6 Zoom standout features

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With online mediation overnight become the only way to hold mediations, some mediators have been forced for the first time, to take a leap into new territory… Online meeting software has been developing for years, but the software has developed matured into a very powerful and intuitive platform.

Zoom leaps ahead

Most of us have probably used Skype over the years and got frustrated with the lack of reliability of the platform, despite being taken over and given an overhaul by Microsoft. Zoom has quietly been gaining ground, and during the lockdown, many of us will have been using it for a virtual coffee or family quiz night (!) to communicate where it would otherwise have been impossible.

Zoom has integrated a number of features which just simply work, and for mediation are one of the keys to creating the healthy environment. Here are 6 reasons why we think you should move to zoom.

1) Simplicity of setting up meetings

Starting a new meeting is really easy – new meeting, which instantly starts the meeting and gives the option of sharing your screen, or schedule. For mediation appointments, you’ll need to use schedule, which then allows you to add the appointment to your favourite diary system:

You’ll notice that you can use a personal meeting id, so this would be the same for all meetings, not idea if you are scheduling lots of different meetings with different clients.

2) Ease of screensharing

Clearly sharing your screen so that clients can see an MOU, parenting plan, or financial information is an important feature. Zoom allows you to chose which of the current programs and view that you currently have open, that you want to share.

3) Waiting room facility

Replicates your office waiting room, placing one of your clients in the meeting room, and unable to hear your conversations with the other party. A number of mediators have said this is a fantastic feature which they have used in nearly all mediation meetings.

During the online meeting you can then select to put one of the participants into the waiting room when needed.

4) Host controlled screen sharing

As host of the meetings, you decide which screens can be shared, which prevents your clients from being able to share information without your permission. It is worth noting that once control has been passed to a client to share their screen, then would need to release it for you to take control. To ensure that they are only displaying what you want them to display, it is safer for you to ask them to send information to you, which you will then share at the appropriate time.

Zoom also provides advanced screen sharing options if required – we like the feature for displaying only a portion of a screen.

5) Extensive audio options

Whether you only have dedicated sounds from your laptop, or headset with micophone, Zoom enables you to mix and match the output and input requirements of your system as needed.

6) Directed chat

Sometimes it may be necessary to send a specific text message to one of the clients rather than using the audio. The direct chat enables you to send a text message direct to all clients or individual as necessary

Selecting the directed chat to a specific client

Conclusion

Having used a number of online meeting tools over the years, they certainly have come a long way. These 6) features make Zoom standout ahead of the pack for the purposes of mediation.

We’ve now integrated support for the three Zoom fields (meeting URL, meeting ID and password) into our case management software Progress Mediation, which are then sent out automatically via email to mediation clients, to make the process of creating online appointments more streamlined. If you want to find out more about integrating calendar reminders with Zoom meetings, please get in touch.

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 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.

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.

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.

Using family mediator URN on court and legal aid forms

A number of significant changes for the organisation and regulation of family mediators were introduced during 2015:

  1. A new standards framework with a single professional designation, Family Mediation Council Accredited (FMCA) Family Mediator
  2. Creation of the  Family Mediation Council’s independent standards and regulatory body (FMCB)
  3. Central register of all family mediators – regardless of membership organisation

Each of the changes above has started to have an impact on individual family mediators – including the introduction of a new registration fee… The changes are designed to give more credibility to family mediators, which is hoped in turn will give rise to the acceptance and adoption of family mediation as an option to court.

family-mediation-URNEach family mediator is assigned a Unique Registration Number (URN) by the FMC and are included in the central register. The URN indicates whether a family mediator has accredited, provisional, trained or suspended status:

  • A – accredited (FMCA status)
  • P – provisionally accredited (provisional FMCA status)
  • T – trained (but not accredited)
  • X – suspended/temporarily non-practising.

The URN provides a system for the courts to identify individual family mediators. Court forms such as the C100, FM1, Form A, A1 and B and the legal aid form CW5 currently have an area for entering information about the service name or sole trader name:

c100-form

Note Only an accredited family mediation who has received a URN including an ‘A’  or ‘P’ can sign court forms.

It is widely expected that these forms will be revised to include the mediator’s URN. In the meantime it is envisaged that the area used for Sole Trader Name should be used for the mediator URN, and some courts have started to request this information.

Progress Mediation is a case management system for family mediation, and incorporates the relevant pages of the forms as integrated templates. These have been modified to include the family mediator URN on each form, saving time when providing court or legal aid forms for clients.

Update 22nd June 2016

We’re now incorporated the mediator URN functionality into Progress Mediation 4 All for family mediation – supporting family mediation for private only case management.

Reducing the stress of monthly LAA submissions

laa-portal2In April 2015, the Legal Aid Agency moved to digital submissions for family mediation. For some family mediation services, the monthly submission has now become a very stressful time. Spending additional time gathering information for cases into spreadsheets then compile into the format required by the LAA.

We’ve collected some helpful tips to reduce the stress of submitting.

Collecting client information

  1. Gather client information (DOB, ethnicity, disability.  eligibility, address, etc)  as you go along during the month. This will reduce the time entering information at month end.
  2. Ensure key dates (intakes, mediations) are recorded – either using a spreadsheet or case management system.
  3. Ensure you track the mediation / intake location for each case

Pre-upload checks

Once you’re ready to submit:-

  1. Check for any missing information in your spreadsheets, or produced by your case management system.
  2. Calculate the case ID and unique case ID for each case – the formula for these is contained in the LAA Excel templates. Some case management systems will calculate this for you.
  3. Ensure your computer date format is set for UK (dd/mm/yyyy) if you are using spreadsheets. If the date format is set to US (mm/dd/yyyy) this can cause issues with the CWA portal.

There are a number of ‘features’ of CWA bulk uploading you need to be aware of. Once you understand these, the process is fairly straight forward… If errors are reported by the CWA system, you need carefully cross checked against the original uploaded data in order to resolve.

Uploading the bulk submission file

Once logged onto the system, select ‘Select the CWA Activity reporter manager (External Role)’, then select ‘Activity Management’:

cwa1

 

The activity management menu option is located at the top right of the screen.

 

 

cwa2This will display the Bulk Load File selection screen where you click ‘browse’, then locate the local file on your computer to be uploaded.

 

The CWA system will then take you through a number of stages as the monthly submission file is processed. After the file has been uploaded select ‘Yes’ to load the results.

cwa3Once uploaded, the CWA shows the status is INCOMPLETE. It’s not clear of the next stage, but click on the pencil icon under ‘update’. The proceed with the next 3 stages, as the monthly return is processed calculating the value of each element of the return, and cross checking client information against previous returns.

cwa4

 

At each of the steps click ‘Next’ – unless you spot any errors, where the facility is provided to edit the information in the stage.

 

 

 

cwa5

After the 3 steps have been completed, click on the ‘submit’ button.

This is following by a confirmation step requiring you to click ‘Yes’.

 

You will then see a confirmation screen providing a final summary of the return. An automated email is then generated by then CWA system to your designated email address.

Submission confirmation

Confirmation of the submission process can also be found in the notifications section, where a list of previous submission results can be viewed.

cwa6At the notifications screen select ‘Full list’  to display all past notification messages.

This is a brief overview of the steps involved in submitting a family mediation return via the CWA. Progress Mediation clients are provided with assistance for the upload process.

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.