Fiona Ashworth describes her experience of a virtual joint settlement meeting.
On Monday I conducted my first virtual Joint Settlement Meeting and it was remarkably easy.
I discussed arrangements with my solicitor and my opponent in advance. I used Zoom, having signed up to the Pro version. Although I understand that there is a function for multiple rooms, as an abundance of caution, we decided that the discussions with the client and solicitor should be by Zoom and the discussions with my opponent by phone and email.
A TALE OF FOUR CITIES
I was in Manchester, the solicitor was in Bristol and the client in Birmingham. My opponent was in London. My client had an anxiety condition and a widespread pain condition. It was therefore a positive advantage for her to conduct proceedings from her home.
Our arrangement was for me to start a Zoom call and invite my client and solicitor to join by email rather than have a scheduled meeting. I told my opponent what the arrangements were and that we hoped to have concluded our initial discussions in an hour, but I would email him if there was any change. I emailed him documents in advance which he was able to consider.
THE PROCESS OF NEGOTIATION
After the initial discussion, I signed off the Zoom meeting and spoke with my opponent by phone. He then contacted his team and rang me back. Once I had received a further offer, I texted my client and solicitor to say that I would invite them to a further Zoom meeting. This was then set up again. We felt that this was preferable to keeping the line open and meant that they were not glued to the laptop. In discussions, I used the chat facility to set out the offers that were being made. Documents were emailed to my solicitor and to the client, which worked well.
Offers went to and fro in the usual manner and we were ultimately able to achieve a settlement. This was then confirmed by email.
A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE
My experience of the Virtual JSM was overwhelmingly positive. It was far less stressful for the client and it was far easier for her to manage her condition. My solicitor and my opponent did not have to travel. Costs were reduced as a result; and the carbon footprint was reduced as well. It was far more productive and there were no lengthy pauses in the proceedings.
Overall not only would I say that it was manageable, I would say that it was probably better. As we are all forced to embrace modern technology, these alternate ways of conducting business, we are finding, have numerous advantages and they may well continue when we have all come out the other side.