By Leslie A.W. Satterlee
The pandemic wreaked havoc on our lives in many ways. For attorneys, we had to embrace technology and learn to lawyer online. Attorneys had to learn to navigate digital exhibits, meet with clients and colleagues over Zoom, sign documents remotely, and conduct trials completely online. I learned to navigate these developments, and while it was initially overwhelming, it is something I have since embraced and continue to incorporate into my mediation practice.
There are many wonderful full-time mediators in Arizona. While I do mediate cases, I am not a full-time mediator. I still maintain an active case load which means that I have firsthand knowledge of what is happening in the Courts. While some mediators will work with unrepresented parties, I don’t. I currently only provide mediation services to represented parties, so that I am able to remain truly neutral. During the mediation process, it is essential that each party retains counsel that is able to act as their personal advocate, while I listen to both sides and mediate the best outcome between them.
I take a few cases a month and have utilized remote technology as a way to easily schedule sessions and help keep costs down for the parties. For parties in Flagstaff and Tucson, or any other location outside of metropolitan Phoenix, this means no freeway travel and the flexibility to convene full or half-day sessions. It also means that we can make progress and pause our mediation for a few days to regroup when helpful.
Mediating in general can save thousands of dollars in legal fees and considerable time that would be otherwise spent on court proceedings. Following a completed mediation, generally, the only role that a judge or commissioner will play in your divorce will be to sign an official consent decree finalizing the agreement. Parties will often ask me if remote mediation is as effective as an in-person proceeding. I believe it certainly can be one of the most efficient means for a divorce to become finalized. Here are some examples why:
- Mediation allows for both parties to spend time discussing the issues most important to themselves, their families, and their business interests – this can still be done remotely with the implementation of different videoconference “rooms.”
- There may be a time when the mediator wants to meet with attorneys only, and online platforms allow for separate “rooms” to be used during this scenario as well.
- Parties can further decide whether all participants are remote, or if the party and their attorney want to be physically in one office. This allows for even more personalization in the way the mediation day is set up.
- Remote options will likely reduce legal fees needed for counsel to bill for travel to and from a mediator’s office.
- Remote mediation will reduce the mental/emotional strain of participation in in-person court proceedings, or any discomfort that any individual may experience in shared settings.
- Regardless of where a family court filing is initially made, mediation via videoconference allows participation to occur from any location.
- Your case can be pending anywhere in Arizona, and remote mediation can easily allow for an out of county mediator to assist your case. In small counties, there may be less options for mediators and more conflicts of interest. An out of county mediator may be preferred.
- Documents can be easily shared via emails, screen sharing and the like, so everyone can still review the same document even if geographically distanced.
- The parties can collaborate on a written agreement by sending electronically and then signing virtually.
Leslie A. Satterlee is a partner at Woodnick Law and has been practicing family law exclusively since graduating cum laude from ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Her practice involves complex asset driven divorce matters.