Hard Knocks: Lessons Learned from the Trenches of Zoom Mediation

Zoom Mediations Oehler Mediations Harold Oehler Mediator

Hard Knocks is a television documentary about the tough lessons learned in NFL training camp. As Zoom mediations have become more prevalent, significant lessons have been learned which provide a winning game plan when using this technology.   

Success on the football field requires coordination of offense, defense and special teams.  Similarly, a successful Zoom mediation requires coordination of counsel, the client and the mediator. Counsel must ensure that the client has the equipment and know-how to effectively participate. If the client attends from a separate location, a computer with an Ethernet, hardwire connection provides a better viewing experience, and a more stable connection, than a cell phone. If Wi-Fi is utilized, limit other Wi-Fi use on the network to avoid compromising bandwidth.

Just as a football team holds a pre-game walk-through, if your client is new to Zoom, schedule a pre-mediation Zoom call with the mediator to familiarize your client with the technology. Educate the mediator about the issues and review the Zoom settings to be used.  For security purposes, the mediator should enable the “Waiting Room” feature, disable the “Join Before Host” setting and provide a password with the invitation. The mediator should also disable the recording function and activate the “Screen Sharing” feature so the parties may share documents.

A football team’s playbook is an essential part of pregame preparation. Likewise, the mediation summary is an essential tool to educate the mediator. Counsel should scan all important documents into a separate file in pdf format for easy screen sharing. Notifications on counsel’s computer should be disabled during the mediation to avoid pop ups while screen sharing. Preparing a draft settlement agreement in advance will expedite documentation of the agreement. Settlement documents may be executed without charge on Docusign’s platform at https://www.docusign.com/esignature/sign-documents-free/   

The NFL strictly regulates uniforms to promote a professional appearance. Similarly, both counsel and client should dress for a Zoom mediation as they would for court. There is a cathartic effect during mediation when a party vents their frustration to someone in authority on the opposing side who respectfully listens to their story. This can often satisfy a party’s need to have their “day in court.” Dressing respectfully helps build trust and creates an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation.

Position the camera at eye level and sit close enough to it to create minimal headroom on the screen. A “ring light” or natural light facing the speaker is far better than an overhead light. Be aware that light coming from behind the speaker creates a silhouette. A desk top microphone or lavalier mike is preferable to a headset which can be distracting. Use a plain or tastefully decorated wall as your background.    

The mediator should instruct the parties not to record the mediation or allow anyone to listen off camera. The parties should be advised that the court may issue sanctions for breaching confidentiality. Exchange phone numbers with the mediator so the mediation may continue if a connection is lost. Since rapport is harder to establish on Zoom, it is especially important to present opening statements respectfully.

Following this game plan will result in a more secure and effective Zoom mediation that will maximize your chances for success.

Harold Oehler


Harold Oehler is a full-time, state and federal court mediator with over 30 years of experience representing clients in employment, personal injury, product liability, insurance and commercial litigation claims.    He is the Chair of the Mediation and Arbitration Section of the Hillsborough County Bar Association. He serves on the Executive Council of the Florida Bar's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section.   Harold is a former trial lawyer and general counsel of a national public company where he oversaw all litigation, attended all mediations and negotiated the company’s agreements, nation-wide. For more information, visit www.oehlermediation.com

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