Supporting online mediation

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and consequent lockdown of the UK, the Legal Aid Agency has responded quickly to support online mediation to safeguard family mediators.

Zoom has emerged as the most reliable form of online meeting collaboration, and as a result, the calendar system of Progress Mediation has been updated to support the entry of additional fields defining online meeting information.

Along with calendar view, the email reminder service and template fieldcodes have been modified to support the additional fields.

Calendar appointment fields

Three additional fields are available for entering the meeting URL, meeting ID, and password and these are stored in the database along with the date and time. The meeting location is associated with the location of the case – which will need to be set for online mediation in the Willingness Stage.

Auto email calendar reminders

Once enabled, calendar appointments are automatically sent out via the integrated email system to clients, where email addresses have been entered in the client / partner settings for a case.

New appointments are sent out at 20:10 the evening of the day on which they are created. If these are then update, then a reminder of the updated information will be sent out at 20:10 the evening of the day the appointment is updated.

The day before the appointment, another email reminder is sent out at 12:05 the day before the appointment – if there is enough of a notice period after the appointment has been created.

An Internet Calendar Sharing (ICS) file is automatically attached to the email, which can be added to the client’s calendar on receipt of the email to act as an additional reminder.

A new case activity is automatically created to show that an email reminder has been sent out to the client / partner.

Template fieldcodes

In the same way that fieldcodes can be used to insert case details into templates for letters or emails, these can be used to insert the details of online appointment for sending out to the client.

Three fieldcodes enable the online meeting information to be inserted into letter / email reminders.

Progress Mediation has been especially designed to help with case management for mediation. For more information about how we can help to support families through the difficult times later this year, please get in touch.

LAA Audit Update : MIAM type – the choice is not yours…

In the past couple of days we’ve had feedback from a family mediation service, using Progress Mediation, that received a very comprehensive LAA audit. One of the areas highlighted was the MIAM assessment types (alone or separate) assigned to a case is now being closely inspected.

Previous conversations with Terry Davis (when the LAA was the LSC) when asked for clarification, had stated that setting the assessment type for a case where only one of the parties is assessed, it could be marked as separate, simplifying the process if the partner decides at a later stage to attend an assessment. It now appears that auditors are looking more closely at these situations and expecting the assessment type to be set as ‘alone’.

This does however cause potential issues if the partner attends assessment to ensure that the assessment type for the case is modified accordingly.

We’re currently updating Progress Mediation to generate a warning when the partner attends assessment, for the user to update the case assessment type.

For more information about how case management can ease the pressures of case management, why not visit our homepage.

Update 31/07/17

On Friday we issued a live software update which checks the mediation type, displaying a warning if the mediation date/s don’t align with the mediation type defined:

However if the mediator knows that the partner will be attending in the next few days, they’re able to override the mediation type.

Update 05/09/17

This area will be officially clarified by the LAA when the guidance is next issued. In the meantime :

‘Alone’ should be used where only the client has agreed (and not the partner/s) to mediation, and attends a MIAM.

 

Templates – key to mediator efficiency

Five years ago when we were first developing Progress Mediation with family mediators, we soon realised that speeding up the administration of letters / emails to clients was key. We came up with the concept of ‘field codes’ which could be inserted into letter templates. These would pull in case information into the letter to make it personalised and informative.

Things have moved on considerably since then, gathering more and more case information into Progress Mediation, and making these fields accessible for letters. As a result, the number of fields has grown. In addition, the introduction of Progress Mediation for 4 All, which uses a different set of field codes for six other types of mediation has led to a growth of new features.

Recently we’ve been thinking about how to make the process of creating these letter / email templates quicker and easier, providing access to the growing list of field codes. We came up with the idea of a tool which sits alongside Word. This would collect a list of the latest fieldcodes, which can be inserted into letters or emails created in Word.

The Progress Mediation Fieldcoder does just this.

We’ve developed a live online database which the Fieldcoder accesses, pulling in the current set of fields used within Progress Mediation. It also groups them in categories and also provides a description of their use. As new field code functionality goes live in Progress Mediation, the live database can also be updated to make the new codes available for templates.

Simply click on the required field code, and it’s automatically added to the clipboard. This is inserted into the template in Word using <CTL> + V.

The days of writing generic letters are over – field codes make it possible to construct complex documents without having to manually edit them to insert case specific information.

Once you’ve created your templates with field codes, we move to the next stage of converting them into XML documents used by Progress Mediation. Which brings us to another innovation – Progress Mediation Template Builder. More information in our next blog…

Update October 2017

The issue with the fieldcoder tool became evident after announcing full support for running Progress Mediation on the Apple Mac – it was only capable of running on Microsoft Windows…

We’ve therefore moved the functionality to a new website version, which can also run alongside Microsoft Word when creating new letter or email templates. Simply select one of the categories or use quick search to locate a keyword which describes the feature you want. Click on the Copy fieldcode button will then place the code onto your clipboard for pasting into your template.

 

Government announces new family mediation contracts starting April 2018

On 20th January 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 proposes a timetable for services applying for the new contracts, commencing with the new SQ stage opening in April 2017.

The timetable consists of three main stages prior to issuing of contracts:

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

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 limits on the number of mediation matters that services can start a contract with, have been removed. 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.

LAA mediation schedule reference changes

laa-logoSince it’s launch in April 2015, the CWA online submission system has used a fixed schedule reference to denote an individual mediation service and submission period. For mediation this reference is constructed using the following format:

Office account number/MEDIyyyy/nn

where yyyy = the year of the contract (i.e. 2010), nn = the year of the schedule

Typically ‘nn’ should have changed for April online submissions in 2015 to reflect the new financial year. However, the LAA decided since the system had been launched in the previous month, that ‘/14’ should continue to be used.

From 1st April 2016, the schedule reference will be changing to ‘/15’. This will be required for all online submissions, and information submitted with an incorrect schedule reference number will be rejected. Therefore the April online return (submitted between 1-20 May) will need to comply with the new format.

For family mediation services using Progress Mediation, the schedule reference number will automatically be adjusted to the new financial year.

Last updated : 14th April 2016

LAA Online Submissions – Mystery Solved

digital-clockDuring one of the workshops at the FMA conference, an issue was highlighted with the LAA monthly online submission system. A mediation service had been unable to submit monthly returns after it had apparently ‘locked up’ whilst uploading the month’s data. The service had been informed that an invalid character had been included After a number of weeks without resolution, the director of the mediation service had reached a brick wall.

Having been closed involved with implementation the LAA CWA portal for mediation, we offered assistance to track the invalid character in the submitted data. This led onto conversations with our contact at the LAA to investigate further.

date-formatThe mediation service submit their returns via the CWA portal, using the LAA spreadsheet calculator to create the return. They had generated their return in Excel as normally, then uploaded to the CWA system. The day before, the computer used for monthly returns had been upgraded to Windows 10. During the upgrade, the date format had defaulted to U.S. rather than the U.K. As a result, the case start date, client DOB and assessments reverted to U.S. date format.

Our contact at the LAA Software Vendors group was able to provide insight into the issue and the outcome to prevent this scenario happening again. When the Excel file was uploaded to the CWA it had resulted in the database ‘locking up’ the database for the mediation service, preventing any records being edited or deleted. A software fix for the CWA portal was required to resolve the issue, resulting in it being taken offline for a weekend.

Clearly updating any computer software can have significant knock on effects. In this case, it prevented the service being able to submit returns and resulted in a huge amount of lost time and stress for the mediation service. We strongly advise planning before upgrading business computers, especially for those used for key functions within a business such as business accounts.

The LAA supports three methods for submitting monthly returns:

  1. Manual case entry – case by case via the portal
  2. LAA bulk upload spreadsheet – used in the above example
  3. XML bulk upload – generated by case management software

Case management systems which collect information about cases for the month, can generate the XML file required by the LAA. This performs additional checks on the data and ensure compliance with the format required by the LAA. It can greatly simplify the process of submitting monthly returns by gathering case details during the process, then generating the information in the required format for the LAA.

To find out how case management systems can help to streamline monthly online submissions, visit Progress Mediation.

Re-inventing how case emails are sent

pm_mergeemailOne of the most significant developments for Progress Mediation over the past couple of months has been rethinking how we send emails. We’ve completely re-written the code used for sending emails from our server, so rather then pretending to be from you, it now is…

Previously emails sent from mediation services from a case would be sent from our server pretending to be from a user’s email address. For the past couple of years this has been sufficient – however as email servers have become more sophisticated to try and prevent spam, it  started to affect emails being successfully delivered.

The new email module now connects directly with mediation service’s outgoing email server (referred to as the SMTP server), and send’s it. So rather than pretending to be sent from a mediator, it really is.

Re-writing the email module gave us the opportunity to add new features; we can now incorporate pictures and text colours in an automated signature to make them look professional. These images are also embedded in the email, ensuring corporate branding is always displayed when the email is opened. We now have a number of family mediation services that have moved to the new system and are excited about the significant time savings that this is already making. We’re passionate about helping mediation services manage their caseloads as efficiently as possible. Email is just one of the ways you can streamline case management and increase your workload efficiency.

We’re ready for the transition to LAA family mediation online returns

online sub6Last week, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) opened it’s doors for software vendors to provide test data to the new on-line submission system. The testing phase enables case management providers to validate the new style data format generated by their case management systems on the Contracted Work and Administration (CWA) system.

During the past couple of months we’ve been updating Progress Mediation to generate the new style bulk upload monthly return in XML format. Following trial submissions over the past couple of days, we received confirmation from the LAA this morning that our latest submission successfully validated on the system. The first software provider to supply a file validating 100% successfully for family mediation on the CWA system. We can therefore pleased to announce that Progress Mediation is fully compliant for new Legal Aid Agency requirements moving to online submissions.

In a news update today from the Legal Aid Agency, it was announced that online submissions have been delayed to provide additional time for testing, preventing potential delays in payments to services. The first submissions via Mediation Online will now be the March 2015 submissions (made in April) as opposed to the February 2015 submissions (made in March).

To read more about the move to LAA Online Submissions for family mediation, read our previous blog.

For more information on how Progress Mediation can help you in the transition to online submissions, please get in touch.

Legal Aid Mediation Submissions – changes are coming…

online sub6Over the past couple of years there have been a number of significant changes regarding legal aid for family mediation. It started with LASPO in April 2013, The Children and Families Bill on 22nd April 2014 and new 1st mediation session payments from 4th November. More changes are on on the horizon that will impact case administration of legal aid family mediation contracts – for some the implications will be significant.

For years the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and before it the Legal Services Commission (LSC) have discussed moving from paper to online submissions. Each time the project has been put on hold as a result of financial constraints – until now.

In the MoJ’s move towards ‘digital services’, financial resources have finally been allocated for mediation, and a project to define the finer details for online submissions is under way. A working group has been set up including representatives from the LAA and software vendors. This will ensure changes will be supported by case management systems.

As with the existing legal help and crime systems, mediation services will be able to submit the monthly return information via Contracted Work and Administration (CWA) using one of three methods:

  • Entering each case line by line using the online portal
  • Bulk upload of data formatted into specialist spreadsheet
  • Bulk upload of data formatted in XML format directly from case management system

Clearly moving from a paper based system to a digital one will have huge benefits for the LAA in the reduced time, cost and accuracy. From the mediation service perspective, this will take additional time to format the information for uploading. However, there will be advantages of reduced inputt errors, quicker response times (and payments?) from the LAA.

The new on-line system is due to come into operation to align with new mediation contracts commencing on the 1st February. February’s return will need to be submitted on-line between 1st-10th March using one of the three methods mentioned above. We are advising family mediation services that currently hold a mediation contract to carefully consider their monthly submissions and evaluate whether:-

1) current case management software will be able to generate the information in the required format

2) how to create the new date format using existing in-house processes / systems

Over the next three months whilst the project is gaining momentum, our blog will be updated with specific details as the new format is finalised. Services with existing contracts can prepare to say a ‘fond’ farewell to the Consolidated Work and Work Start reports. Services starting new LAA contracts from 1st February can start from a clean sheet. Either way, devising systems to efficiently help track the flow of cases through mediation will be essential.

For more information about how case management systems can help track mediation cases, contact us or visit our website.

Update 22nd January 2015

Read more on the official MoJ News stories page published on the 22nd January. To raise any questions or concerns, email Reconciliation@legalaid.gsi.gov.uk.

Update 19th February 2015

The Legal Aid Agency have announced this morning that the online submissions has been delayed until the 1st April for March returns. This till enable more time for testing to ensure there will be no delays to the payment system for mediation services. Information to mediation services detailing the changes are expected shortly.

Update 31st March 2015

The Legal Aid Agency have today issued a blog ‘CWA updates to reporting changes‘, detailing Contracted work and administration (CWA) system changes and guidance in reporting civil legal help and crime lower work. The list of documents includes the Guide to mediation changes from March 2015. The guide will enable you to submit Mediation claims via the CWA, accessed through the Online Portal.

A inclusion of support for family mediation into CWA will now make it possible for mediation services with legal aid contracts to enter mediation submissions. The deadline for electronic submissions is the 10th of the month. For example, you must submit your March submission by 10th April.

Tendering for new LAA family mediation contract – can we help?

The new tendering process for LAA contracts for mediation is now open, with the deadline for submissions at 12pm on 31st October. The newly awarded contracts will commence 1st February 2015.

Many have seen the LAA contract for mediation as a non-viable option, with fixed fees for assessments and mediations, reduced income for larger number of mediation sessions and 1st mediation sessions, along with the extra administration requirements. Clearly there has been a drastic drop in solicitor referrals since LASPO. However there are many indications that referral rates have been increasing over the past couple of months, a noticeable difference pre LASPO, is that many of these are self referrals.

A number of services have been speaking to us regarding the technical issues of managing the complexities of a LAA mediation contract. The LAA requires a number of administrative processes to be in place before a contract is awarded, included documentation of office processes and procedures. These don’t include a dedicated case management system, however it can greatly help case tracking, form completion and the general administration of the contract. The draft LAA Standard Terms 2013 (published May 2012 and available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/standard-civil-contract-2010 ) specifies:

‘You must have an IT system which enables you to perform your obligations under this Contract. Your IT system must include the following as a minimum with the following features as a minimum’:

  • a system to identify all your Contract work files
  • a system to enable you to identify Client conflicts
  • a system for identifying relevant Matters and cases when acting for a Client in a number of Matters and/or cases
  • a system for accessing a list of all Matters and cases that are open and closed
  • a system which identifies key dates in respect of any Matter and/or case
  • a time recording system for all Matters and cases
  • a system for identifying an up to date record of the value of your work in progress on all Matters and cases
  • access to our website www.legalservices.gov.uk
  • access to your LAA Online Account
  • at least one operational email address

So how can we help? We’ve been supporting family mediation services who provide private and legal aid clients for three years. Our case management software is designed to simplify tracking cases, and our integrated forms assist with the LAA contract requirements.

The software links the mediation case with the forms and templates. LAA forms such as the C100, CW5, Consolidated work and Work start are integrated. These bring through the client information onto the forms to save time. Calculating the monthly returns can take a couple of days, manipulating the client information into the format required. The software makes this straight forward with the click of a button. In generating the LAA forms, we determine the cases which assessments or mediations are eligible for legal aid. Therefore simplifying the process of calculating the value of LAA work undertaken.

means7In addition to the forms, we’ve integrated the Means7 calculator into the software, helping to determine whether a client is eligible for legal aid. All the calculations are stored on a client by client basis, so that if some of the information is not available on the first visit, it can be completed onto the official Means7 form and printed at a later date without having to start again.

All documentation and activities linked to the cases are stored in one place, so that you can generate case activity and reports as needed to fulfil the necessary reporting and statistics.

If the LAA contract is something that you’ve contemplated but thought it too complicated, why not talk to us and see how the right IT system can make it easier.