations in thinking about how to optimize their own technologic and human mediation assistance to provide a best overall experience and set of results.
This is where www.CaseloadManager.com comes in. We are now able to assist mediators and programs with substantial caseloads to optimize their case management, digital communications, scheduling, reporting, billing, and more, at the “macro” level. Thus, in addition to helping individual mediators with their individual professional technologies, we are also supporting the mediation and ombuds fields to grow and deliver services with state of the art infrastructure cloud-based software. We are proud to currently have 5 U.S. statewide systems in place, as well as Caseload Manager systems for ICANN, the IMF (2), the International Red Cross and NASA. Over 150 Caseload Manager systems have been deployed.
And then, finally, in addition to assisting mediators and dispute resolution professionals to incrementally take advantage of online opportunities, and in addition to our Caseload Manager “macro” system and Mediate University, I would be remiss to fail to note that we have, in fact, now found “the holy grail.” The holy grail for those of us in the world of “online mediation” has always been: ‘How close to real can we make an online meeting?” For a long time, because we did not have a quality answer, we have “suffered” by an over-reliance on “tapping out” endless text communications. No more!
The consensus (observed by yours truly) both online and in mediating online trainings, is that Zoom (especially), plus Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting and more “rich media” platforms now allow for a quality online “rich media” mediation experience. Suggestion of the day: Try Zoom. You can get a license for $15 USD/mo. and it is remarkably capable, including the ability to have private caucus rooms and to record. In sum, through our current set of rich media video platforms, WE NOW, REMARKABLY, HAVE A POTENTIAL SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPENSIVE AND COSTLY IN OFFICE MEDIATION. Scary, I know! I find this mindboggling, yet I offer the very real possibility that there will be more mediation taking place online than face-to-face within a decade. Crazy, I know!
In this regard, I offer that the online mediating environment is a bit different. For example, “you are a click away from disengagement.” This tends to keep a mediator humble and also, I suggest, skew toward more individual “shuttle” caucus discussions online, as opposed, perhaps, to a bias toward joint meetings when physically together. I also offer that meetings tend to be quite a bit shorter and perhaps more frequent.
Intriguing to me is the fact that “people are still people” online and we generally have the same psychological and communication challenges online as when working face-to-face. Most notable to me is the issue of establishing a “rapport relationship” online. I think we are just at the beginning in this regard, but do offer one possible step in the right direction, which is to record a few one or two minute videos introducing yourself and answering what you see as the key issues in selecting mediation and selecting you as a mediator. If you will do this, and elegantly and strategically place these short videos on your website, there is a good chance that those people that do follow-through and contact you are attracted to the person you seem to be in your videos, and most likely are, all possibly while you are napping and before you have tapped out a single keystroke or answered a single phone call.
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