Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM) conference -- For many months, I had looked forward to attending the APFM conference for 2020 in Phoenix this month. The last APFM conference I attended in San Diego in 2018 had been wonderful. I loved meeting, interacting with, and learning from mediators and dispute resolution professionals from all over the country and the world. I remember taking back ideas from San Diego and incorporating them into my own practice. October is a perfect month to visit the Southwest and I had envisioned an intense few days at the conference and then moving on to visit the Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, and Antelope Canyon, as well as beautiful National Monuments.
AFPM put on its first online conference instead. There were pre-conference workshops and then a welcoming plenary, “Engaging the New Online Family Mediation Field” that was well attended. We have all been forced into online mediation due to the pandemic and, surprisingly, the major of collaborative professionals online have grown to embrace it. On the one hand, we can meet our clients where they are in their homes, and online mediation is convenient for our clients. On the other hand, we need to work harder to make sure that our personal touch as dispute resolution professionals is not lost. Our guiding principles as mediators are to lead with compassion and to continue to find ways to build rapport. We also need to be really good with technology and ensure that privacy and confidentiality requirements are emphasized when we are online! I try to replicate my in person mediation style to the extent possible now that I am mediating online and make necessary adjustments.
Other sessions that stood out include a talk on “Building a Successful Mediation Practice”, moderated by Woody Mosten, as well as a session entitled “Essential Technology for Effective Online Mediation”, moderated by mediator, lawyer, and online expert Susan Guthrie. I highly recommend reading Woody’s article on Beyond Mediation Toward Peacemaking, in which he talks about peacemaking – “creating a sense of peace and mindfulness within our own lives and in our work by harnessing our core values and best personal attributes.” Susan has been mediating online way before the pandemic and is always beyond generous in sharing her wisdom and tips for improving the online experience for both clients and small business owners. I am really hoping that in 2021, we can all be together in person in Arizona.
George Mason University (GMU) Scalia Law School Class on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) -- It’s hard to believe that I have just taught my ninth class of the fall semester with only four left. My students have been enthusiastic and engaged online as we engage in listening exercises, practice new skills, and use those newly acquired skills in various role play exercises. We have finished the negotiation and mediation units, and we began the arbitration unit this week. Arbitration differs greatly from mediation – arbitration is an adversarial process and the parties have no control over the process and the outcome. There is no appeal right and an arbitrator’s decision is final and binding. Arbitration is less expensive than a trial and can be more private than a trial; arbitration awards do not typically establish precedent for other cases. Next week retired judge, arbitrator, lawyer, and mediator Judge Paul Sheridan will be speaking to my class about arbitration – online via Zoom. I am really looking forward to watching my students interact with Judge Sheridan.
Pivot. Lead. Learn/Mastermind 2020 -- I am really grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this wonderful group online. Maura Fredericks, Coaching for Executives, offered to lead a business mastermind that started over the summer for small business owners. The focus of the mastermind group has been on (1) marketing strategies during the pandemic – how we can continue to innovate through economic uncertainty, (2) scaling and growing – how we can continue to take risks now that we are online, and (3) consulting best practices – how to define what sets our businesses apart and how we can continue to refine our practices during the pandemic. Each month a business owner is in the hot seat and prepares a document that states what type of support the business owner is seeking from the group, as well as goals and challenges. Little Falls Mediation is in the hot seat this month! I am used to listening and facilitating communication and negotiation as mediator, so being in the hot seat is a role reversal for me. I am really enjoying working with this wonderful group of small business owners and being able to support them – as well as accepting their support in my upcoming hot seat.
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.