Mediator Tip #2: Make Breakout Rooms Work Better
Private Breakout Rooms are the most important feature Zoom offers for conducting caucused mediations. Here are a few suggestions on how to make Breakout Rooms work smoothly and more effectively.
Set Up and Name Breakout Rooms before the Mediation Starts. I like to sign in a half-hour or so before the start of the mediation to make sure everything is working. This is also a great time to manually set up Breakout Rooms and rename them before the Main Session starts, so you are ready to go.
Consider using the first names of counsel and parties when you rename the rooms, to help get the right people into the right rooms. For instance, with a three-party case, you might use this format:
- Plaintiff: Thomas, Suzanne & George
- Defendant 1: Carrie & Beth
- Defendant 2: Ian, William & Candace
Add Extra Breakout Rooms. Once you have initial rooms for the participants, consider setting up extra Breakout Rooms. In a multi-defendant case, consider an “All Defendants” room. Also, a “Counsel” room, and a “Mediator” room. There is no harm in having extra rooms. Once you open the Breakout Rooms you can’t easily add more rooms, so setting these up ahead of time is helpful.
Don’t Log Out of the Meeting Once Breakout Rooms are Set Up. If you log out of the meeting as Host, all the work you have done to name and set up Breakout Rooms is going to disappear and you will have to start over. So, stay in the meeting once your Breakout Rooms are set up.
Populate Breakout Rooms as Participants Join the Waiting Room. You can’t assign participants to individual Breakout Rooms until they actually enter the Waiting Room. When you receive notifications that individual participants have joined, start populating the Breakout Rooms so you are all set when you open them up.
Don’t Open the Breakout Rooms Until You Finish the Main Session. Although you have set up and named the Breakout Rooms, don’t make the mistake of opening them prematurely. If this happens you can lose people from the Main Session and have trouble getting them back. Open the Breakout Rooms as your final step when you conclude the Main Session (reminding participants that they will receive and need to accept an invitation to join their Breakout Room).
Explain Breakout Room Privacy to Participants. Counsel and parties unfamiliar with Zoom often are unsure about the privacy of Breakout Room conversations. I like to explain that you can see the only people who can hear you, and if you can’t see someone’s picture (or phone number for audio participants), they are not inside the room. Also explain that if the Share Screen feature is used inside a Breakout Room, the “share” stays privately inside that room.
Utilize the “Ask for Help” Button. Often Breakout Room participants will ask the Mediator to leave the room so they can discuss their next move privately. The question then arises how to alert the Mediator when to come back into the room. One of the buttons that appears when parties are in a Breakout Room is “Ask for Help”, which sends a private message requesting that the Host come back. If participants are educated ahead of time on the location of this button and what it does, Breakout Room visits become much easier.
Instead of Leaving Breakout Rooms and Returning to the Main Session, Move from Room to Room Directly. There are two ways for the Host to leave a Breakout Room: (a) by using the “Leave Room” button (which returns you to the Main Session); or (b) by opening the Breakout Room window and clicking “Join” to join a different Breakout Room without passing through the Main Session first. The latter, of course, saves time and works more efficiently if you are finished in one room and wish to go directly to another.
Consider the Option of Moving Participants to a Different Breakout Room. There are times in some mediations where you may choose to move participants into other Breakout Rooms than where they started off. For instance,
- In a multi-defendant case, the defendants may wish to confer as a group on strategy or allocation of offers.
- If there is an important legal point that needs to be communicated, there may be situations where there is benefit in bringing counsel into the opposing party’s room to explain their perspective.
- If a mediation is getting bogged down or encountering unexpected issues, there may be situations where the mediator wishes to speak privately with all counsel, without the parties present.
- Or, if a case resolves, it may be productive for counsel to work together in a separate Breakout Room, without clients present, to craft settlement terms.
If you open the Breakout Room window and click on a participant’ name, you will see an option to “Assign” that person to another room.
At the End of the Mediation, Offer to Keep the Breakout Rooms Open for Private Discussions. When a mediation wraps up, counsel often welcome a chance to speak privately with their clients about next steps going forward. Offer all sides the option to stay in their Breakout Room for those discussions as long as they wish. As Host, you can keep track of who remains and who has left. Don’t close out the meeting until everyone has finished those discussions.
For more articles on Mediation, check out Greg's blog, Thoughts on Mediation
Originally published, May 8, 2020, on LinkedIn.
About the Blogger:
Gregory S. Clayton is a full-time mediator based in Camden, who mediates throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. He is a member of the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
He may be contacted by email or at (207) 706 4977. CLAYTON MEDIATION, LLC