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News & Conversation > On-line Mediation - Can it do more harm than good?
On-line Mediation - Can it do more harm than good?

I just don’t see why mediators should be so interested in pushing mediation on-line. It is certainly more convenient for the mediator; but I just don’t think that it will drive many more people to mediation. To the contrary, I think mediating on-line may even drive people away by reducing the perceived value of the service. Here is my thinking.

Mediation is already the lowest cost, most convenient process to try to resolve disputes. A lawsuit costs between $40,000 to 120,000 in attorney fees and can take several years to complete. Mediation, on the other hand, can be completed in a matter of hours at a cost savings of 90% or more. If people were so driven by cost and convenience they should already be beating a path to the doorsteps of mediators, but they're not. There must be something much more important to people that they don’t currently believe they can get from mediation. What is the missing ingredient? Let's start with lack of understanding. Most lay people don't even understand what value a mediator really adds to help resolve their case. People will not be interested to mediate until they understand it better and believe that mediation can really resolve their problem instead of just wasting more of their valuable time and money.

This brings me to examine the wisdom of trying to call-in mediations using telephone and video conferences. Would you hire a lawyer or trust a doctor you didn’t meet who offered to simply called in their services? Would you pay as much for phone call or video conference with a professional as you would pay for a live session?

One of the most important services mediators offer is to manage and promote clear communications. Research consistently reports that up to 93% of communications is non-verbal, including facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc. Do you really think mediators can detect and accurately comprehend even half of what’s been communicated among several people relying solely on a phone call or video conference? That’s a very tough sell….

In my opinion we are going in the wrong direction. Mediators and the mediation process thrive on more live interaction with the parties, not less. People will use mediation if they themselves and their friends, family and colleagues experience it live, up close and personal and see for themselves that it works.

There is a lot of confusion between ODR, (on-line dispute resolution) and online mediation. Technology will need to play a much larger role to provide access to justice for the exploding growth of small claims arising from on-line purchases. However, mediators historically play a very limited role in such small claims. There is no reason to believe that ODR will change that. It is just not cost effective or practical to add mediators into this resolution process.

In my opinion, there are a lot greater opportunities to expand the use of mediation than trying to do it online and I fear that trying to sell and perform it as on online process will do more harm than good.

Written by Thomas Meyer, Attorney, Arbitrator & Mediator, and Loan & Real Estate Workouts & Restructuring Expert.

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