Hon. Brigid M. McGrath, (Ret.), senior mediator and arbitrator at ADR Systems, recently presented on the future of videoconferencing in legal proceedings alongside co-panelists at the International Association of Defense Counsel’s recent Professional Liability Roundtable titled “Zoom – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: What Works, What Doesn’t, and What Has Gone Horribly Wrong.” The roundtable also included in-house counsel and a sitting judge. Judge McGrath spoke primarily from her experience resolving commercial disputes through her work at ADR Systems, the largest alternative dispute resolution provider in the Midwest.
“It has been two years since I moved my practice remote as a mediator and arbitrator, and I have to say that it has been an invaluable transition,” said Judge McGrath. “Beyond meeting the needs of the moment when the pandemic broke out, going remote has presented a slew of benefits for litigants who come to me for dispute resolution services. I really believe it is here to stay.”
Remote dispute resolution lowers barriers to accessing dispute resolution services, she explained. Whereas parties may have once balked at scheduling an in-person mediation or arbitration because of travel logistics and the concomitant time and financial commitment, the past two years have affirmed that parties can virtually negotiate terms of a settlement in mediation and present their cases in arbitration just as effectively as they could in person – if not more so. Judge McGrath previously stressed this very point in an article she co-authored in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin early on in the pandemic, anticipating the significant changes it would bring to the legal profession in the months ahead.
“In my experience, insurance representatives have found this particularly beneficial,” said Judge McGrath. “Why fly in when they can participate just as well from their office, on the other end of a video connection? A participant can attend from a Chicago suburb, New York, London, or Mexico City. The pandemic really revealed that this is possible and effective on a grand scale.”
Judge McGrath went on to particularly underscore the ease with which parties can convene a remote arbitration. Arbitrations simply require a private room, she explained; it is a private hearing, simplified by rules agreed to by the parties. To convene the arbitration, the remote dispute resolution provider sends a secure link to a private videoconference. Attorneys, claimants and witnesses – some of whom may reside in distant locales – simply connect in to participate.
Even complex arbitrations can be done efficiently using remote videoconferencing. Last spring, Judge McGrath adjudicated an entirely remote multi-week commercial arbitration. The proceedings involved multiple witnesses on both sides in different time zones who would have otherwise been obliged to travel to present their testimony – a more expensive multi-day commitment if not for videoconferencing technology. ADR Systems outfitted the arbitration with security measures to protect clients’ privacy and confidentiality and optimized it so the entire arbitration could be preserved without a court reporter.
“Almost every day, the parties conveyed to me how grateful they were that we could provide this service to them,” said Judge McGrath. “Their matter had already been delayed by the pandemic, and the cost savings and logistical ease of arbitrating their case remotely could not be understated.”
Securing confidentiality in a remote arbitration hearing like the one mentioned above or in a mediation goes beyond the efforts made by ADR Systems alone, however. Judge McGrath stressed that with remote proceedings, she reminds parties that during the videoconference, they must be alone, beyond hearing distance of any persons that should not overhear their mediation or arbitration. File sharing is likewise discouraged through the videoconferencing platform or prevented all together to eliminate possible breaches.
“Everyone contributes to the confidentiality of the remote proceeding,” said Judge McGrath. “And in that confidential virtual space, the work can be done to help parties resolve their disputes in just the same way as they would if they had gathered together.”
Hon. Brigid M. McGrath, (Ret.) has handled complex commercial and personal injury case types throughout her 35-year legal and judicial career, including professional malpractice, medical malpractice, insurance coverage and product liability matters. As a senior mediator and arbitrator, she is skilled at diffusing conflict and identifying root causes of disputes. Counsel know Judge McGrath will apply her legal knowledge with rigor and exacting detail to each case brought before her.
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