#CPRAM22 Highlights: Ethics in the Evolving World of Remote, Hybrid, and In-Person ADR

By Tamia Sutherland

During its March 2-4, 2022, Annual Meeting, CPR–a New York-based conflict resolution think tank, ADR provider, and publisher of this CPR Speaks blog–presented a virtual panel on alternative dispute resolution ethics. The panel discussed ethical guideposts for lawyers, mediators, and arbitrators; challenges and solutions in the new post-pandemic business environment; the rise of the hybrid procedures online and in person; and takeaways for meeting the continuing challenges.

Steven Bierman, a former partner and co-head of litigation at Sidley Austin and founder of Bierman ADR LLC, based in New Canaan, Conn., moderated the panel that included: 

The presentation began with an overview of the main sources of ethical standards, which include the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the ABA/American Arbitration Association/Association for Conflict Resolution Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, and ABA/AAA Code of Ethics for Arbitrators in Commercial Dispute.

Under the ABA Rules of Professional Conduct, panelist Waldman introduced Model Rules 1.1, and 1.6(a), (c) for consideration. MRPC 1.1–Competence states, “[a] lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”

More specifically, she focused on Comment Eight, maintaining competence, which explains what is necessary to maintain the requisite competence: “. . . a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.  …”

With the rise of virtual proceedings and the rise of cybersecurity issues and data breaches, Comment 8 is more relevant now than ever before. Moreover, it interacts with another pivotal ethical rule, MRPC 1.6(a), which covers confidentiality: “[a] lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b) [which lists exceptions for disclosures such as ‘to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm’].”

This can pose an issue in a virtual environment where accidental screen sharing, screenshots, and unauthorized recordings have become commonplace—especially in light of MRPC 1.6(c), which  reads, “[a] lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”

Under the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, panelist Waldman highlighted Standards IV, V, and VI. Standard IV–Competence, states that “[a] mediator shall mediate only when the mediator has the necessary competence to satisfy the reasonable expectations of the parties … [and] should attend educational programs and related activities to maintain and enhance the mediator’s knowledge and skills related to mediation.”

Standard V–Confidentiality states that “[a] mediator shall maintain the confidentiality of all information obtained by the mediator in mediation, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties or required by applicable law.”

Standard VI–Quality of the Process explains that “[a] mediator shall conduct a mediation in accordance with these Standards and in a manner that promotes diligence, timeliness, safety, presence of the appropriate participants, party participation, procedural fairness, party competency and mutual respect among all participants.”

Under the Code of Ethics for Arbitrators, key rules include Canon IV, titled “An arbitrator should conduct the proceedings fairly and diligently,” and Canon VI, titled “An arbitrator should be faithful to the relationship of trust and confidentiality inherent in that office.”

Additionally, Howard University School of Law Prof. Homer La Rue, founder of the Ray Corollary Initiative (a plan for increasing diversity among the ranks of ADR neutrals), and a CPR Board Member, shared the National Academy of Arbitrators Formal Advisory Opinion No. 26 on video hearings, issued on April 1, 2020, in the chat. The advisory opinion states that “in order to provide an ‘adequate hearing’ by way of video, the arbitrator must be familiar with the platform offered to the parties, and must be confident that the parties have such familiarity as well, or have reasonable access to an effective alternative platform. …”

Before identifying three common themes in the different sources of ethical standards, CPR introduced its model rule amplification proposition that requires third-party neutrals to act diligently, efficiently, and promptly, decline to serve in matters in which the lawyer is not competent to serve, maintain the confidentiality of all information acquired, use reasonable efforts to conduct the process with fairness to all parties, and be especially diligent that unrepresented parties have adequate opportunity to be heard. This referenced both the 2021 CPR Annotated Model Procedural Order for Remote Video Arbitration Proceedings, and the 2002 CPR-Georgetown Commission on Ethics and Standards In ADR Model Rule for the Lawyer as Third-Party Neutral.

The three common rules’ themes discussed were competence, confidentiality, and fairness/quality. The panelists discussed the practical application of each of the themes in practice. They emphasized the importance of using pre-hearing meetings to ensure that the technology does not get in the way of the process, and does not to begin operation until all parties have an even playing field considering the socioeconomic digital divide, as well as the need to consider the effects of zoom fatigue on the parties present.

Videos from #CPRAM22 will be posted; watch www.cpradr.org for updates.

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The author, a second-year law student at the Howard University School of Law, in Washington, D.C., is a CPR 2021-22 intern.

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