We issue this “Extra” Alert with breaking news of importance to our readers concerning the Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on financial services dispute resolution, that we feel should not await our normal publication schedule. We thank these leaders for helping us keep our mutual constituents informed and up-to-date! The Alert is pleased to have facilitated this information exchange and dissemination, as we jointly move through this unprecedented crisis.
THE COVID-19 IMPACT ON ADR PROVIDERS: THE KEY INSTITUTIONS TELL US WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW. The Coronavirus pandemic has hit all Americans in so many ways, and the legal system and alternative dispute resolution serve as no exception. The Alert checked in recently with the major national ADR institutions to gather information on how they are coping. Sharing information with the Alert were leaders from the American Arbitration Association-ICDR (“AAA” or “AAA-ICDR”); the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution, Inc. (“CPR”); FINRA Dispute Resolution Services (“FINRA”); and JAMS: AAA-ICDR – Christine L. Newhall, Senior Vice President; CPR – Helena Tavares Erickson, Esq., Senior Vice-President, Dispute Resolution Services & Corporate Secretary; FINRA – Rick Berry, Executive Vice President, FINRA Dispute Resolution Services; JAMS – Kristine Snyder, Senior Public Relations & Content Manager. We’ve organized the responses by subject.
Describe how the virus and precautions are impacting staff? Roughly what percentage of staff are telecommuting?
AAA: The AAA-ICDR is located in many cities and has 26 locations across the US and the globe. We are doing our part to help slow the spread and help keep our employees, neutrals and parties safe. We quickly implemented our telecommuting and business continuity plans which provide for some staff and critical office functions to operate from remote locations. New York City and cities in California were impacted the most at first, but no part of the country has been untouched by COVID-19. As a result of our telecommuting policy, approximately 75% of our commercial arbitration staff will soon be working remotely.
CPR: We are located in New York City, so 100% of staff are working from home.
FINRA: All but one of FINRA’s Dispute Resolution staff is working remotely.
JAMS: Understanding the rapidly changing nature of this pandemic and the clear and present concerns it raises, JAMS made the decision to move the majority of our staff around the nation to a remote-work structure on March 17. Neutrals and staff have the technology to assist with cases through videoconferencing, which we have used in the past and has been effective in both mediations and arbitrations. In accordance with evolving federal, state, and local directives, JAMS has its entire workforce working remotely. Our physical offices will remain closed until we receive word from local authorities and the CDC that it is safe and appropriate to return.
Describe in general how case administration is being impacted.
AAA: The AAA-ICDR previously incorporated business continuity planning into our operations, and we have updated that planning on a continuing basis so that we can continue our work as seamlessly as possible under circumstances such as the spread of COVID-19. That planning includes providing for backup servers and redundancies and security in our IT and finance capabilities, in addition to anticipating that employees in one or more locations would not be able to access AAA-ICDR offices. Many aspects of our business continuity plans have already been implemented, which will enable us to continue to administer arbitrations and mediations as seamlessly as possible
CPR: Cases are being administered by staff working from home. Most cases are non-administered, however, meaning relatively little staff participation after we assist the parties with neutral selection. Paper is no longer accepted, and documents must be filed online (we offer a secure, encrypted email option). Payments must be electronic.
FINRA: With the exception of the in-person hearings and pre-hearing conferences discussed below, our ability to process cases has not been impacted. Cases continue to be served, lists continue to be generated, panels continue to hold telephonic prehearing conferences, and awards continue to be issued. Because we moved to an all-electronic document platform about four years ago, and due to the Portal, our DR team members are able to keep the cases moving while working remotely.
JAMS: We have provided our neutrals and staff access to technology to allow cases to move forward through a variety of options. For example, JAMS offers several videoconferencing services, which have proven to be highly effective in both mediations and arbitrations. The feedback we’ve received from parties that have shifted their cases to our videoconferencing services due to the COVID-19 outbreak has been very positive, and we’re confident in our ability to continue serving the legal and business community through this option.
Are in-person hearings still being held?
AAA: While the AAA-ICDR remains active and operational, no hearings will take place in AAA-ICDR hearing facilities after March 20 until at least April 17. In cities where governmental authorities have shut down activities, our physical offices will be closed immediately. Our case management staff will contact parties and arbitrators to discuss alternative arrangements, including the use of video, teleconferencing, or postponements. The AAA-ICDR also provides guidance on hearings at www.adr.org/covid19.
CPR: Because of the non-administered nature of our cases and the fact that we do not routinely offer hearing space at our headquarters in Manhattan, we have not been made aware of any in-person hearings since the beginning of March.
FINRA: FINRA has administratively postponed all in-person arbitration and mediation proceedings scheduled through May 31. Previously we had done so through May 1. We recognize that this decision may cause inconvenience and we do not make it lightly. We are taking this preventative action out of an abundance of caution, in the interest of public safety. The well-being of our FINRA employees, arbitrators, mediators, stakeholders and communities is of paramount importance.
JAMS: We are closely following the directives from local, state and national governments and the Centers for Disease Control and as such, are no longer conducting any ADR proceedings in person at this time.
Roughly what percentage of cases are being held by videoconference? Telephonic?
AAA: At this time staff are working with arbitrators and parties scheduling videoconference as well as telephonic hearings. The activity on cases is very high and continues to expand. The AAA-ICDR can assist with alternative hearing arrangements, including the use of video teleconferencing that will allow for remote participation in hearings. Online video, teleconferencing, internet communication, and means other than in-person can facilitate a full and equal opportunity for all parties to present evidence in a hearing.
CPR: We have been made aware of several hearings being planned for videoconferencing. There have also been a few postponements.
FINRA: A few cases that had been set for in person hearings switched to videoconferencing. Prehearing conferences are normally conducted telephonically and have not been impacted.
JAMS: We are unable to supply this data right now. JAMS is using several videoconferencing services and telephonic technology, which have proven to be highly effective in both mediations and arbitrations.
What’s the best way to communicate with staff?
AAA: We are always accessible online at www.adr.org, by calling 800-778-7879, or contacting your case manager directly.
CPR: Email to CPRNeutrals@CPRADR.org.
FINRA: Staff can be reached by all the traditional methods – email, phone, and of course, for document submissions, we prefer the Portal. Our work phone lines have been transferred (via Jabber) to our cell phones. Also, the general regional office phone numbers are rolling over to our staff, so there is no interruption there, either.
JAMS: Staff can be reached by calling the local office numbers found on the locations page on our website, https://www.jamsadr.com/locations/. Since employees are working remotely, voice messages will be retrieved frequently Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM and directed to a JAMS associate for response. In addition to calling the local offices, the following senior JAMS Associate contacts have been provided:
West Region, United States:
Gina Miller (Los Angeles)
Vice President. U.S. West Region
East and Central Region, United States:
Elizabeth Carter, Esq. (New York)
Vice President, U.S. East/Central Region
Matthew Rushton (London)
Director, Europe, Middle East & Africa
firstname.lastname@example.org +44 207 583 9808
What message has been conveyed by your institution to arbitrators and mediators?
AAA: The AAA has been in contact with the AAA Arbitrator and Mediator Roster, outlining the AAA capabilities for handling teleconference and virtual meetings. The AAA case management staff are working directly with the arbitrators and mediators on their cases and handling all issues in real time. The AAA is also providing education to the arbitrators on cybersecurity at this critical time when there has been an uptick in opportunistic cyber-hacking.
CPR: We are here for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
FINRA: The well-being of our arbitrators, mediators, stakeholders, FINRA employees and communities is of paramount importance. We also plan to shift neutral recruitment efforts from in-person recruitment to additional digital advertising.
JAMS: First and foremost, every decision JAMS is making at this time is with the health and safety of our staff, neutrals, and clients as our absolute priority. We are implementing policies, tools and technologies to enable our staff and neutrals to continue supporting our clients with minimal disruption, while closely following and adhering to the directives from government officials and the CDC to keep them safe and do our part to minimize the spread of COVID-19. We are committed to continuing to serve the businesses and firms that rely on our services. We will weather this storm together and look forward to returning to normal business operations as soon as we are confident that the health and safety of our associates and clients are no longer at risk.
What’s the best Web address for current info?
JAMS: All information will be posted here: https://www.jamsadr.com/news/2020/coronavirus-(covid-19)-advisory-for-jams-visitors
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
AAA: Having worked with parties through disasters natural and manmade for 94 years, we, as always, are prepared to move cases efficiently through the dispute resolution process. No other ADR provider can match our size, scope, and technology infrastructure. We strongly encourage all parties and their representatives to proceed in filing their arbitration and mediation cases – but to file them online to reduce the amount of paper necessary for handling and to help facilitate the recommended social distancing.
CPR: We are conducting a free Webinar, ADR in the Time of COVID-19: How Neutrals & Advocates Can Use Zoom for Mediations & Arbitrations, March 30 from noon – 1:30 pm Eastern.
FINRA: We are well-positioned to maintain the high level of customer service the parties have come to expect. FINRA Dispute Resolution team members have made a number of innovative changes in the past few years to continually improve our efficiency, such as all-electronic files and the Portal. In addition, our team members’ ability to work from home productively and without impact to the parties or arbitrators follows several years of testing and technology enhancements.
JAMS: JAMS appreciates the support of the law firms, businesses, and individuals that use our services as we continue to navigate this dynamic and unprecedented environment. We are committed to continue delivering the service our clients have come to expect from JAMS. We encourage anyone with questions to reach out to the contacts listed on our website (https://www.jamsadr.com/news/2020/coronavirus-(covid-19)-advisory-for-jams-visitors.