Technological Troubleshooting for Online Mediators: Some Tips and Lessons Learned

Greg Eaton offers some troubleshooting tips for online mediators.


After the initial panic that ensued once the pandemic hit,  mediators, lawyers , and parties have become comfortable mediating online.    The process, however, is not perfect.  If you mediate enough cases online you will encounter technological glitches and difficulties.    Mediators now find themselves in the unlikely, and unenviable, position of technological troubleshooters.

Here are some challenges I have encountered as a mediator over the past few months of mediating via Zoom, along with some suggestions.

Unstable Internet Connection.   You are in the middle of a productive breakout session with one of the parties.  Things are moving along smoothly.  And then your video starts to freeze, your audio is garbled.   The dreaded warning:  “unstable internet connection” flashes on the screen.   If you generally have good internet connection, the issue probably lies elsewhere.   Check your computer to see if other applications are running; if so, shut them down.   If others in your office or home office are using significant bandwidth—games, or other Zoom or Webex meetings for example—that could diminish your connection.  Make sure no one else in your office is hosting a Zoom meeting on the same account, for this will not only compromise your Zoom connection, but you will likely be kicked off the meeting entirely.   It’s also a good idea to connect directly to your modem rather than rely on WiFi.

The pandemic will be here for a while yet.  If you are mediating regularly you should invest in your own Zoom Pro account and fiber optic internet if available.   With these two things the only way you are likely to have connection issues is if there is an internet outage in your area.

Internet Fails Completely.     Recently, I was in the middle of mediating a case when the internet suddenly went down.    Despite several attempts, I could not sign back in.   The Zoom mediation was still going on, but I wasn’t there.   I later learned there was an internet outage in my area that lasted several hours.   Luckily, I had my cell phone with the Zoom application and was able to sign back into the meeting and continue from there.    While I was able to move forward as the meeting host on my phone, the Zoom mobile app does not allow the host to see or manage breakout rooms.   Because the lawyers in this case were in their respective office with their clients, I was able to move one party to the waiting room while I caucused with the other.   Not perfect, but it worked.

The best solution, which I did not think of at the time, would have been to use the hotspot on my cell phone.  The hotspot basically turns the phone into a router, which would have allowed me to use my computer to complete the mediation, breakout rooms and all.

Other Glitches or Problems:    Most online mediations run smoothly.   On occasion, however, you will encounter problems.  The most common one is a party or lawyer freezing or dropping off the meeting unexpectedly.   Most of the time, this can be remedied by having the party leave the meeting and sign back in.   If one party has an unstable internet connection, you can ask that party to take the measures outline above  or turn off their video and continue via audio.  If it’s simply a matter of bad internet service, then ask the party to participate using the cellphone Zoom app, or just call in to the Zoom meeting.  Prior to the start of the mediation, I always admit the parties from the waiting room and check their connections and ask about alternatives.   I always make sure all participants have my cell phone number so they can contact me if they drop off the meeting or have other problems.

You will also run into other unexpected glitches.    A few weeks ago, after the main session I opened the breakout rooms for the parties.   Although the breakout room feature showed the defense lawyer and insurance adjuster in their assigned room, when I went to join no one was there.  I received separate texts from counsel and the adjuster, each saying they were all alone in cyberspace.  I did the only thing that came to mind:  I closed all breakout rooms and then reopened them.   That fixed the problem.

Don’t Panic But Be Prepared   If some unexpected tech issue comes your way, don’t panic.   We are all in the same boat these days; everyone is working online and has had to cope with technological issues.  We all expect them to happen from time to time.  As an online mediator, you want to show the participants that you can deal effectively with tech problems so that the mediation can continue.     Talk to other mediators about the problems they’ve encountered and how they dealt with them.   Check your own internet connection before every mediation and make sure you have downloaded all updates to Zoom or other platform.   Most important, have a backup plan.   Make sure you have the Zoom app on your phone and/or tablet, and that you know how to use your phone as a hotspot.   Mediators may not enjoy being technological troubleshooters but, for now at least, it’s a role we have to assume.