Fact Sheet: Mediations in the time of Covid-19

In our factsheet Renegotiation – An art not a science, we touched upon resolving disputes using the process of mediation.

Mediation is:

  • Voluntary, private and non-binding negotiation until the parties distil any negotiation/ settlement to a new written settlement agreement.
  • It is most often the appointment of a qualified professional third party mediator (from a professional mediation body such as CEDR or Independent Mediators in the UK) who shuttles between the parties, undertaking confidential discussions with the parties, with a view to brokering a negotiation/ settlement between them.

In the past, mediation has usually been undertaken across, at least, three rooms at a neutral venue with the mediator shuttling between the opposing parties’ rooms having confidential decisions with each party to try to narrow the dispute and gap between them, and ultimately try to get them to reach a settlement.

At the start of such a mediation, there was usually a plenary session where the mediator sits at one end of the table and the parties and their lawyers speak to each other across it.

With Covid-19, mediation has now moved online and they are taking place by various platforms using live screen video. In particular, Zoom is being used as the facility for secure separate breakout rooms for separate parties and for bringing the parties together in a plenary session.

So how is it operating virtually? The mediator places each party and its lawyers into its own virtual room, even if representatives from party are at different locations. The mediator can then speak to each party separately or with the parties together. Instead of actual shuttle diplomacy between actual rooms, the mediator does the same virtually by switching online from room to room.

But what are the matters and potential pitfalls that need to considered for a virtual mediation:

Check that there is an online mediation protocol in the mediation agreement to be signed by the parties which governs the terms of how the virtual mediation progresses and the rules to be adhered to. It should contain at least the following:

  • The parties should agree that no recording of the mediation takes place (it’s a confidential process), no photo images are taken and that there is no sharing of the mediation meeting ID other than to participants at it.
  • If for any technical reason, including error on the mediator’s part in moving parties correctly to the breakout rooms, a participant finds itself able to see and/or hear a private conversation between the mediator and/or any other party, the participant should terminate the online mediation session at once and call or text the mediator on the number provided by it.
  • Steps to be taken if technology fails to operate properly or the mediation session does not start on time or is interrupted.

In the case of the cross border mediations, pre-mediation checks should be undertaken to ensure that no national firewalls prevent parties in one jurisdiction from using Zoom or the technology platform to be used for the mediation.

A pre-mediation call from the mediator to all participants from a party and the testing of the technology platform to be used by all representatives of party for the mediation is paramount. A good and secure internet connection and both the parties and the mediator understanding the technology/platform are very important to a successful mediation.

As to the virtual mediation itself, the following points should be borne in mind:

  • A headset with microphone or earphones with microphone is very helpful.
  • Mute microphones and don’t talk over people.
  • A professional background and decent lighting will assist the process. Representatives of a party should show their faces and not hid behind their name on a black screen or stock photo of themselves so that each party and the mediator can see how they are reacting to points being made.
  • An interruption free day is very important for participants. That is more easily achieved in an in-person mediation rather than representatives from a party being in different locations and often at their homes. The use of phones and checking emails on the computer that a party is using to participate in the virtual mediation should try to be avoided.
  • Across a screen, it is going to be more difficult to establish rapport. To gain a parties’ trust and confidence, rapport must be genuine. Before people are willing to settle, they must feel that their interests are truly understood. Only then can a mediator reframe problems and float creative solutions. Relationship building is more difficult online. Eye contact with the other side can be difficult if they are sitting well back from their screens and not in the same room.

Virtual mediation is still relatively new for all clients, litigators and mediators. In our experience of having undertaken virtual or live screen mediations, it’s the best bet in circumstances where parties genuinely cannot all be present at the same premises (even on a socially distanced basis), but it is simply not as effective as a live mediation with all the parties at the same venue, cooped up in their respect rooms for most of a day and with the mediator being able to shuttle between them in the flesh.

Perhaps one of the most well recognised users of online dispute resolution is Ebay. It is estimated that an incredible +50 million disagreements amongst traders on eBay, are resolved every year using online dispute resolution.

Virtual mediation is here to stay and is no doubt appropriate for low value disputes but where considerable sums are in dispute, serious consideration should be given to the traditional form of mediation even in the current circumstances.

For further advice on mediating, please contact Ian Timlin via his contact details below. Ian has been a CEDR accredited mediator since 2000.

Ian Timlin
Main: +44 (0)20 7390 0280
Mobile: +44 (0)77 6742 7332
ian@conexuslaw.com

This factsheet is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The law is open to, and may have changed since this was written, and it cannot be relied upon as advice in respect of your particular situation. 05/08/2020

Fact Sheet: Update on Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill 2019-21

The Johnson government plans to roll out UK-wide gigabit-capable broadband by 2025.

The Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill 2019-21 is set to amend the 2017 Electronic Communications Code, so as to streamline the process by which network operators may gain access to multi-let residential properties.

It is hoped this will deal with the particular problem of the landlord who is unresponsive to requests to allow access.

Fact Sheet: Renegotiation – An art not a science

Chances are, that as a result of COVID-19, you are either going to have to seek to renegotiate your agreements with another party or deal with parties wishing to do so with you.

In respect of renegotiation, here are some points to consider…

Landlords urged to be aware of ‘Faster Broadband’ legislation, FM Briefing

Landlords are being advised to be aware of forthcoming legislation designed to assist in the Government’s commitment to the roll out of faster more resilient broadband across the UK by 2025.

The call comes from specialist advisory firm Conexus Law as a reminder about the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill 2019-21, which is set to amend the 2017 Electronic Communications Code to streamline the process by which network operators may gain access to multi-let residential properties.

It is hoped this will help to deal with the particular problem of the landlord who is unresponsive to requests to allow access, something that is recognised as a major obstacle to meeting the Government’s target.

Emma Cordiner at Conexus Law said: “Though it is difficult to argue against the motivation for the bill, some private landlords may see it as bordering on the draconian. However, timely responsiveness and collaboration by landlords should avoid forceful operator action, so now (as ever) would be the time for all landlords to adopt good habits and pay closer attention to any operator requests for access to install infrastructure.

“At this stage, landlords need to have the bill on their radars, and in spite of the bill, might do well to plan the implementation of broadband infrastructure policies for their buildings, with one eye on a forthcoming need to be more responsive to operator requests. Ultimately a well-managed property with the best of broadband capability will only ever be an attractive prospect to tenants.”

Source: facilitiesmanagementforum.co.uk/landlords-urged-to-be-aware-of-faster-broadband-legislation

Contract concerns? Digitalisation World

Conexus Law offers the latest guidance for companies.

“Life and business has got a lot more difficult and complicated since the classification of COVID-19 as a pandemic. As a result, all businesses are or will be looking at their financial and logistical obligations to third parties.”

This is according to Ian Timlin from Conexus Law, the specialist advisory firm that provides legal and commercial advice to clients who work in sectors where the built environment, technology, engineering and people converge.

In the latest free guidance sheet that can be found on the company’s website, he is advising companies that as a first step they should check their written contracts to see if they contain any terms can help clarify things. These may include force majeure, material adverse change clauses and general break clauses.

“Companies may also want to look to see if the counterparty to the contract is going to find it difficult or impossible to perform its own obligations now or in the future (particularly in the short term). That may give them scope to negotiate sensible variations all round,” suggests Ian.

Source: digitalisationworld.com/news/58929/contract-concerns

Fact Sheet: Health and safety obligations for employers related to Covid-19

As an employer you have a duty of care to your employees and should continue to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing. This applies whether they are working from your premises or elsewhere.

At a time of global distress and uncertainty, demonstrating concern for the physical, emotional and psychological health of your staff is not just about complying with your legal requirements – it makes good business sense too.

Showing that you care for your employees will build trust, reinforce your commitment to them, and maintain engagement, morale and productivity. It will also help ensure you have a committed workforce once the current economic challenges and constraints of the pandemic are over.

COVID-19 to push growth trajectory of data centre industry, Data Economy

COVID-19 has changed the business landscape in all industries across the globe, and the data centre sector is no exception.

The data centre has emerged into the spotlight as the pandemic forces the increase of remote working and information from governments, causing the growth trajectory of the industry to scale up.

With data centre operators being established as key/ essential workers, data centre operators are facing a number of COVID-19 related challenges, including limiting routes for infection whilst providing continuity of service.

Taking a little trip down memory lane – pre-COVID-19 – the growth of cloud technology played a major part in the data centre sector’s success.

In 2018, global revenue from the wholesale and retail data centre colocation market amounted to around $38 billion, according to Statista; with industry revenues expected to increase to over $50 billion per year by 2023 – as an increasing share of global businesses adopts data collection and analysis into their strategy.

Ed Cooke, Founder of Conexus Law told Data Economy that the virus will not have too much of a negative impact on the data centre sector as its need becomes more prevalent.

“It is no secret that the use of social media, online videos, gaming and all other underling fundamentals to do with the Internet of Things (IoT) is all on track to boost the requirements for data, data processing and IT infrastructure,” he says when giving a general overview of the industry before the pandemic began.

“There were still great amounts of construction taking place in the tier one cities; France, London, Amsterdam and Paris and Dublin, and there has been growth occurring in other markets too – particularly in South America, the Nordics and in Africa, and quite a lot of expansion is happening in Asia.

He was right. In the last seven days, companies in the sector have still been announcing mergers and acquisitions as well as the beginning of a new data centre build in London by Netwise.

Despite all of this, Cooke says that there are some cracks that appear as there has been some constrain in the supply chain.

“There are very few main contractors out there who have expertise in building data centres securely, and they were over-reliant on an even smaller group of suppliers who would supply the equipment,” he explains.

“However, what is interesting about COVID-19 is that in many ways it will push the growth trajectory of the industry.

“People have had it demonstrated to them now that they can work remotely, and many companies have already had it demonstrated to them now that their business continuity plans are not what they thought they were.

“I suspect we will see an increase in the purchase of cloud technology and the purchase of IT infrastructure and backup systems.”

Cooke explains that he fears the supply chain may get even more constraint, as he predicts that businesses may be lost as a result of the virus.

“Many clients are now starting to think about what happens when construction starts again, there will be a real fight for resources both in terms of labour and spaces on the manufacturing lines of these equipment providers, the generator providers, the transformer providers.

“People will want to make sure that their project starts up again first. In the short term after COVID-19, it will be a bit of a battle.”

Cooke went on to explain that one of the other things that the industry is witnessing is the likes of big internet companies like the Microsofts of this world starting to take up the spaces that they had reserved in data centres.

COVID-19 effects on finances

Recently, US data centre power biz Vertiv cut its financial forecasts for the next quarter in response to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on its supply lines.

HPE, Microsoft and Samsung have all warned that the virus is likely to affect their supply chains this year.

Facebook pressed the pause button on the construction of its Huntsville, Alabama data centre campus due to safety concerns over staff during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Cooke previously told Data Economy that the pipeline of new data centres is under threat as the supply of labour and parts have been paused by the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All hope is not lost as companies like Tencent and CyrusOne amongst others have all pledged to donate money to combat the virus as well as offer support where it is needed.

Data centre businesses rally on markets fightback after governments around the world pour more than $1.5tr into economies.

Source: data-economy.com/light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-covid-19-to-push-growth-trajectory-of-data-centre-industry

Fact Sheet: Struggling to meet your contractual obligations? What are the issues and options?

Life and business has got a lot more difficult and complicated since the classification of COVID-19 as a pandemic.

As a result, all businesses have or will be looking at their financial and logistical obligations to third parties.

If you are struggling to meet any of those obligations, please consider this guidance to see if you can implement any of our suggestions.

Conexus Law appoints dispute resolution specialist to support companies during the COVID-19 pandemic

Conexus Law, the specialist advisory firm that provides legal and commercial advice to clients who work in sectors where the built environment, technology, engineering and people converge, has appointed a specialist dispute resolution and commercial litigation lawyer.

Ian Timlin brings with him nearly 30 years’ experience including acting for long standing technology clients in the following sectors: data centres, document management, telephony, car parking and young driver insurance. Career highlights include: leading and completing the successful settlement of complex multi-party multi-insurer construction claims including recovering £21m from a FTSE 100 construction company, architect and their insurers following mediation.

Ian Timlin said: “I have been a CEDR Accredited Mediator since 2000 and feel strongly that discussion and negotiation are often the primary tool in resolving disputes and Court proceedings. This is particularly important during this pandemic where companies, businesses and individuals need to work together to get the best possible outcome and maintain good working relationships for when this is all over.”

Ed Cooke, founder at Conexus Law, said: “Ian’s clients comment that he is straight talking, tough (when necessary), practical, tenacious and ultimately very commercial in getting disputes resolved. He is a great asset to our growing team and will be invaluable in helping our clients both through these unprecedented times and after as we start the process of rebuilding.”

Ian was previously an equity partner at Maxwell Batley on Chancery Lane and at City law firm, Speechly Bircham, and the Group Legal Director for a large offshore property development, investment and construction group based in the Channel Islands.

He is also an accomplished sports lawyer, with particular and significant experience in the world of motorsport, advising in respect of disputes and putting in place a myriad of commercial contracts in that sector.

Fact Sheet: The effect of Coronavirus on contractual obligations

The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak is already having a significant impact on many individuals and many businesses. Unfortunately, it is becoming clearer that the impact will likely be more significant and longer lasting than we may have imagined at first.

Primarily, businesses should be focussed upon the health and wellbeing of their teams, and what they can do operationally to minimise the spread of the virus. Governments across the world are issuing guidance, and mandating actions that businesses and individuals must take to support this effort.

This is a fast-moving landscape. We are working hard to keep our clients up to date.

This note provides legal analysis alongside some valuable, practical steps that may be taken by parties who find the impact of Covid-19 affects their ability to meet contractual obligations owed to others (upstream), or who find that their trading partners can no longer meet the obligations owed to them (downstream).

In the modern commercial world, businesses are also more reliant on trading partners and long “just in time” supply chains in order to fulfil their contractual obligations. The impact of Covid-19 could significantly upset those finely balanced arrangements. The relationships between parties may be tested in ways they had not previously contemplated.

As trading relationships are now often global, one may have to consider a complex interplay of laws from different jurisdictions, some of which are potentially in conflict. The answers are not simple and are highly fact specific. This note gives some general legal guidance, but it is no substitute for proper legal advice – whether that advice comes from us, or your usual lawyers.

Various governments are introducing emergency legislation to provide support to businesses that may be affected by Covid-19. Some of that legislation may amend the general legal guidance provided in this note.

For countries that are key for our clients, we will endeavour to provide more detailed advice on the latest position.