If a trial is scheduled for the next few weeks, you have most likely been told it has been postponed. While some hearings will be scheduled over the phone and via videoconference, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause significant delays in obtaining a hearing and an order or judgment. This is understandable as the court and the bar association are figuring out how to prepare for this crisis. No matter how understandable these delays are, the experience must be frustrating, disappointing, and in some cases devastating for those going through conflict.
Now is the time to start thinking about your alternatives to court.
Mediation, arbitration, collaborative representation, and arbitration are options for those who want to resolve their problems promptly. Many of these dispute resolution experts already have experience using video conferencing to meet clients, and for us our business has gone on almost non-stop. In my office, Skylark Law & Mediation, PC, the majority of our clients have chosen to continue receiving mediation and collaboration services via video conferencing rather than postponing their meetings. It’s not the same as being in person, but it’s better for customers than waiting for their urgent issues to be resolved.
If your customers are disappointed with the necessary delays in legal proceedings, consider re-briefing them of their other options. If you are looking for mediators for family disputes, a list of professionals can be found on the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation website. If your clients may not be able to afford a private mediator, consider one of the many community mediation services in Massachusetts that offer tiered services – all listed on the Resolution Massachusetts website.
If you’re looking for a specific referral for a dispute resolution professional in any legal area, please feel free to contact me directly or submit a comment on this thread with your referral request.
After all, this crisis is also an opportunity to reflect on how we want to deal with conflicts in the future. We can continue business as usual when this crisis is over (whichever it will), or we can reflect on whether this crisis has shown a better way to deal with conflict. To be better prepared the next time an emergency occurs, do the following:
- Meet a mediator or co-parenting coordinator who can be a resource for your family in times of crisis. Don’t assume that your lawyer or court will be there to help, or that this should be your first call if there is a conflict.
- Get training in mediation or collaboration law from professionals so you can offer your customers additional service options (visit these links to register for mediation or collaboration law training this fall).
- Encourage the Massachusetts Bar Association (or your local bar association) to add mediation, arbitration, collaborative representation, and arbitration as service options to their referral directory. This was previously proposed and rejected to the mass advocacy, but it finally seems the time has come to realize the importance of having alternatives to the court and that the professionals who offer those alternatives are doing an important service.