Online mediation location classification for Legal Aid cases

As a consequence of the Covid:19, the Legal Aid agency provided new guidance for family mediation services to provide online mediation.

With the March bulk upload submission many mediation services are finding the MIAM cases being rejected by the CWA submission system because the location is not a formally recognised outreach location.

Several mediation services have fed back responses from their contract managers, suggesting to use the main office location (000) until clear guidance has been issued. Another contract manager suggested using the outreach location that would have been used for a face to face meeting if it had been possible, which would ensure that statistics for outreach locations are captured.

Progress Mediation allows the location of each appointment to be linked to a location on the system, and automated reminders are sent out to clients detailing where the MIAM or mediation will be taking place.

To prevent confusion, mediation services have been creating new locations to symbolize online mediation, so the reminder shows that it is Skype or Zoom. To save having to create multiple locations for online meetings which are linked to different outreach location codes, we recommend that mediation services create a single online location, linked to the main office.

MIAM’s are automatically pulled into the bulk online submission file ready for upload to the Legal Aid portal, specifying the main office location.

Beware of fake Zoom scams

Over the past four weeks, video conferencing software has seen a huge update in users amidst the Covid-19 lockdown affecting people around the world. Seen by many as the ‘go-to’ platform in the mediation circles due to reliability and security, Zoom Inc has seen membership rocket, with more new members in March alone compared to the whole of 2019.

However, success is often followed by those who seek to cash in, and Zoom is no exception. Internet domain registration companies have seen a huge rise in the purchase of similar domain names over the past few weeks, as hackers attempt to cash in on the boom, and use it as an opportunity to download phishing scams. In March alone, one cybersecurity company recorded over 2,200 domain names containing the word zoom had been registered.

Our advice is to always carefully check the weblinks sent to you, and for your clients, urge them to carefully check links before clicking – especially if they chose the option to download a program apparently linked to the Zoom application.

All Zoom links should be linked to the domain zoom.us, and all others should be avoided at all costs. E.g. https://us0xweb.zoom.us/j/12345678?pwd=89abcdefgh

Taking a few seconds to think before you click will save many hours of IT pain and heartache…

Ensure Zoom meeting password is set

Zoom-bombing is a federal offense (wonder if this will ever become a word in the Oxford English dictionary…) and pranksters are out in force, trying to gate-crash Zoom meetings where the meeting password hasn’t been set. The password feature has now been enabled by default in the latest download. Make sure when checking the meeting settings before you send out, that the password has been set.

Whilst on the subject, we’d recommend taking a monthly backup of your critical business data TODAY to protect against attacks such as ransomware – as tomorrow never comes…

At Protocol IT we’ve been passionately supporting #familymediation services for more than 10 years. So if you’re struggling with technology to support your service, then why not get in touch.

LAA – Changes to bulk upload spreadsheet

The 2010 Standard Civil Contract (Mediation) will introduce a new schedule reference, which will be reported for the submission period APR-2017 for submissions completed from 1st May onwards. Mediation services using Progress Mediation won’t notice any differences for creating the monthly bulk upload submission file. For mediation services creating bulk upload spreadsheets, the schedule references will need to change to the format NANNNA/MEDI2010/17, where NANNNA is the main office account number.

The Legal Aid Agency have issued a new bulk upload spreadsheet this morning for use by services who don’t use a case management system. This will shortly be available on the GOV website. However, in the meantime they have made a version available to official software vendors. We’ve made this available on our website for downloading:

Bulkload spreedsheet provider release v1 20

The spreadsheet provides a manual method for recording cases, enabling the monthly return to be completed. If you’re seeing an increase in your monthly case submissions, case management systems can take any the stresses of the monthly return by gathering information throughout the course of the month, then automatically generating the bulkload return information for you. For more information visit Progress Mediation website.

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.

LAA 1st mediation session payment for both parties

laa-logoLast week the Legal Aid Agency issued information to contract providers about a new payment for both parties for the 1st mediation session, outlined by Simon Hughes on 20th August this year. This new payment to mediation services with LAA contracts, will come into effect from 1am on the 3rd November subject to a consultation process. More details confirming the date of implementation should be available next week.

Information of how the new payment will be implemented is detailed in a list of amendments to the Family Mediation Specification. The relevant paragraph changes are listed below:

Para 4.5

If a Single Session is all that takes place, the appropriate session payment for that Single Session is all that is payable and all that you should report. Subject to Paragraphs 4.5B and 4.5C; if more than one session takes place, the session payment for a Single Session is not payable, and should not be reported. Instead, the appropriate higher case payment specified in Remuneration Regulations is payable and that outcome should be reported.

Para 4.5A

Paragraphs 4.5B and 4.5C shall only become operative on amendments of the Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 taking effect which provide that the normal financial means test shall not apply in respect of the first mediation session following an Assessment Meeting where one party is financially eligible to receive public funding and the other party is not.

Para 4.5B

Where, save for the application of this Paragraph 4.5, only one party would be entitled to receive public funding for mediation, then for the purposes of the first mediation session only (following the Assessment Meeting) and subject to the other requirements of this Paragraph, the means test set out in the applicable Financial Regulations shall not apply and payment may be claimed by the party not otherwise entitled to receive public funding for that initial session. The value of any such claim by a party who would not otherwise be entitled to receive public funding shall be limited to an amount equal to half of the fee payable for a Single Session where both parties were entitled to receive public funding (irrespective of whether the mediation continues beyond the initial session) and only where that first mediation session takes place on/or after the date this provision becomes operative pursuant to Paragraph 4.5A. In cases where the first mediation session takes place prior to this date the relevant means test shall apply as normal and payment will only be made where a party is entitled to receive public funding following the outcome of such test.

Para 4.5C

Irrespective of any entitlement to claim half of a Single Session fee by a party who would not otherwise be eligible to receive public funding the session payment in respect of the party who is eligible to receive public funding shall be that which is payable in accordance with Paragraph 4.5 above and you must report the mediation as a single Matter regardless of the fee payable in respect of each party. For the avoidance of doubt the provisions of Paragraph 4.10 shall apply in relation to all work undertaken following the initial mediation session, including Agreed Proposal fees.

Para 8

If the Mediation concludes but the parties return to you within 3 months you should reopen the case if it relates to the same Matter and submit an amended Consolidated Work Report Form. If the parties return after 3 months since the last visit, you should treat the return visit as an entirely new Matter and for the avoidance of doubt in such circumstances the provisions of Paragraphs 4.5B and 4.5C shall apply in relation to the entitlement of both parties to receive payment for the new initial session.

Para 4.10

Subject to Paragraphs 4.5B and 4.5C above; where one party is receiving public funding for Mediation, only half the specified fee is payable. The amount you charge for the other party depends on the terms of your agreement with them. The Mediation Contract Report Form requires you to show which Clients are receiving public funding.

Summary

  • There is no change to the consolidated or work start forms, or the process that providers follow to submit their claims.
  • The only changes are to session fees for cases where only one of the clients in mediation is eligible for legal aid.
  • There will be no changes to fees for cases where both clients are legally aided, and no change to any Agreement fees.
  • There is no change to the fees for Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs).

Single session mediation – provider will receive half the single session fee for both clients (i.e. in total, the full single session fee)
Multi-session mediation – provider will receive half the multi session fee for the client that is eligible for legal aid + half the single session fee for the client that is not eligible

Update – 21st October

The Legal Aid Agency have today confirmed that the consultation process for the changes has now been completed, and the legal aid payments for 1st mediation session for both parties will come into effect on the 3rd November.

 

Understanding Family Mediation

The video ‘Understanding Family Mediation’ aimed at explaining the purpose of family mediation was developed by a number of partners (Prof Liz Stokoe, Protocol IT and Kerf Design and the MoJ) and released on the Ministry of Justice YouTube channel in May this year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=va59Ksk6XZQ

Email-U-Store – send it and forget it

rotating5Integration with email has always been an essential element of case management. We initially provided access to a user’s own email account (not stored on our servers) where they could read emails, and import into cases. However, we discovered that broadband speeds on some networks were causing issues for Progress Mediation to quickly connect and read the emails.

Email-U-Store works in a completely different way. Rather than connecting to your mailbox, we provide you with one on the same server as Progress Mediation. When you want to import an email with or without attachments, simply email it to a unique mailbox, adding a case reference in the subject field.

Progress regularly reads the mailbox checking for new messages. Since it’s on the same server, it does this quickly, and regularly. When it finds a message, the subject field is examined and if this matches a case on the system, it’s automatically imported. Internal messages are sent to all users informing them that emails have been imported. If matching case references are not found, a relevant message sent to all the users.

This process saves a huge amount of time updating the case with the latest email activities, and saves you the task of filing your emails on a per case basis. You send it and forget it!

CARMing effect after LASPO

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) Reforms bill has radically changed the legal landscape. Even in family meditation (where legal aid still remains) LASPO has had a dramatic effect. In this blog, we examine the effects of LASPO for family mediation services. When life deals you lemons, make lemonade?

For family mediation, there have been significant implications as a result of LASPO:

  1. Withdrawal of funding code referrals. Not only did this provide a payment for each eligible case, it more importantly provided a source of referrals. For services which obtained LAA contacts in December and April, the lack of funding code referrals won’t have such a notable effect. For existing services, this has made a significant loss.
  2. Drying up of referrals and LASPO changes have resulted in a general misconception that all legal aid has been withdrawn. Consequently solicitors and the general public have stopped referring to family mediation services.

Virtually overnight, this has had a massive impact on family mediation services – especially those providing legal aid. Some family mediation services have reported financial losses for the first time in ten years.

Helping clients choose mediation
After the initial contact, mediation services need to ensure that if appropriate, clients start the mediation process. Where mediation is inappropriate, signposting is provided towards alternative avenues. Initial conversations mostly take place over the telephone, often battling with the client’s misconception of what mediation is. This has to be overcome before the mediation process can start.

CARM logoProfessor Elizabeth Stokoe of Loughborough University has been researching Conversational Analysis for the past ten years, predominantly in the field of neighbourhood mediation. More recently she has been applying her techniques to family mediation with fascinating results. By analysing telephone conversations using the Conversation Analytic Role-play Method (CARM©), she has demonstrated how and where these conversations can break-down. This research has the potential to assist the initial conversations, and draw the right clients into mediation. To demonstrate the relevance of CARM©  in family mediation, Liz has been holding sessions with family mediators around the country.

Having attended two sessions, it’s been incredible to see how applying conversation analysis is vital to family mediation. Using audio recordings from community mediation, she highlights how essential the initial conversation in terms of :

  • Scaffolding the client’s conversation
  • Making space for client projects
  • Ensuring correct responses are given to client slots during the conversation

Last month BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific‘ featured Liz Stokoe and her research as a conversation analyst. Stephen Anderson having recently hosted one of the sessions, was interviewed for the program. “This was the first training where I was absolutely in awe of the information I was receiving.” he said. Liz touched on the 7% rule – the myth that communication is only 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal, providing examples that prove this is totally unfounded.

With family mediation facing new pressures, it’s clear that CARM©  can have a significant impact for family mediation:

  • Converting initial enquiries into mediation, then
  • Provide practical conversational techniques through the mediation process

Clearly the introduction of conversational skills to the family mediation process is not going to turn around a mediation service on its own. However, changing times calls for changing practices, and this is a practical process which will make a difference.

Having seen first-hand the clear benefits that CARM© bring, next month we will be starting a research project to see how mediation services can practically benefit from improved client communication methods.

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Legal Aid Reform changes for Family Mediation – latest news

The effect of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) comes into effect from 1st April 2013. If you’re interested in reading specific details of the Act then you can find more information on the government website.

This special blog is designed to keep you updated of the changes and any updates issued by the Legal Services Commission (rebranded as Legal Aid Agency from the 1st April 2013), related to Family Mediation. It won’t quite be like the interactive service provided by the BBC on polling day! However when we receive any information related to form updates, useful links, etc will be posting them here. We expect things to be quite ‘fluid’ over the next week  – so why not add this page as a favourite! If you’re on Twitter, then why not follow us at @progressmediate which we will use to announce updates.

Latest Form Revisions (MoJ and LAA)

Civil Means7 version 8 (CIVMEANS7) – download

Controlled Work 5 version 3 (CW5) – download

FM1 version 04.13 – download [issued by the MoJ rather than the LAA]

LAA Monthly Reports

Revised forms have been created for the Consolidated Work report and Work Start form, however March 2013 data needs to be completed using Consolidated Version 3 August 2004, and Work Start Version 1 October 2002. The revised monthly report and form to be used from April 2013 can be found below:

Consolidated Work report – Version 4 April 2013

Work Start form – Version 2 April 2013

Eligibility Calculator

The new Civil Eligibility calculator tool for Legal Aid Agency (LAA) providers is available on the Gov.uk website. The calculator for public use can be accessed using the new online LAA calculator.

Important update 4/4/13

There are currently two issues affecting people using the LAA calculator:

  • Issue 1 : Unable to access the site using Internet Explorer.  This results from the use of Java scripting on the website. The simply solution is to enable Java scripting in the security settings of the browser. However, it may be better to do this by adding the calculator http://civil-eligibility-calculator.justice.gov.uk/ to the list of Trusted sites, then changing the security settings to enable Java scripting for the Trusted sites.
  • Issue 2: Server error you reach the final stage and attempt to print the results of the calculator on the CW1, CW2, CLSAPP6 or CLSM7 forms. When you click on one of these buttons a server error screen is displayed. For the present, we would suggest clicking on the ‘Print full calculation’ link until the issue has been fixed. 

Guidance for Eligibility

The MoJ guide for assessing your client’s eligibility can be found at the Checking civil eligibility section. The following is a direct link to the ‘Guide to Determining Financial Eligibility for Controlled Work and Family Mediation April 2013‘, released 1st April 2013, version 1. It’s quite a tricky document to find unless you know what you’re looking for…

The MoJ have also released Keycard 49 as a quick reference point for assessing financial eligibility.

Legal aid reform implementation FAQs

The LAR Implementation FAQ can be downloaed from the MoJ website here. This was last updated on the 19th April 2013.

 

Progress Mediation is a web-based tool specifically designed for managing the administration of family mediation. It supports both private and legal aid cases.

Overview of Legal Aid Reform changes to Family Mediation

Following on from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, a number of changes will come into effect from 1st April this year for Family Mediation.

To help visualise these changes, we’ve created the ‘Sixty second overview of the Legal Aid Reform changes to family Mediation’. This simplified diagram summarises the changes to existing processes, payments and forms for family mediation from 1st April 2013. Since the Legal Services Communission is being renamed as the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) from 1st April, this is shown on the diagram.

Sixty second overview of the Legal Aid Reform changes to family Mediation

As a case management service provider, we have been given early access to forthcoming processes and forms.

This week we started work integrating the changes into Progress Mediation. This requires translating changes in processes into code, and converting the new Legal Service Commission forms into integrated templates. We can then use the templates to generate the forms and populate with client data before printing – thus reducing case administration.

In summary:

a) The App7 form has been replaced by the CW5 – Help with Family Mediation

b) Three forms have been revised – Consolidate Work, Work Start and Means 7

c) The Willingness payment for funding code referrals has been withdrawn

d) Funding code referrals have been withdrawn

For more information on how case management systems can help manage Legal Aid contracts, why not visit our website  – www.progressmediation.co.uk and take the product tour.

You can be distinct, but still benefit from automation

Correspondence is an integral part of legal work, and always requires human intervention. Or does it? At the early stages of developing our case management software, we recognised that integrating letter templates was essential to improving case efficiency. We started discussions with mediators about a flexible system, capable of easily generating emails, letters, forms and reports using templates. The featureset needed to include :

  • Complex forms including tables with images for reproducing official Legal Service documents
  • Simple letters and emails
  • Complicated reports documents for viewing in MS Word
  • The ability to pull information from a case and insert into the correspondence using ‘tags’

This led to the development of the template engine in Progress Mediation, which reads specially designed templates (created using XML), replaces template tags with client data, and generates the output ready for printing, emailing or editing.

A key feature is to ensure your generated letters, emails or forms are distinct and flexible whilst still using templates. Thus, a Memoradum of Understanding for one mediation service doesn’t have to look the same for another mediation service.

This has created a powerful tool that enables correspondence to be created within a minimum of two clicks. The system also caters for customising correspondence in special scenarios. However, where possible we try to ensure that letter templates are available to increase efficiency and reduce administration.

How it works… (the techie bit)

The majority of people, just want to switch on a gadget and for it to work. There are, however, a few who want to know how it works – and some may even want to take things apart to understand it further… so here’s a little more information that will help explain the ‘engine under the hood’.

The template tags enable the automation of dynamic letters and emails

As a template is requested the following sequence is triggered :

  • Parser is used to look at each line and substitutes a template tag with case information.
  • This is sent to an RTF generator, creating the final formatted document.
  • This final document is then opened up in the appropriate program – whether that is Word for documents, or Excel for spreadsheets, or email.

The Parser is effectively the ‘brain’. This extracts ‘live’ information from the database and converts it into a format for the templates. Thus dynamically creating letters, emails or forms which look personalised and distinct.

Template Tags

By defining lots of template tags, we can access a lot of information from the database. This includes names of children, ages, dates of previous mediation sessions, to name a few. Using the title of a client or partner, we can even insert gender specific phrases. The wording of these templates can then be designed to utilise these tags.

Extract from a template :

I have written to #[#partner_title#]# #[#partner_surname#]# asking #[#partner_himher#]# whether #[#partner_heshe#]# is willing to attend a meeting to find out more about mediation.

The template tags (shown in bold) are substituted for case information as they pass through the Parser:

I have written to Mr Jones asking him whether he is willing to attend a meeting to find out more about mediation.

You define your templates

When designing Progress Mediation, we realised that each Family Mediation service is different, and requires its own set of letters. Therefore the system can accommodate a different set of letters, forms, email or report templates for each mediation service.

Conclusion

Reducing case administration is key to bringing efficiency and maximising profit. This is the principle at the heart of Progress Mediation. Templates are a vital part of this process. With each template you can be distinct, but still benefit from automation. The control is placed firmly at your finger tips.