Safety, Simplicity, and Clients—oh my!

I didn’t sign up to be an online mediator.

I signed up because I love connecting with clients, hearing their stories, and feeling like I have helped. We all have that moment where two people walk into a room hating each other, but after a couple of hours of mediating, the fairy dust appears as they forgive and begin to heal. It is that magical moment that draws me to mediation.

And then I wanted more. I wanted to spend more time with my kids and other parts of my job, and less time in the car. I wanted to work with clients that were spread across the country, or globe, and not have to deal with traveling. So, like many of us, I dipped my toe into Skype, Webex, GoToMeeting, MS Teams, and now Zoom.

I found that online we could still have that fairy dust magical moment in mediation if we had two things:

  • Simplicity
  • Safety

Here is what I’ve learned about these two requirements.

Simplicity

  • Your website. This is the first interaction your client has with you, so keep it clean and welcoming. A direct path from their landing page to scheduling a meeting with you. You should have multiple links taking clients to a contact or scheduling page.
  • The scheduling process needs to be simple, or a client will move on to someone else. I like calendly, simplybook.me, and cogsworth. WordPress also has some nice clanedar integration tools.
  • This might be a separate form on your website, or combined with your scheduling platform. Keep this form simple. Clients have not established enough rapport with you yet to be transparent about their concerns. What is the least amount of information you need to contact them? Name, email, phone, and perhaps a brief description of the issue.
  • Calendar invite: Again, keep this process as simple as possible. Have your calendar, Zoom, or your scheduling software send out an invite for you with the details. Just review the invite first (many of these are modifiable), to make sure it conveys the tone you are looking for. Make sure to include date, time, how to connect, and how to contact you if things go topsy-turvy.
  • Meeting: One click. That is the goal here—nice and simple. Clients are already upset—the last thing you want is to add to that frustration. Tell clients any important details beforehand: will the audio and video be on when they join? Will there be a waiting room? Will they be alone with you, will this be a joint meeting, will they be able to speak with you privately? You can answer many of these questions through an FAQ site on your website, and just send clients a link to that page.
  • Documents: This should also be a simple click. Before you sign up with a service, try going through it as a client. Is it obvious where to initial and sign, and are the clients able to save a copy of the file?

Safety

There are multiple pieces of the mediation process that have to be protected. You need to find an answer to all of them, but try to find a system that satisfies many of these steps. The more integrated of a system, the better, because when you are transferring your data from one system to another it is the most vulnerable to attack (Just like a prison transfer, right? I’ve obviously been watching too many action movies since I’ve been home.).

  • Scheduling
  • Intake: Are you asking them to share confidential information? Where is this information being stored? Is it on a company server—is that subpoenable? Is it being sent to you in an email? If possible, see if instead you can receive an alert that an intake has been filled out, instead of the details of the case and any pii (personally identifying information).
  • Calendar invite: Be careful when sending an invite not to send the details from your invite, especially if you are using a company server. This leaves a trail that can expose your client. This also can make the client feel that you aren’t taking their security seriously. Can someone from IT review these emails and see the details of the case? How do they know you haven’t bcc’d someone? Is there a copy of the sent email stored in your local drive?
  • Meeting: end-to-end encryption, disable chat and record, protection getting in the meeting
  • Case Management: multi-factor authentication, where is the data being stored, how long is the data kept on the back-up servers, what do you do if information is deleted, what is the requirement if the data is breached
  • Documents: If you need to send it as an attachment, password protect the file (can do this in Word, excel, adobe, etc.). If you need the clients to sign the document, how are you going to send it to them and have them send it back? Recommend using a secure service such as docusign, adobesign, etc.

Mediation is a noble profession. We are with people at their worst, and help them to become their best. As technology changes, it is our duty to ensure that we are still protecting our clients. We need to keep the process simple and streamlined for them and also let them know that we are safeguarding their most important thoughts. They should feel safe from their first interaction with us to the final signing of the document.

Again, this is not what I originally signed up to do. I signed up to help my clients. And to really help them? It is my responsibility to keep them safe.

                        author

Clare Fowler

Clare Fowler is Executive Vice-President and Managing Editor at Mediate.com.  Clare received her Master's of Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law and her Doctorate in Organizational Leadership, focused on reducing workplace conflicts, from Pepperdine University School of Education. Clare also coordinated… MORE >

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