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.

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.

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.

New LAA Schedule Reference

2010 Standard Civil Contract in Family Mediation extension

Legal Aid AgencyThe 2010 Standard Civil Contract in Family Mediation is currently due to expire on 31 October 2016. The contract has been extended to 31 March 2018. A new schedule reference will be introduced, which will be reported with all cases started on/after 1 November 2016 which will be:

Format: NANNNA/MEDI2010/16

Where ‘NANNNA’ is the unique mediation service identification code.

Legal aid data for the LAA family mediation return for November 2016 (submitted 1st -20th December) should use this format.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.