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A Thousand Mediations A Month

A Thousand Mediations A Month

I know what you’re thinking; impossible! I can’t even meet my goal of one mediation a month let alone a thousand. Let Jo show you the way. In this interview Jo explains how she’s turning her vision of a 1000 mediations a month into reality. Very inspiring stuff, particularly for anyone new to mediation (you might even be looking for the odd mediation referral from Jo!)


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Full Transcript

Aled: Hi everyone, my name is Aled Davies, founder of, home of the hungry and passionate mediator. And a place where new and aspiring mediators come and listen to experienced mediators, from around the world, tell their story about what’s helped them become effective and successful at what they do. Now if you’ve watched any of these interviews, you know that what you learn here isn’t something you can learn on a typical mediator training course. At the very least, you’ll leave with some clear, actionable steps that you can take to move one step closer to achieving what you want to achieve in this field.

I want you to be inspired, as inspired as I am, so that you’ll take at least one actionable step, make one change per week, and build your own success story. And then maybe you’ll come back onto Mediator Academy, and tell your story to my audience. Now, I’m guessing most of you watching this now would bite my hand off if I said this, this year you’ll be doing 25-30 mediations. Imagine if I told you that my guest today could be looking at a caseload in the thousands. Impossible? Suspend your disbelief just momentarily, and listen to what my guest has to say today.

You’ll also learn some inspiring lessons on what it takes to be entrepreneurial as a mediator. Something I don’t think, and I’m open to being challenged about this, I don’t think us mediators are particularly good at thinking and acting entrepreneurially. All right, a little bit about my guest. She’s a CEDR accredited mediator, a member of the Civil Mediation Counsel, and has enjoyed a successful career in the civil service, working for HM Revenue and Customs, and the tribunal services amongst other organisations. She’s mediated the whole gamut of disputes within the small claims track, and unlike many other mediators I know, comes from a non-legal background. Which she believes is a real benefit, as she can keep the process jargon-free, and it’s easier for her to remain impartial. All right, I’m delighted to welcome Jo Holland onto Mediator Academy. Jo, welcome.

Jo: Thank you so much for having me Aled.

Aled: Jo, if you’re telling me now that next year you could be looking at doing over a thousand, and by the way we had spoken in the pre-interview, a thousand would be underestimating the possibility. Tell me a little bit about how that is possible.

Jo: I think when I first set out to set up as a private mediator, I knew that I wanted to specialise in small claims, and with my background in the courts, I knew that there was a huge volume of small claims in this country. And what I really wanted to do was to create a mediation practice that would be able to provide a proportionate dispute resolution service, but not only that, I knew that there were so many fantastic mediators in this country, that sit on panels and wait for the odd one, or the odd two, or their C.V.s are put forward and unfortunately they didn’t get that one, and I just thought, ‘How great would it be to set up, to have a panel, not charge people to join my panel, but to set out and find a niche or an organisation that could bring volume to the mediators.’ And I really wanted to be able to do that for them.

I don’t expect any kind of praise or thanks, I just think that there are an awful lot of mediators out there, talented people, that are sitting, waiting, and we should be using them. So that was my kind of initial plan.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: So in terms of how do I uncover an organisation or way of generating a thousand odd cases, maybe even a month. Not –

Aled: A thousand cases a month.

Jo: – just even a year.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: So I started to think about, well, where would those disputes be?

Aled: Hold on a second, just before you go down that road. It sounds like you’re a bit of a mother hen to mediators, right? And I don’t mean that-, I mean that really, sort of, generously, but I’m really fascinated what drives you, and I don’t want you to answer this now because I want to come back onto this later, I really want to understand what drives you to want to create something like this, but not just the thoughts that you have. But how you translate that vision, that dream into action because, I know a little bit about your story. I think you’re a real maverick, really entrepreneurial, I think there’s a lot I can learn from you and definitely a lot others can learn. So, that’s coming up in the interview. Sorry, I interrupted you. A thousand a month, you’ve got my attention.

Jo: Well before I even got to that point, my starting point, and I may be jumping the gun Aled, was that I knew that the small claims limit was to increase to £10,000.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: And, that was my starting point, because I also knew that the mediators that were within the court system, doing the job that I used to do – I was a small claims mediator, mediating all day every day – I knew that the courts hadn’t replaced those mediators that had gone on to pastures new. I knew that the ones that were there were working to the absolute max, and I also knew that there didn’t appear to be any plans in place for that increase. There was going to be an additional eighty thousand cases going into the courts. So my first thought was, I’m going to write to my M.P., and I’m going to write Chris Grayling, and I’m going to write to the M.O.J., and I’m going to suggest to them that they look at doing things in a different way, and ‘Here is my plan, this is what you could do. And actually then you will be able to comfortably deal with those additional eighty thousand cases, all your muses [sounds like 0:06:59] will be happy, they’ll have the access to justice that they need, and actually, we can embrace technology whilst we are about it, and create lots of work for mediators across the country.’ And that’s exactly what I put, to those three organisations in person. Really bold.

I did a very thought out plan about how we could take the court mediation model one step further, they use the telephone for mediation in the court, so I already knew that that worked, but how could we take that further. So I started to look at other ways to create even wider, flexible opportunities for people to use mediation services. So that was my starting point, I immediately got a reply back from my M.P., and I also got a reply back, two replies, from Chris Grayling. I’m not sure whether he actually wrote the letters, but he wrote back. And I got a request from the Ministry of Justice to for me to meet with one of their team from headquarters to talk about my idea. So that was actually the starting point to all of this.

I knew that so many people in this country absolutely should have this available to them, before they even get to court, so I was looking not just at once they were in court but pre-issue. So many people told me when I was a court mediator, ‘God, Jo, I really wish we could have had this sooner. If only. But we have to issue a claim, we have to go into the system and wait.’ So that was my starting point.

Aled: So what you’re describing to me is what I would call a Jerry Maguire moment.

Jo: Absolutely.

Aled: You’ve seen the movie Jerry Maguire where he, when he writes a mission statement?

Jo: Yes, that was me.

Aled: That’s it.

Jo: Embarrassing, but, yeah, and I absolutely believed it. And what I did then was I started to put the feelers out, and seek out mediators. I hand-picked mediators, and I explained about my Jerry Maguire kind of mission statement. And they thought, ‘Wow, this is great, because we get probably three or four mediations, maybe the odd co-mediation, and we really like the idea of this.’ Some of them were, ‘Well, small claims? It’s not going to give us a high enough fee, and, you know, why would we?’ And my answer to that is, ‘Well, why not? Surely if I can give you three or four mediations a day, every day, that would generate quite a good income for you, would it not? And you can do it in your pyjamas, if you wish.’ Because one of my other ideas was that there are lots of mediators out there, some of them will have caring responsibilities, other work commitments, and what I’m trying to do, and still trying to do, is to be able to provide a variety of work that can fit in with other things and commitments, that you can do from home. And if you are in your pyjamas, and you’re on the telephone, it doesn’t matter.

I just wanted to do something different, and I suddenly had this, I’ve created this group of people who have been absolutely rooting for me all along, and have been prepared to help me out, administratively, you know, provide assistance where I needed it, because it was a big, tall order.

I don’t know whether I answered your question.

Aled: Okay, well, you have, and you’re drifting slightly into how you’ve created this, and I want to pull out, I want you to hold onto that really important information for a moment. Because I want to just come back to – so the idea was planted, the seed was planted, when you realized that the small claims limit would be increased to £10,000. That would radically change the volume of cases coming through. You also talked about, a lot of these mediations were being handled over the phone, is that right?

Jo: Yep.

Aled: So how much time would a small claims mediation over the phone take?

Jo: One hour.

Aled: One hour?

Jo: One hour. And we were all, obviously we were all trained through CEDR, but we were given additional training in how to deal with time-limited mediation, while still providing that professional mediation service, so the little tricks, hints, and tips of the trade, but –

Aled: Sorry to interrupt you. I mean, I can imagine, in terms of expectations and everything that, you know, you’re doing something in an hour, how do you go about doing that? Just give me a couple of examples of the tips or tricks that one might use to.

Jo: We spoke before the interview about preparation for a traditional mediation. Some of the small claims, certainly when I was in the courts, we would get very, very little information. We sadly wouldn’t see the case file, but we may well get the Claim and the Defence, so that would be all that we would have. Although there was an hour fixed, the pre-mediation call, that call to the parties, was really critical, and that is still critical to me now, because that to me sets the tone, builds the rapport, ‘Can I check, are we okay to use first names?’, you know, and you would instantly know how to tailor your style.

Because it’s over the telephone and people can’t see you, it’s really important for example if I’m speaking to a guy from Mansfield and he’s a builder and he just wants to be called Mick, ‘Right, Mick, how we doing? Have you got a cup of tea by your side? Are we ready to go?’ And so that pre-mediation call would be the preparation. But one hour, you have to cover an awful lot, so you need to establish that actually we can’t talk about absolutely everything, what are the key – I suppose it’s exactly the same in the full, that you identify the issues, you identify what are we going to focus on.

Aled: And do you identify that based on your conversations in the pre-mediation calls, or do you give them, both parties, two or three minutes to –

Jo: They do the open statement, just as you would do, but on a much grander scale in a full day mediation, but absolutely. But what I would say is, ‘Okay, we’re not looking at War and Peace, just give me the backbones of this. Let’s just focus on the main issues. Give it me in a nutshell.’ All these kind of phrases, just to get them focused, because of course, particularly with small claims, there is often an awful lot of emotion attached to them.

Actually, when you get into it, you discovered that the lady that’s so annoyed with the large electrical company, that she wasn’t getting anywhere, she felt she had no option but to issue a claim. Actually when you start to speak to her, ‘Jo, if they’d have just said “Sorry.”’ Sorry was really important to that lady. And so, you would cover that in the opening statement. Most of the time, most of those calls are in private, unless they request otherwise. So, you manage their expectation, ‘Okay, I’m going to be with Mr. Brown for ten minutes, I’m just going to find out’ – sorry, go on Alec.

Aled: Yeah, no, I’d assumed that you’d be on a conference call.

Jo: No, not all the time.

Aled: All right, okay.

Jo: Because, some people just absolutely do not want to be speaking in any way directly with the other person.

Aled: Right, okay.

Jo: A lot of emotion will be built up. You know, the lady who’s got a patio and it’s a nightmare and she’s suing the guy, she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him.

Aled: Yeah.

Jo: So, as a mediator, I soak up an awful lot of that emotion in order for us to move forward. And that’s my experience in small claims, I’m guess that that’s how mediators work in larger claims, although I suppose in commercial there’s less, less emotion.

Aled: It’s like a concentrated orange juice version, isn’t it, you know.

Jo: Yes.

Aled: The espresso version.

Jo: All the principles are the same. In terms of confidentiality, without prejudice, ‘Is there anything that you’ve told me there that you’re not happy that I share with the other side?’ so that cuts down every single point, ‘Is that okay to share?’

Aled: Okay, yeah.

Jo: So actually, I think that’s a really good analogy, the concentrated orange juice. And you know, actually an hour is a perfectly satisfactory amount of time to achieve that. So even if we’re making progress, and you uncover that there’s a piece of information or a contract that’s not being seen, or a photograph or evidence. Stop the clock, allow them to go off and share that, and then come back, and you’ve still got the remainder of that hour left.

Aled: Yes.

Jo: It’s really hard to explain until you’re actually in one.

Aled: I can imagine, I mean, I’m really fascinated, you know. So let’s say you’re coming to the end of the hour, I mean, are there stats around settlement rates, cases that reached agreement in an hour?

Jo: Mine were 90% settlement rate.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: But, as I said in the pre-interview, for me it’s absolutely, and all of us mediators it’s not just about settlement rate. We may have narrowed the issues. You know, the plumber might have a better understanding of how catastrophic his work was to the family of Mrs. Brown, but we may still not have been able to manage to have got that bill down or whatever. It’s still a fantastic process to go through, for those types of claims, but even the ones that haven’t settled, a good proportion of those will at some point come back and say, ‘Actually, we’ve had time to think, you know, Mr. Plumber has approached me, we’d really like you to draft a settlement agreement now.’

Aled: Okay, so who’s responsible then for drafting that settlement agreement?

Jo: The mediator.

Aled: The mediator, okay. Is there a pro-forma for that, or?

Jo: Yes.

Aled: There is, okay.

Jo: Very simple, again, all with the key elements and actually the agreement to mediate –

Aled: Yeah.

Jo: Everything is exactly the same, in terms of the documentation –

Aled: Right.

Jo: – and how we would deal with that. We wouldn’t be issuing sort of Tomlin Orders or things like that at the end of it.

Aled: Yeah.

Jo: But as a mediator we would always check, ‘There’s no point in you saying that you can settle and you’re going to pay X amount if you can’t, are you sure.’ So we’re still checking, we’re still doing the, you know, the best alternative, the worst alternative, the strengths and the weaknesses. All of that magic happens in a much tighter time scale.

Aled: Yeah. Okay, all right, so I can see now, I can see a new model arising out of the ashes. So all this happened, you had the brain wave, you still had these wonderful mediators that were just sitting there twiddling their thumbs, and you thought, ‘Isn’t it a travesty when, you know, the supply side of the conflict dispute curve is healthy, the demand side from the mediators’ perspective is also healthy, but how come we’re not meeting somewhere in between?’

Jo: You just need – I’m a conduit, that’s what I am. I’m trying to bring those together.

Aled: Okay, so you’re a conduit, and you wanted to take the phone idea a step further and you started talking about, you know, being able to create the process that was flexible from a mediator’s perspective, so I could sit in my pyjamas and do it if I wanted to, if I had, you know, to drop the kids off at school and pick them up at a certain time, again, I knew I wouldn’t have to be up in Birmingham at a certain time.

Jo: Exactly.

Aled: Or, you know, down in Southampton. I could sit on the phone, or, what’s the other alternative?

Jo: Well, the ‘on the phone’ I actually developed a little bit further, and there’s an organisation who had created a telephone software product specifically for mediations. And they already provide the court service with telephone hearings, and they created this product, but, you know, with the best will in the world the resources weren’t there for the courts to actually use it. So I thought, ‘Well, this has been developed, why don’t I, in my bid to the M.O.J., suggest that I use this telephone software, so they get the benefit of it without having to kind of pay directly. And that started – the way that it works is that you have the parties on the telephone, but you can virtually put earmuffs on them, and zips on their mouths, and, you know, put them on mute, so it’s taken the regular telephone one step further.

Aled: Right.

Jo: So that was my first thought, and then I started to research O.D.R. Online Dispute Resolution.

Aled: Online dispute resolution.

Jo: Yes.

Aled: Cyber-mediation.

Jo: Yes.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: And of course, all the time I’m thinking, ‘I’m in a small claim dispute, how would I want to deal with this?’ Telephone is fine, but it requires you to block out one hour of your time, or as I offer two hours of my time. What if I’m working away, but I still want to deal with this? What can we do to offer something for that audience? And I suppose when I looked online, what I loved was the fact you can have the asynchronous discussion, so you can have your chap who’s working out of a hotel in Leeds posting his message after a very long day at eleven o’clock at night, mediator picks it up the next day, contacts the other side of the dispute, and so you have a window, a period of time, that you can have those discussions. Again, for me it’s all about fitting in with their work pattern or their lifestyle.

I started to look at that, and then I discovered that there was an EU directive on A.D.R. and O.D.R., and I wanted to know more about that, and I met with Pablo Cortes, who had been very involved in the drafting of that directive, and I wanted to understand: How could I translate what that directive was into what I wanted to achieve.

Aled: What’s the EU directive?

Jo: The EU directive basically sets out, I think it’s for the next, it’s just been passed, so in eighteen months time, it’s mainly about, sort of, cross border work.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: But I wanted to look at it from dealing with it in the U.K., not as a kind of, if I’ve got a dispute with eBay or PayPal, but how could we use that in small claims mediation. And there were some principles about fairness and transparency, and all the things I really wanted to develop within my own mediation practice. So, we’re at the starting point, really, of this, but I’m developing my practice so that when it comes to the opportunity to be accredited, as an E.U. mediation provider, that’s where we will be. Later on I can talk to you about my projects, that I have on the boil with Spain and with Cyprus so that I can provide mediation here, and anywhere.

Aled: Okay. So, you’re creating the infrastructure, I can see you’re sort of getting yourself in, you’re jostling for position. It’s a bit like, you know, the metaphor that springs to mind, you can imagine the three thousand metre steeplechase, you know, as they trying to get into position, into pole position. But if you don’t have any cases, you can have all the mediators in the world, you can have all the accreditations in the world. But what’s different about what you’re doing to what Joe down the road is doing, whose three mediations a year, the odd co-mediation –

Jo: The key to this is niche.

Aled: Go on.

Jo: I’d already identified the larger volume of small claims, your ad hoc, absolutely anything that piles into the small claims track. But I wanted to take that a step further, and I started to look at, well, for my experience in the courts, what kind of organisations did I see an awful lot of on my desk? Where was the volume? What kind of disputes were more, not popular, but that we had more of? And then I started to look about, well in this country, we are now, with the recession and with the housing market so that more people are renting, more people renting equals more disputes, not just in terms of deposits, but just disputes in general.

Aled: Yeah.

Jo: And so I started to look at, okay, there are four government accredited secure deposit schemes. And I started to look at how they dealt with the volume of disputes, and what method did they use? And the traditional method that those schemes use is adjudication.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: And of course, in a way, that’s slightly behind the times in terms of small claims, in that the courts have embraced mediation, so it doesn’t hit a District Judge’s desk –

Aled: Yes.

Jo: – so, what’s the difference? And I asked the question, ‘Why? Why are you only using adjudication?’ And they said, ‘Well, we couldn’t mediate because there are some geographical issues.’ Of course, I said, ‘Well, actually, no, we can offer this, we can do it this way.’

Aled: Right.

Jo: And that’s the beginning of another story.

Aled: Okay, so. I think there’s a number of lessons here, on many different levels. I think just asking the question, being really curious –

Jo: Yep.

Aled: I’ve done a number of interviews now, where the theme coming through is you have to find a particular niche. A very, very specific niche, and I think that’s one of the flaws in mediation in the past is, assuming that we can mediate everything.

Jo: Yeah.

Aled: You know, we’re not agnostic to a particular market segment, sector, and industry. Well, we may not be, but if we want to be busy, we should align ourselves to a particular niche, find something that we have some knowledge, interest, expertise in and get really, really interested and curious, which it sounds like what you’ve done.

Jo: Yep.

Aled: Taking your expertise, your experience in the small claims courts, as a mediator, and just getting a little bit curious and asking the question. And of course when you start asking questions and getting curious, you know –

Jo: I think one of the hardest things is that, we’re mediators, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re good at business development. And I think one of the things I’ve learnt is, I’m pretty good at business development, which I didn’t really know I was. But what I can do is provide the business development for those mediators that actually, it’s a real faff having to go out and tout for business and things.

Aled: So your model, then, is the high-volume, low-margin model?

Jo: Yeah.

Aled: You’ve identified the particular niche, and we spoke pre-interview that at this point you want to hold onto that particular information, there’s lots of good reasons for that and I appreciate that. And so you’ve identified a niche where there is substantial volume. You think you can meet that demand with the pool of mediators that you’ve currently got, and, if this particular project which I’m hoping you’re going to say a little bit more about, but not the detail of it, if it’s successful, then you’ll be looking for a lot more mediators.

Jo: Mm-hmm.

Aled: So just give me an idea, then, of, you know, if I was a mediator, and you could keep me busy all week, what sort of revenues, income, and fees would I be looking at? How much could I earn?

Jo: Well, I suppose the difference with small claims is, small claims equals small fees. And our fees, if somebody found us on the Ministry of Justice website, we would charge £100 plus V.A.T. per party.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: Because it’s all about being proportionate to the size of the claim. I have an agreement then with my mediators that they accept a fee to do that work. What I’m agreeing with my mediators is that we agree, whatever the project demands, I will go out to my mediators and ask them if they want to opt in, or opt out, of that particular project and that fee.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: But let’s just say, for argument’s sake, I don’t know, £100 a case for argument’s sake. And you could, using telephone and O.D.R., because we can talk about the difference with O.D.R. and telephone, but in terms of being able to do lots of things at the same time, you could in fact do, five, six cases a day. And that will soon add up. So it may not be the traditional £1,000 a day which you may only get every, I don’t know, few months or whatever.

Aled: So if I’m doing £500 a day but I know five days a week, for six to eight hours a day, I’m going to be mediating, you know, that’s not to be sniffed at.

Jo: No, it’s not.

Aled: All right.

Jo: With some of the projects, I have to negotiate and come in at a lower fee, and I will go out and ask my mediators again, are they prepared to work at a slightly lower rate, because I can then bring lots of volume.

Aled: Yeah.

Jo: But it’s always very much an opt-in or opt-out.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: And my feeling is, better to have five of something than nothing.

Aled: And what you’re also learning as a mediator is how to be more effective, I mean, the more experience you have, the better you become. Well, one would hope, at least. The more experience you have, the more you learn, the more you apply what you learned, the better the results you get, the more satisfied customers are.

Jo: I mean, I really think that, we’re turning out of training academies hundreds and hundreds of mediators, and just from hearing what I’m hearing, the expectations of those newly accredited, qualified mediators are not being managed. They’re coming out of there thinking that they’re going to automatically walk into lots of mediation work, and that is not the reality.

I suppose what I’m looking to do is create some form of association maybe, with one or two of those training academies, and say, ‘Okay, five the best or whatever, if they do an additional module on time-limited telephone and O.D.R.’

Aled: Or if they watch some of the interviews on Mediator Academy.

Jo: Exactly, exactly. Nice plug.

Aled: Nice plug there, yeah.

Jo: But they can cut their teeth on this work, because you know this work is so varied, it’s fantastic. And every single story is different, and you get to meet and speak to so many great people. And in an hour you would be amazed at how much rapport is built and the story that you learn. And actually afterwards, the effect sometimes that some of those stories can have on you. What we’re doing is fantastic work, it really is. And so maybe some trainees can cut their teeth on this work.

Aled: Look, I’ve got a number of questions going around in my head. I mean, you don’t need to sell it to me, you’ve sold it to me. I mean, really I’m fascinated by it. Not least because these interviews are video Skype interviews, you know, and sometimes people, when I ask if they’d be willing to interview, they so, ‘Oh, well, I’m not sure about Skype, I’m happy to meet you,’ and I’m like, no, we don’t need to meet, it works fine, and actually they realise, ‘You know what, that was…’ I went to a mediator gathering, I was telling you earlier, a mediator gathering in Windsor. I was chatting to a mediator there, and she said ‘I really enjoy the interviews on Mediator Academy.’ And she said ‘I like the one with the, by the way, you’re in the same room, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘No. These are all video Skype interviews.’ And this guy genuinely thought that, for some of the interviews, I was sitting in the same room. Brilliant, it made my day. So you don’t need to sell the concept to me, but I imagine there are people out there that you need to sell it to.

Jo: And you know what, there are some mediators that, even probably after listening to me waffle on, it’s not their cup of tea. They want to read the body language, they want to do it the traditional way, and I think, to use one of your phrases, it’s horses for courses, and that’s absolutely fine. And you know, even though the name of my business is Small Claims Mediation, strangely, people are still coming to me, I did a case last week, it was £100,000 pounds.

A lawyer found us on the directory, the reason he came to us was, they just needed one hour, over the telephone, no travel to London, and so we can meet that need as well. Although we’re small claims, of course we’re all insured up to a £1 million and myself, you know, I’m completely experienced in small claims. But my panel have got a wealth of mediation experience. So I think that says to me, that whatever size of claim, sometimes it’s better and easier and more cost-effective to use our service. You know, it’s quick.

Aled: Okay. So tell me a little about the technology, then. Have you developed some proprietary platform, or are you using some other platform, Skype, or what are you using?

Jo: We just switched provider.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: We are now working with a home-grown provider, which is very exciting, because it’s in beta testing at the minute –

Aled: Okay.

Jo: – but it means that it can be designed specifically for our needs. And what that platform gives us is the ability to have the asynchronous discussions, or, have a live discussion with, and again, in small claims, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You might get Mrs. Brown who absolutely doesn’t have a computer, but the plumber that does, how can you meet both of their needs? Well, the plumber wants to see me as the mediator, so we would go onto the platform and initialise the video –

Aled: Yeah.

Jo: Then we can dial out to Mrs. Brown’s land line, so we can still have the mediation at the same time, and everybody’s happy.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: And I think with O.D.R. also one of the huge benefits is that you can upload documents and evidence for each other to see and you’ve got that ability to go in and out of it, over a period of time.

Aled: Right. So how does confidentiality work, then? Do people have any concerns about that?

Jo: No, obviously even with whatever mediation you do, we’re bound by the same terms of the agreements we mediate, so the confidentiality side of it.

Aled: Right.

Jo: With the platform that we’re using, they have a user I.D. and a password. You can only see what you’re allowed to see that the mediator enables you to see.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: We have the private chats, just as you would, and then you can join everybody together, so it’s exactly the same. It’s completely the same.

Aled: Yeah.

Jo: And so far, we haven’t had any issues. Nobody’s been overly concerned with that, because everything is done in a secure way.

Aled: Okay. So tell me a little bit about, then – so you started last year, is that right?

Jo: Mm-hmm.

Aled: So you’re in your second year of trading?

Jo: Yeah.

Aled: Are you coming to the end of your second year, or where are you at?

Jo: We’re towards the end –

Aled: Okay.

Jo: – of the second.

Aled: So at first you were setting up. This year, you’ve done a handful of mediations?

Jo: Quite a few, actually. Because we’re CMC accredited, we then sit on the Ministry of Justice website, and people are routed from and Citizens’ Advice, and so actually we’ve done quite a number. And people again, as I said to you Aled, are going on there not just because they’ve got a small claim, but are going on there because actually, they don’t want to travel a hundred miles, they just want to get this done. Use the telephone or Skype or whatever.

Aled: All right, so your main referrals are from government websites or Civil Mediation Council.

Jo: And word of mouth –

Aled: Word of mouth.

Jo: – as well. And also I have, not just my focus on the main cries, but obviously I’m busy developing lots and lots of other areas as well. For example, law firms will settle, quite a number of law firms, in terms of personal injury. You know, I never stop. I’m constantly identifying the next niche and I have business plan for the next few years, working through those. Because with small claims in particular, it goes on ad infinitum.

Aled: Yeah. So tell us about this – you know, you’ve been keeping me in suspense, I know a little bit about it already. I’m sure my audience are thinking, ‘What is this? A thousand mediations a month.’

Jo: Well, it’s in the landlord/tenant dispute market.

Aled: Right, okay. Before you go any further, we did talk pre-interview, I don’t want you to compromise yourself, confidentiality and so on, so don’t worry about.

Jo: If we can just say that I had that conversation about adjudication versus mediation and the benefits of mediation, not just in the perspective of it being quicker and we can overcome geographical issues, but also in terms of customer satisfaction.

Aled: Right.

Jo: At the end of a small claim hearing, you’ve always got a winner or a loser. With adjudication, it’s exactly the same thing. Even if that decision has been absolutely done fairly, there’s inevitably somebody that’s disgruntled, so of course we know in mediation that you both have hold of that process and the outcome. So you’re feeling happier at the end of it. So the benefits of mediation. And we’re just on the brink of starting a pilot for one of the large organisations, whereby we will be taking a sample, referrals from this organisation for a three month period, and providing what we know to be true. But providing that they’re satisfied with the fact that we’ve turned it around quicker, that the satisfaction rates are higher, that yes, we have settled, you know, eighty-plus percent cases. Then we will be looking at being a permanent fixture in providing mediation services for the whole of that organisation and that would be across the U.K., Northern and Southern Ireland also.

Aled: Okay.

Jo: That’s not – I can’t give too much away.

Aled: No, I appreciate that. So, the pilot is starting first of August?

Jo: Yeah.

Aled: And you’re anticipating what, 20, 30 referrals a month?

Jo: 80-ish with the types of disputes we’re looking at, with the rental market there are peaks and troughs throughout the year, you know, student lets and things like that, so it’s a bit of an unknown quantity. We have the statistics from the previous year, so we can prepare for that, but that should give us enough of a sample to show that this works. We know it works, we know that.

Aled: So you’re gearing up, you’re getting your mediators ready, you’re getting your infrastructure in place, your admin in place, come first of August, it’s the real deal. By the end of October, you’ll know whether you’ll advertising on Mediator Academy for competent mediators.

Jo: I am already putting out the feelers for people that would, you know, like this kind of work, and as I said before, it isn’t for everybody. But actually even if you’re the mediator that does a £1,000 a day case, you might still want to fill your time with some others. You might fancy having, you know, some experience in small claims.

Aled: And I guess as well, you could be a mediator living in Birmingham, U.K. or Birmingham, Alabama.

Jo: Or Madrid, because one of my panel members is a Canadian, and he’s in Madrid.

Aled: So, again, the disputes could be anywhere, but so could the mediators.

Jo: It matters not. And that moves me on to my ideas for overseas, are we okay to –

Aled: Go on, go for it.

Jo: – talk about that? So I have family and a couple of co-directors that are based in Spain. And one day I was there, and they were complaining about the utility companies. And I got to thinking, well, what if I’m an expat and I’ve got an issue? I’ve got a small claim for argument’s sake. What do I do? Where do I go? How do I deal with that? And so I started to do a bit of digging, and I contacted a really good colleague of mine, Kevin Brown, I’ll give him a plug. He has an international mediation practice. And I started to talk to him about my plan, and initially it was to set something up for expats. I could see no reason why we couldn’t deliver an O.D.R. mediation service that met their needs. But then I started to look a bit deeper, and I was shocked at the backlog of cases that they have in the Spanish courts for small claims. Years and years and years before they ever get heard.

Aled: Very interesting.

Jo: So what am I doing now? I’m looking at setting up the small claims mediation model that we can then roll out to Spain. I’ve then taken that a step further, and I have a colleague in Cyprus who’s, again, mediation is very, very new, I think it was December 2012 when the mediation act was brought in. But he almost sought me out, if you like, and I started to talk to him about it, and we started to look at, well, what happens to small claims in Cyprus? And it really got me thinking, actually there’s no reason why we can’t do something here. So, we’re in early stages, but we are starting to work together, starting to develop that model. Where it will take me, I have no idea, but the sky’s my limit –

Aled: The sky’s the limit. The world’s your oyster, sky’s your limit.

Jo: Small claims, whatever language, small claims is small claims. Wherever they are, they’re the same disputes.

Aled: Yes. So, all right, first of all this is the first interview I’ve had around online dispute resolution, I’m sure it won’t be the last. This is really, really interesting on so many levels. One, you’re looking at proper volume, so, you’re a mediator watching this interview right now, thinking to yourself, if I get one a month I’m happy. If you get one a day, you could be doing three or four a day, in your pyjamas, on a Greek island, living the dream. That’s a possibility. And you know, making a difference to people’s lives, you know, let’s not lose sight of the purpose of this. But also let’s not pretend that putting bread on the table is also a real…

Jo: And that’s the other thing. And sometimes I struggle a bit with, I do an awful lot of work where I’m not paid, in that I’ll have somebody contact me, and you’ve obviously got to contact the other side to see if they’ll be prepared to mediate. And then I get drawn into a small discussion, and actually I figure that all it would take is a couple of phone calls, and then I wind up settling it and there’s no bill attached to that. I do an awful lot of work. I like to do a nice job, I like to help people, but I do need to put bread on the table.

Aled: Indeed.

Jo: And that’s where my big ideas come in. I’m never going to change, I’m always going to want to help people.

Aled: Well Jo, I’m going to be really following the next three months with interest. Maybe, and I’ll leave this as an open-ended question, maybe you’ll come back here in three months and tell us, ‘Look, this is how it went, and this is where you sign up.’

Jo: Definitely.

Aled: It’s really, really exciting, and I have no doubt, the way the technology is moving, that O.D.R., cyber-mediation, call it whatever you want, that’s going to be increasingly more popular and more in demand.

Jo: If anybody else has read the book by Richard Susskind, ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers,’ and he makes a prediction that in all but the most complex of disputes will be resolved using some form of O.D.R., and it’s true. It’s coming, we can’t ignore it, it’s there, it’s the way our kids deal with things. We might not like it sometimes, I get frustrated when my son says he’s spoken to a girl and actually he hasn’t, he’s just had an electronic chat. But actually that’s the world that we’re living in and I think it would be foolish to ignore it.

Aled: Yes. Embrace –

Jo: As I said at the C.M.C. conference.

Aled: That’s another story.

Jo: That’s another story.

Aled: And at some stage I’ll be talking about the Mediator Academy conference, but there we are.

Jo: I’m looking forward to that.

Aled: Say no more, hush hush. All right Jo, listen, really, really, really interesting, well done on creating something out of nothing, following a passion. Creating opportunities for mediators out there, also for yourself, but also for people that couldn’t typically access this kind of resource. And just, you know, finding a solution. I like to think of O.D.R., and particularly what you’re doing as a kind of a disruptive innovation.

Jo: It is.

Aled: Very much so, so –

Jo: And in the current climate where, you know, Citizens’ Advice Bureaus, the resources are cut, people are ending with me, almost by default, because there’s nowhere else for them to go with these issues and this dispute.

Aled: Yes.

Jo: So I’m really proud, actually, of what we’ve created.

Aled: Well, let’s watch this space. Jo, thanks for that, now I want to move on to…

About the mediator

Jo Holland Profile Pic

Jo’s a CEDR accredited mediator and member of the Civil Mediation Council and has enjoyed a successful career in the Civil Service working for HM Customs and Excise, Tribunals Service and HMCTS. She has mediated the whole gamut of disputes within the small claims track and unlike many other mediators I know comes from a non legal background which she believes is a real benefit as she can keep the process jargon free and is easier for her to rem... View Mediator