Now is the time for family mediators to embrace new technology

Featured

We are living in unprecedented times as the coronavirus affects individuals, businesses and schools with a huge impact. As the government increases restrictions of social gatherings and movements to try and contain the virus, we know that this poses many challenges for mediation services and individual mediators. Deciding how to meet with clients and tracking all aspects of the cases are both real issues.

Now is the time more than ever before to embrace technology to assist, which will also have an impact on the long-term. Technology which has been rapidly evolving for a number of years and is ready to support this transition.

Video conferencing

Mediation has been an area that has been reluctant to embrace online mediation, because of the sensitive nature of family separation. However video conferencing can provide many benefits with cost and time savings compared to room bookings, for both MIAM and mediations. Software packages such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, along with FaceTime which some clients may be more familiar with. We’ve spoken with a number of services over the past few week that are already moving appointments to online with immediate effect.

Case management

We’ve been working with family mediation services since 2012, and we are here to support services through the challenges in the wake of the coronavirus.

Progress Mediation, is case management software designed to run online, whether you have a Windows or Apple Mac computer. All you will need is a browser with Microsoft Word, without needing to install extra software. Progress Mediation can help you through the mediation stages, without the need for a physical file. This makes it the perfect tool to run from home or an outreach location.

With the government imposing restrictions on everyday lives, this will put additional stress and strain on relationships, and when things return to normal people will need help. Now is the time to plan to make changes to meet the needs.

We regularly add new features in the case management software, and our clients are convinced Progress Mediation supports family mediation to make case management quicker and easier. Introducing standard templates and dynamic documents (for creating MoU’s) will have a significant impact in streamlining case management, saving time and money.

We’re here to help, so email or call us to talk about how we together support families around the UK.

LAA family mediation update : Reasons for Means7 Signature format

Following a meeting between the Family Mediation Council (FMC) and the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) on Friday of last week, the FMC yesterday released an update on the meeting.

In an effort to help mediation services support clients with legal aid cases, the Legal Aid Agency has published guidance covering the issue of obtaining signatures. They have confirmed that electronic signatures is now valid.

In the event that an electronic signature could not be obtained an email from the client showing the following is satisfactory:
a. an intent to take up the offer of legally aided family mediation (not just the expectation),
b. plus the client’s name with the intention that it is considered to be a signature, which should be contained in the body of the email. They have stated that ‘Whatever route to obtain the signature is obtained, the reason for this should be recorded on the case file.’

To support the new guidance, we’ve issued a live update in the Intake Stage of Progress Mediation.

This is one of the many benefits of using a hosted system, we’re able to provide quick updates as new guidance or changes are introduced, without the need for you to download and install software patches.

For more information on how Progress Mediation can help with case management, including support for the bulk monthly online submission to the LAA, please get in touch.

Headset recommendations

Along with a camera, using video conferencing software requires a microphone and speaker or headphones. Most laptops come with one or more microphones built in, along with speakers. However, some older laptops or desktop computers may be be fitted with these.

Regardless of whether you have speakers or microphones built into your computer, having a headset is helpful to ensure you can hear other people on the conference call.

Logitech H340

H340 USB Computer Headset 5

This connects using the USB connection on your computer, allowing both the speaker and microphone to operate.

Logitech 960

A cheaper option is the Logitech 960 , which is a light weight version, providing noise cancelling functionality, to reduce external noise that may be in the room.

960 USB Headset

Both these options are in great demand, and Logitech’s online store along with Amazon are currently showing these items are temporarily unavailable.

Online mediation – camera recommendation

If you’re a mediator just stepping out of the boat onto the water, wondering how to begin with online mediation, one of the first places to start is making sure you have the right equipment. It’s a bit like when you start a new hobby like running, and need to go down the shops (or Amazon if you’re in lockdown…) to buy the new running shoes, tops and shorts.

Yesterday we looked at the right platform to use – today, we turn to the visual aspects – the video camera.

There are plenty of choice on the market, including dedicated video conferencing bars, such as the Poly Studio X30, currently retailing for £1999.

For those who don’t use it for long periods of time, there are cheaper solutions. We recently tested the Logitech C930-E for a business which needed to occasionally make calls using Skype. This retails at £75 and for the money is incredibly good value.

It supports full HD 1080p/30fps Light Correction, Autofocus, 4X Zoom, Privacy Shade, Works with Skype Business, WebEx, Lync, Cisco, for PC/Mac/Laptop/Macbook/Chrome book. However we notice at the time of writing the blog that it’s currently out of stock at Amazon. Clearly a good choice!

The device was very straight forward to setup (plug ‘n’ play) and when linked to Skype even tracked face movement as we moved about in front of the camera.

All in all our rating was 9/10 for the camera, providing good value and excellent picture quality.

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at another aspect, the audio.

Video conferencing software – navigating through the maze

Making the transition to regular video conference from face to face meetings is a technology blockage for some, which is understandable after dropped Skype connection experiences in the past!

Technology has moved on in leaps and bounds, and the video conference platform is more robust compared with even a couple of years ago. However, it still provides moments of intense frustration, and even yesterday morning during two video conference Skype calls, the connection was lost a couple of times, then screen sharing dropped out when trying to move between two screens.

There are currently a number of well established video conference platforms – Skype, Skype for Business, Webex from Cisco, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Goto Meetings along with the more mobile device specific such as Facetime and Google Hangouts or Duo.

Having had long debates with Stephen Anderson (an established mediator who lives and works in Ipswich, who loves experimenting with new technology!) over the years, Zoom always seems to have the more edge when it comes to positive reviews. When we’ve used it in the past, never in anger it has to be said, the call connection has never been interrupted or lost.

Connectivity will depend on the quality of your internet connection, which we would recommend is not a 4G hotspot linked from your phone.

Zoom meetings free offer :-

  • free personal meetings for up to 100 participants
  • Unlimited 1 to 1 meetings
  • 40 minutes on group meetings of 3 or more participants
  • Simultaneous screen sharing
  • Secure AES 256 bit encryption

Getting your clients onboard will always be the next challenge, but if you’ve been able to get the platform up and running, then it’s easier to convince your clients to watch a demo then give it a try. Moving to more than two clients will requires upgrading to the Pro version at £11.99 pcm, and the limit of call duration is increased from 40 mins to 24 hours – that’s probably more than adequate for any seasoned mediator!

With all the issues of self isolation in the UK and many other places around the world, it offers a unique opportunity at a time where face to face meetings are not possible, now is the time to give video conferencing a go.

New LAA 2018 mediation contracts support postal & remote applications

From 1st September it became a requirement to record Postal Application information for both client and partners for family mediation legal aid cases. These are then required to be submitted to the Legal Aid Agency as part of your monthly submissions.

Standard Civil Contract 2018 specification

As part of the new 2018 contracts, the LAA have released a new contract specification which outlines the mediation service operating requirements. Section 3.15 titled ‘Acceptance of Applications other than in person’, details that :

“an application for Controlled Work may be accepted via post, fax, email or other such method of communication as we may agree from time to time where the Client requests that the application is made in this way and it is not necessary for the interests of the Client or his or her case to attend you in person.”

It’s worth noting that section 3.17 it details that 

“the number of Matters where your Client does not attend you in person either because you accept an application under Paragraph 3.15 or provide telephone or email advice under Paragraph 3.18, must not exceed 25% of your total Matters opened in any Schedule period.”

LAA support for remote communication

As part of the new 2018 contracts, the LAA also for the first time supports providing

“… advice to a Client over the telephone, by email or via other means of remote communication before that Client has signed the Application Form”

This is a huge step forward for the LAA acknowledging the use of Skype and other forms of ‘remote communication’ within the mediation process. Section 3.19 also states that

“The Client does not have to attend your Office to sign the Application Form after having been given advice in the manner set out in Paragraph 3.18. You may send the Application Form to your Client, after you have given the advice, for signature and return, subject to Paragraph 3.15.”

Support for postal application at the intake stage

Progress Mediation provides support for tracking postal applications simplifying the process of case management for family mediation and 6 other forms of mediation using Progress Mediation 4 All.

For more information please visit our main website.

LAA – New keycard 54 valid from 9th April 2018

The LAA keycard is intended as a quick reference point for making financial determinations for those forms of civil legal services for which the provider has responsibility for Legal Help, Help at Court, Family Help (lower), Help with Family Mediation and Family Mediation.

The main eligibility limits from 9th April 2018 are as follows:

The revised fixed rate allowances (per month) from 9th April 2018 are as follows:

More details on the updates can be found on the LAA website in the Keycard 54 general information document.

Progress Mediation services can edit the allowances in System Settings > More settings > Progress settings

 

Update to LAA CWA bulkload spreadsheet

This week the Legal Aid Agency has issued a revised update for the bulkload spreadsheet used for online submissions for the Controlled Work and Administration system (CWA) used for claiming family mediation legal aid work.

The latest version of the spreadsheet (v1.22) is required for all future manual claim submissions via the online CWA system. You can find the latest information about the release on the LAA website or just download the file from the LAA website here.

There are alternatives to uploading your monthly bulkload spreadsheet to the CWA system. Progress Mediation provides a simplified process of capturing all your case information during the month, then generating the special file to upload to the CWA system, simplifying the submission process. If you would like more information, why not get in touch via our contact page.

First published : Feb 23rd 2018

Legal Aid family mediation – new contracts starting September 2018

On 20th January 2017 the government published information on intentions for civil legal aid contracts from April 2018, stating that further information on the future of family mediation services would follow. Many took this as a warning sign for the future of legal aid for family mediation.

On Monday the government published new information detailing intentions for family mediation legal aid contracts from April 2018. This details the delivery of new family mediation services under the new 2018 Standard Civil Contract (“Contract”) to commence from 1 April 2018. The statement includes:

“The government remains committed to family mediation as a key route to helping family disputes avoid court proceedings. We will therefore not make significant changes to how family mediation services are delivered under current contracts.”

Clearly a good sign for existing family mediation services with legal aid contracts, and those wishing to start new contracts.

One of the major changes is the removal of the requirement for the Mediation Quality Mark,  instead

“…the Contract will require mediators and mediation organisations meet the standards set out by the Family Mediation Council (FMC) and the Family Mediation Standards Board.”

The information proposed a timetable for services applying for the new contracts, commencing with the new SQ stage opening in April 2017.

However, as a result of Brexit, the timetable for the process was modified and in August a revised timetable was published. This included the following sections –

  • Selection Questionnaire (SQ)
  • Invitation to Tender (ITT)
  • Verification process

The revised timetable is shown below:

There is only a week to go before the end of the tendering process, which closes on Friday10th November at 5pm.

Full details of the contract tendering process can be found on the Civil 2018 Contracts Tender page.

Progress Mediation has been helping support mediation services comply with their legal aid contracts for over five years. If your family mediation service is considering applying for a legal contract, we’re here to help. Our mobile software was launched in January 2016 to help keep you in touch with your workload whilst on the move.

The Legal Aid Agency has removed the limits on the number of mediation matters that services can start a contract with. Therefore family mediation services will not be required to bid for a specific volume of work – ensuring smaller services can still bid for contracts. This matches our ethos of growing with you as your service grows. You can pick the functionality from our modules and number of users that suits you.

If you’re still considering whether a Legal Aid Contract is for you, or whether the paperwork is manageable, why not get in touch.

LAA portal update – new login credentials

The online LAA Portal is the single sign on tool for accessing CCMS, CWA, Eforms and CCLF systems. The Portal is being upgraded to:

  • Increase stability
  • Speed up log in times
  • Create a more user-friendly password reset process
  • Provide status bars for all applications and give live information on any issues affecting performance

The upgrade will require an IT outage to the Portal and all the applications accessed through it. We have looked to do this during an off-peak period in order to cause minimal disruption.

A large number of users have now been migrated to the upgraded Portal, with remaining users scheduled to be migrated in September. You will need to access the new Portal from today (11 September 2017) for CCMS, CWA, CCLF EMI and Eforms via the upgraded portal.