Maryland's On-Line Mediation Service
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Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About the On-Line Mediation Service

Table of Contents

  1. Where can I find information about mediation?
  2. What kind of disputes will you take on?
  3. Who administers the On-Line Mediation Service?
  4. When will the On-Line Mediation Service be ready to accept disputes?
  5. How much does it cost?
  6. How does on-line mediation work?
  7. What are the stages in an on-line mediation?
  8. Are communications confidential?
  9. What kind of assistance to you provide?
  10. Who supports this program?

Where can I find information about mediation ?

This web site contains a great deal of information about the process of mediation, both traditional and on-line, with links to other mediation sites on the Internet and a bibliography of articles and suggested books.

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What kind of disputes will you take on?

Initially we will take on only family law disputes that arise under Maryland law. Eventually we plan to accept other kinds of disputes, such as health law disputes, consumer law disputes, landlord-tenant disputes that arise under Maryland law. Eventually we hope to undertake mediations of disputes that arise under federal law such as employment discrimination disputes, and disputes that arise in jurisdictions other than Maryland. Expansion into other areas subject areas if a function of demand and the availability of mediators who have expertise in utilizing on-line mediation methods.

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Who administers this On-Line Mediation Service?

Professor Roger Wolf, the Director of the Program for Dispute Resolution at the University of Maryland School of Law and Richard Granat, the Director of The Center for On-Line Mediation™, Inc., serve as the administrators of this On-Line Mediation Service.

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How does on-line mediation work?

On-line mediation starts out like a traditional mediation in the sense that a mediator acceptable to both parties is assigned to the case. The mediator will communicate with both parties by e-mail to determine the issues to be decided by the mediation and to reach agreement on the methods of communication. Unlike a traditional mediation, there is no first "meeting" of all of the parties on-line, unless the parties agree to begin the mediation with an "on-line" chat session which enables all of the parties to communicate with each other in real time.

In addition to e-mail, the mediator and the parties have access to a variety of electronic communication tools including electronic conferencing, on-line chat with the capacity for private conversations, videoconferencing when the parties have access to the required equipment, and, as well as the use of the telephone if the parties agree that telephone communication is necessary. We will also arrange a "face-to-face" meeting if the parties want to mediate "face-to-face" in a traditional setting, if practical. Our goal is to help the parties reach agreement, and whatever communications medium facilitates that goal is appropriate if both parties agree to use. However, since this program is an experiment in on-line mediation our preference is that the parties communicate electronically, rather than resorting to "face-to-face" meetings.

The Center's electronic communication tools support real-time chat, electronic conferencing (which looks like the electronic conference in this web site), and private confidential chat which is characteristic of shuttle diplomacy. Parties can refer to supporting web sites as reference points, and introduce documents and web pages into a "whiteboard" space that parties and the mediator to relate to a common space.

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What are the stages in an on-line mediation?

An on-line mediation has the same stages as a traditional mediation.

Phase I involves an initial on-line communications which gives all the parties a chance to learn more about the various phases of the mediation process. The mediator answers questions about the ground rules of the mediation and the procedures available governing the mediator's effort to settle the dispute. Questions are also answered about the use of electronic communication technology. Agreement is reached on whether other people or advisors can be in the room with the mediating party while the mediation is taking place, (usually yes), and what other resources can be brought into the mediation. The mediator stresses that any party may withdraw, at any time, from the mediation without giving any reasons and pursue more traditional remedies. The mediator also emphasizes that all compromises made in the interests of negotiation are confidential and that such information is inadmissible and not discoverable for any purpose in litigation among the parties. A proposed schedule is discussed and agreed to and tasks assigned with deadlines that are posted in the mediation space.

Phase II involves familiarizing the mediator with the facts of the dispute. Each party prepares a submission which may include supporting information such as financial information, reports, and documents. If documents are not in digital form, a hard copy will be sent to all parties by surface mail. At this point an initial meeting can be held on-line with the mediator presiding and with all sides present. This meet could be held either in real-time, or utilizing the electronic conferencing capabilities available to the participants.

Phase III involves the mediator presenting settlement terms and assessing the initial reaction of the parties by the mediator to her proposal. The mediator's proposal is communicated to the parties by e-mail. The mediator separately explains to each party in writing both the proposed settlement terms and the confidential reasons underlying her proposal. This takes the form of a separate, private memorandum distributed to each side outlining the rationale underlying the mediator's settlement recommendations. During this phase, each side does not know of the reaction of the other party to the mediator's proposed terms. This procedure gives the parties an opportunity to reach in confidence the proposed settlement and the rationale which the mediator hopes will being the dispute to an immediate conclusion.

Phase IV may involve "shuttle diplomacy" and is the final phase of the mediation process. "Shuttle diplomacy" takes places, of course, if the mediator's "best" settlement terms proves to be unacceptable to either party. If settlement is reached, the mediator drafts a written settlement agreement reflecting all of the settlement terms. This document is circulated among the parties, and sent to the parties' attorneys for review, after which it is formally executed.

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When will the On-Line Mediation Service be ready to accept disputes?

We are accepting disputes for mediation now, and expect to begin actually mediations by October 1, 1996.

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How much does it cost?

The cost of on-line mediation for cases accepted during this trial period is free. The parties in the initial cases to be selected for mediation will not be charged for the cost of the mediators. or administrative fees, because this cost is being absorbed under the grant from the National Center on Automated Information Retrieval (NCAIR). Eventually, a fee will be charged to cover the time of the mediators and administrative costs, however, we believe these costs will be less than face-to-face mediation. The costs of on-line mediation is one of the issues that will be evaluated as part of this demonstration program.

Are communications secure and confidential?

All communications to the Center, and between parties and the mediator, will be supported by a secure Netscape Commerce Server. Communications between the parties and the mediator over the Internet using a Netscape Commerce Server for al practical purposes are totally secure. Communications between the mediator and the parties, and between the parties are also confidential and are not admissible in subsequent litigation between the parties.

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What kinds of assistance do you provide?

We provide you with several kinds of assistance to make your on-line mediation experience an effective experience.

First, you will have access to an telephone hot-line, and on-line guidance materials, to help you use the on-line communication tools provided by this service.

Second, a Reference Librarian will help you find legal materials that are relevant to your dispute.

Third, we will continue to add materials on the mediation process, including on-line tutorials on mediation and negotiation to this web site that are designed to inform you about the mediation process and enhance your capacity to represent yourself in a mediation.

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 Who supports this program?

This program is made possible by a grant from National Center on Automated Information Retrieval (NCAIR) to the University of Maryland School of Law.

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Copyright 1996, The Center for On-Line Mediation™, Inc.
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Last Revised on September 13, 1996