Now is the time for family mediators to embrace new technology

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

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

Video conferencing

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

Case management

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

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

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

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

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

New LAA 2018 mediation contracts support postal & remote applications

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

Standard Civil Contract 2018 specification

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

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

It’s worth noting that section 3.17 it details that 

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

LAA support for remote communication

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

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

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

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

Support for postal application at the intake stage

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

For more information please visit our main website.

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.

New court forms – October 2016

From October 2016, revised forms are now required for the following court forms:

FM1, C100, Form A, A1 and Form B

moj-formsProgress Mediation now has integrated versions of the mediator signature pages from these forms, including the mediator URN to be automatically inserted onto each form. This makes the process of completing the forms quicker and easier. Each form also includes the case reference number to prevent others attempting to use the complete forms for other cases.

 

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.

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!

Concerned about conflicts of interest? Build a Chinese Wall!

Several months ago, we were asked by one of our clients if there was a mechanism for restricting access to specific cases on our case management system. The problem was triggered by one of their part-time mediators who also worked for another mediation service. They had identified a couple of cases where there was a potential conflict of interest.

Clearly a case management system has different levels of user access to the data – administrator, user, super user. However restricting specific cases is a very different scenario. What is needed is a Chinese Wall.

The Great Wall of China

The Oxford English dictationary defines a  Chinese wall  [after the defensive wall built between China and Mongolia in the 3rd cent.  b.c.] as “a prohibition against the passing of confidential information from one department of an institution to another.”

We’ve developed a technological solution in Progress Mediation to create chinese walls where appropriate for individual cases.

Thus, an administrator marks the case as being restricted to a specific system user. Other users are still able to access the case without any restrictions. When browsing the list of cases it’s possible to view existing open or closed cases, but none of the details.

Conflict checking

Clearly all new cases entered onto a system need to be checked for potential conflicts of interest. Recent trends have shown that family mediators are becoming more mobile, and often work between different mediation services. There is therefore an onus on each mediator to be aware of cases where there could be a conflict of interest, and to report them accordingly. Despite the best technological endeavours, this obviously leaves room for human error…

Progress Mediation is a web-based case management system, designed specifically for family mediation. It supports both private and legal aid cases.

Making case management affordable – Progress Mediation Lite

Launching 21-9-12 Progress Mediation Lite

In October 2011, we met with Atul Sharda at the Ministry of Justice to discuss the role of case management with family mediation. At the time, Atul was the Head of Family ADR Branch and his vision was e provision of a quality family mediation service. He saw this could be achieved through case management software. The benefit of using software standardises procedures and ensures the correct information and options are offered to the client at each stage. Case management software can help achieve this, and in addition provides comprehensive reporting facilities and many other benefits. One key factor was to ensure mediation services could afford the management software without additional costs being added to the cost of mediation – hence the purpose behind Progress Mediation Lite.

Since then we’ve been working on different ways to make it both affordable and provide the required functionality. We’ve been working with Elizabeth Tait of Divorce Jigsaw with the design of the framework and developing the product. The software is modular, enabling features to be switch on/off as required. This enables us to offer the features mediators need at an affordable price. As the family mediation service grows, modules can be ‘switched on’ adding more functionality.

Progress Mediation Lite is divided into 8 selectable modules:

  • Case documents – this enables documents to be linked to a case, such as Word, Excel or PDF documents
  • Doc U Store – enabling non-case specific documents to be stored for access. This is a general online document storage area
  • SMS – enabling automated SMS reminders or instant SMS messages to be sent to clients
  • EMail – enables integration of an email account with the case management software for reading / linking of emails to a case, or sending emails directly to clients. This also includes automated email reminders
  • Administrator Calendar – enables an administrator to access the complete set of mediator calendars in a single screen
  • Preset tasks – these can be created enabling automatic case tasks to be defined when a new case is created. Can act as reminders at specific points in the lifespan of the case
  • Direct messaging – an integrated messaging system provides then means of sending messages to other mediators on the system without using email or other programs.(similar to DM in Twitter or Facebook)
  • Invoicing – enables invoices to be generated from a list of presets, quickly and easily

In addition to the modular functionality, we provide a standard set of core letter templates. These can be added to, or customised as required. In Progress Mediation Lite we have developed the idea of the case agenda, breaking the stage and processes of mediation into a number of steps, with letter templates guiding you.

Progress Mediation Lite is primarily aimed at family mediation services which provide Private mediations. Our flagship product, Progress Mediation, does provide legal aid support and is recommended for this purpose.

For more information see our dedicated website for more information.

Iphone calendar support for Progress Mediation

Mobile devices and their Apps are becoming an integated part of every day life. Whether it’s Tesco’s with their grocery App, Sky with their news updates – it seems everyone is creating a App – clearly some are more useful than others…

Seeing your diary where-ever you are, is clearly one of the more important functions of a mobile device. Thats why from the outset we’ve integrated mobile support for your Family Mediation calendar in Progress Mediation.

The software generates iCalendar files which can be linked to a large number of mobile devices, including Apple’s Iphone and Ipad devices. The files contain all your calendar information in a special format which can be read and shown on your mobile device. These files are updated every 15 minutes, enabling you to be updated as new appointments are added to your mediation calendar.

For more information on how your Progress Mediation can help run your Family Mediation service visit our website – www.progressmediation.co.uk

Four ways of reducing missed client appointments

It’s the age old problem – client has an appointment for a meeting, and they never turn up. You sit in the meeting room watching the clock tick, wondering whether to get on with some other work or whether they will suddenly come in through the door. Somtimes you may be lucky and get a phonecall apologising that they forgot – but the slot which could have been allocated to someone else has gone.

We’ve all missed an appointment at some point in life, so in some ways we can identify. It may have been a missed dentist or doctors appointment,  however when it’s your business that missed appointments represent lost revenue.

Doctor and dentist practices have clearly been suffering from this problem for years and have over the years tried using phone calls, letters and more recently text messaging reminders. Does this make a difference? Research has shown that reminders in one form or another do reduce missed attendance.

Four methods for reminding

  • Telephone calls – this has been seen as an effective way in the past, but requires a significant staffing resource.
  • Letters – typically used by medical and dental practices over previous years, however taking into consideration staffing resources, stationary and postal costs, this has become less cost effective over recent years.
  • Email – with the increase in mobile devices with ‘push’ email capabilities, this is becoming a popular method. Since email systems are already integrated with businesses, this is seem as a cheap option. However with email spam being an issue, it is possible that reminders from usual email addresses are missed.
  • SMS – more widely available with a larger percentage of the population having mobile devices. Typically carried by clients all the time.

Several studies have been done in medical and dental industries to see the comparison between these various methods, showed that SMS reminder services were in line with other the other services, however the availability and comparatively low cost has suggested it is a suitable method of improving attendance. (See http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/183_07_031005/dow10816_fm.html from the Australian Medical Journal research into SMS reminders).

Whilst developing Progress Mediation, we’ve spoken with mediators who say that this is a significant problem. That’s why we’ve made it an integrated part of our case management system. After you’ve chosen to enabled SMS reminders and appointments are entered onto the online calendar, the case management system takes over. Automatic reminders are then sent out the day before to ensure clients are prompted in enough time to remember or re-arrange the appointment. The SMS is generated with a custom practice name rather than a mobile telephone number to make it stand out. It also includes the time of the appointment, along with a telephone number to call if they need to re-arrange.

Collecting client contact info

To provide alternatives for your businesses moving forward, it’s advisable to obtain sufficient client contact details from the outset of a case to ensure you have options open to you. This may mean obtaining client and partner mobile numbers and/or email addresses along with the usual ‘snail-mail’ addresses. The future will undoubtably present other options such as Instant Messaging, potentially offering lower cost reminders.

Find out more

For more information about ProgressSMS visit http://www.progressmediation.co.uk/progresssms.php or to take our product tour visit http://www.progressmediation.co.uk/progress.php.