Updated Notice of [intention to proceed with] a financial application – aka Form A

The MoJ have this week (w/c 1st June) released an updated version of ‘The Notice of [intention to proceed with] a financial application to which the standard procedure applies’ – otherwise known as Form A.

We’ve converted the form into a template, to enable our case management system to insert the mediator’s details onto the form, along with case information to prevent the form being used for other applications, once saved in PDF format.

The latest Form A can be downloaded from the MoJ pages on the Government website. If you’d like to know more information on how case management can help with case administration, then please get in touch.

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.

Scanners for the home office

Continuing our series for home working, we look at the need for scanning from our home office. Creating a PDF document from a paper copy is essential when dealing with signed documents. When you’re in the office it’s easy with an all-in-one printer. However, if you don’t have an combined printer, then it can be an issue. There’s plenty of ways to easy solve this problem and leave you setup for your mobile requirements in the future.

Mobile scanning apps

There are lots of apps available which integrate with the built in phone camera, but one which stands our for functionality is Tiny Scanner.

Almost anything you expect to be scanned could be perfectly recognized by Tiny Scanner. For instance, documents, books, receipts, notes, photos, IDs, passports, whiteboards, posters, cards, letters, newspapers, screens, licenses, menus, certificates, music scores, etc.

It’s available for download on the Google Play store and the Apple Store. Although currently £4.99 in the Apple Store, the comments and huge number of downloads speaks for itself.

We know that a number of mediators have downloaded this app and think it’s perfect for the job.

Portable handheld scanners

If you don’t have a phone with a suitably high definition camera, then you may want to look at a small handheld scanner. There’s plenty to chose from, and cheaper than getting a new smartphone!

One such device is the Iris – Iriscan Book 5 portable colour scanner. Simply roll the device across the document, and the image of the document will tbe saved automatically into the memory card. This can then be transferred to your computer. The scanner also has a built in OCR reader which converts the images into text to allow you to edit on your computer. It also can convert the text into audio files if you choose!

One of the disadvantages is the area which you can scan. If you are scanning a single sheet of paper on a flat surface, this is unimportant, but this is the “Book 5” and depending on your needs, this device cannot capture the whole page. If you are trying to create an document which is printed to the edge of the paper, this device is not capable of achieving this.

Brother have also provided a larger portable scanner which is capable of 2 sided document scanning. The Brother DS-720D Document Scanner does require that the documents are loose sheets to pass through the scanner, and therefore limited for some applications.

It does however enable the entire document to be scanned right up to the end of the document, unlike the Iriscan.

The included software supports saving the scanned image to a number of different destinations, to a local file or image, to a shared folder, email, FTP, or printer.

Brother DS-920DW Document Scanner supports wireless functionality, along with scanning of passports or drivers licenses for easy scanning.

Your choice will depend on how tech-savy you are. One point to consider is how you get the scanned image to your computer for saving or sending to a client.

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.

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.

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.

 

New Year resolutions – 66 days to create a habit…

New Years ResolutionsWith Christmas galloping towards us faster than a horse at the Grand National, (closely followed at it’s heels by the New Year), some of you may be considering New Year Resolutions for January 2017. There are a number of academic studies on the subject, but what is clear is that changing a habit isn’t as simple as you think, and takes longer than 21 days that most of us are led to believe.

In 2009, Phillippa Lally, psychologist at the University College London, published a paper ‘How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world’ detailing their researching findings on habit formation.

She instructed 96 volunteers to pick a health-focused habit, like drinking a bottle of water with lunch, and periodically asked them whether they’d succeeded in sticking to the behavior, and how automatic it had felt. Sometimes, according to Lally’s results, it takes much longer than three weeks for a habit to feel automatic — up to 254 days for her participants. Other times, it can take as little as 18 days, she found.

It takes 66 days, on average, to form a new habit.

In her paper, Phillippa Lally expands on her findings :

The range of times to reach a plateau shows that it can take a large number of repetitions for an individual to reach their highest level of automaticity for some behaviours, and therefore creating new habits will require self-control to be maintained for a significant period before the desired behaviours acquire the necessary automaticity to be performed without self-control.

Typically people set their New Year Resolutions in the area of exercise – the bad news is that this behaviour was the toughest for people to change.

It may seem that the world has changed a great day in 7 years since Phillippa’s research, however further research based on the original paper, concludes similar results even with the use of technology to assist. Last year Katarzyna Stawarz, Anna Cox and Ann Blandford published a paper ‘Beyond Self-Tracking and Reminders: Designing Smartphone Apps That Support Habit Formation’ – quoting Lally’s paper [*]:

…habits take time to develop *. Nevertheless, the four weeks of the study were long enough to observe that automaticity developed faster for participants using trigger events than those relying on a reminder.

The paper concluded that:

The process of habit formation is complex and the results suggest that people could benefit from more support. Smartphone apps, with their ubiquity, personal nature and capabilities, have the potential to help.

A subsequent paper ‘Don’t kick the habit: The Role of Dependency in Habit Formation Apps’ by Ian Renfree, Danny Harrison, Paul Marshall, Katarzyna Stawarz, Anna Cox, concludes that the dependency on smartphone apps introduces fragility in users’ attempts to change their behavior, as they often abandon the app and subsequently disengage with their new behaviors.

These findings are a reminder that changing a habit is not easy; technology may be able to assist but essentially they can hinder the development of automaticity as people rely on reminders instead of trying to remember by themselves.

way-of-lifeFundamentally, there is no quick fix. Be patient with yourself if you feel it is harder than you initially thought it would be. Maybe a different approach (as shown by Weight Watchers) using accountability to others as a source of inspiration and help to make the change. If it’s a habit that you’ve decided you want to change, shelling out on an app (such as the iOS ‘Way of Life‘) may help with reminders (like exercise, drinking water, meditating and no alcohol!), but won’t help form the habit as part of your everyday routine. As with may things in life, determination is key, and learning to create a goal and stick with it

Creating an MoU – taking inspiration from Lego

When speaking to family mediators, one of the most time consuming tasks is creating the Memorandum of Understanding. Tailoring the document to the circumstances of the separating parties, despite the fact that you’ve already created 100’s of MoU’s before, can be very time consuming.

It’s been an area that has intrigued me for years – how can technology be applied to simplify the process yet still produce a document with the personal feel, that addresses the specific requirements of 99% of cases.

Taking inspiration from Lego

lego-set_smEarlier this year, whilst building a Minecraft Lego kit, the similarity between complex documents (like the MoU) and Lego kits began to dawn.

Lego sets typically provide an instruction sheet that details how to construct a specific model through a series of stages. In the case of Minecraft, you’re given instructions for building lots of small modules, which assemble into the final design. Once complete, you have the choice to adapt it by removing bricks or adding to from other kits.

Taking the analogy from Lego, constructing an MoU requires lots of paragraphs (smaller Minecraft modules) often with only minor differences between cases. These paragraphs are then assembled to form the document, which might have final alterations before printing or emailing to the client. This is when the concept of Dynamic Documents evolved.

Dynamic Documents are simply a group of paragraphs, often with a number of similar paragraphs with minor differences, which form a template.

dyndocs

Building dynamic documents

As anyone who has ever built a Lego set will tell you, following the instructions to build each of the modules is vital to prevent hours of frustration at the final stage of joining all the modules together. It’s the same with the construction of Dynamic Documents – each of the paragraphs needs to be thought through and in some cases split into 2/3 different variants to cater for different scenarios.

Embedding field codes

We’ve developed a number of ‘field codes’ which enable specific case information to be inserted into letter and email templates, which can also be incorporated into Dynamic Documents. Information like client names, children names and ages, date of marriage, etc can be inserted into paragraphs where needed – saving you time.

Generating a Dynamic Document for a case

To create the document for the client, choose the relevant Dynamic Document and select the relevant paragraphs, order each paragraph in the required sequence before making final minor adjustments to the text if needed.

dyndoc_para2

With more pressures on mediators to reduce the administrative burden of case management, it’s essential that repetitive tasks are simplified and streamlined. We believe that Dynamic Documents will help make that difference.

Dynamic Documents is part of the comprehensive features provided in Progress Mediation, case management for family mediation. We also support six other mediation types including civil / commercial, community and workplace.

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.