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Five and a Half Years: A Look Back at Growing a Mediation Practice

by Jim W Hildreth
January 2012 Jim W Hildreth

Five and half years ago I made the decision to explore the opportunity of becoming a Mediator.

I had the opportunity to attend UC Berkeley Extension and took the class from Ron Kelly, a Berkeley-based mediator who had a reputation among the mediation community as being an expert in Alternative Dispute Resolution.

In our class, there was a mixture of students, members of the BAR, two Judges and students who believed that Alternative Dispute Resolution offered a different path than litigation.

Mediator Kelly course offered each of us empowerment, enrichment, and a top notch education.

            I knew from the start that his course would offer a life-changing experience.

            My destination was to use my training and focus with California Real Property
            Disputes.

            As students we asked our mentor, where do we get additional training? and how do we apply our skills?

            Mediator Kelly introduced us to Bill Lincoln, international mediator, and San Francisco Attorney Claudia Vierra, who is a specialist with employment law.

            Needless to say, each of them inspired me. Bill Lincoln gave me the confidence and desire to walk into a prison yard unarmed, with the ability to quiet a mob.

The class inspired me to set a personal goal at the end of class: to set in motion 100 hours of additional training and one hundred mediations (at a minimum).

            I recall my first conversation and words of wisdom from the Honorable Judge Provost of the Tuolumne County Superior Court. She told me 90% of your work will be using people skill so “Go for it”

            It was Ron Kelly again who has become a friend and an ongoing mentor who has suggested that it could be of value to share my experiences of 204 mediation's to date.

            His words to me: “I think it could be a real inspiration to others who want to join the field, but don't have the understanding of marketing & relationship-building that you do.”

            For me, marketing was a natural.  I spent 35 years as a real estate broker, and my DNA must include an inclination for sales. As a boy in Oakland in the 1950's I sold anything, I could get my hands on. From lizards, to snakes, to Carnations that were thrown out at the nursery, there was always a buyer.
            I was a boy with passion to share, communicate, and sell.
         Today that same passion has led me to a path that that was a part of my plan to go from student to practicing mediator.

The First Goal: Gaining Experience
     
         Brenda Gasper of East Bay Mediation took me under her wing to help mentor me.  In thanks, I made a year commitment to the Hayward Superior Court to practice my skills in the courtroom.

         Frankly my biggest hurdle in becoming a mediator was being a non-attorney. I have since learned that there is a pecking order for being hired to resolve a case: First a retired judge, second selection of a member of the BAR, and third a non-attorney mediator.
        
My 1st Piece of Advice: Prepare for Rejection

         I have had law firms quote, “He is back.” I have had BAR Associations suggest that Alternative Dispute Resolution would be a great topic in a BAR Association meeting and then be rejected with my disclosure that I was not an attorney. I had one attorney ask me to review in his office an on-the-spot interview with the topic of easements, simply to test my knowledge of the many types of easements in California.  I have also been rejected from serving in Courts in Stanislaus County.

         My 2nd Piece of Advice: Join Professional Groups

         My biggest break was being accepted to the Amador County Superior Court as a non-attorney. (One of my most recent mediations from this group 5 ½ years later was a $750,000 personal injury case over a slip and fall.)

         I branched out and it took me over two years to become a member of the courts panel in Fresno and Merced. I did this to build my reputation, but also to build my credentials.
         Today I serve on 7 California Superior Courts.
       Taking it one step further, I joined as an associate the Alameda County Bar Association in Oakland and joined the ADR and Real Estate Sections.  I have found that groups like these not only help me network, but also provide great opportunities for continuing education.

 

My 3rd Piece of Advice: Establish a Niche
I built upon my real estate experience and used that to get a foothold at the legal table.
Second, I became known as the “Common Sense” practitioner.  

My 4th Piece of Advice: Advertise
       Ron Kelly is correct marketing and building relationships is important in building a mediation practice.

       Attorney Claudia Vierra is first to accept speaker ships always building her contacts and reputation.
 I have also spent a lot of time doing online advertising and social networking on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In.  On these sites I have created ad developed online relationships, blogged, and shared experiences.  I also have written articles following the mediation profession on Mediate.com and ADRTimes.com.  

My 5th Piece of Advice: When Given the Opportunity, Impress!
        For 5 plus years, members of the BAR looked at me with one eye open. After finally receiving support from the local bench, I made sure that the cases were handled well.  This helped me to build a strong mediation reputation.   Thanks to this, just last week after settling a complex fraud case, a prominent attorney stated “It has truly been a pleasure working with you and we will be gladly use your mediation services again”

        Today a member of the BAR referred me to a Buyer-Seller Dispute.

      
       My own experience is to follow your passion, don't take rejection personally, develop a nitch market, empower those who are in need of your services, enrich their lives, and educate and practice your craft.

      As Gregorio Billikopf says in his book Party-Directed Mediation. The role of the mediator is to help parties empty the large reservoirs of emotion, anger, stress, frustration, and other negative feelings until each is able to think and see more clearly.

      Each of us will follow our own path and I thank those who have given me a chance in developing my mediation practice and those who have assisted me in my own personal development.

     Each of you are appreciated, respected, valued and I look forward in sharing with you your success and our future as to the value of Mediation and Dispute Resolution.

   

Biography


Jim W Hildreth is both a private and court appointed mediator, who's specialty is "Real Estate' Disputes.

He has over 40 years of experience and is licensed as a Broker in both California & Louisiana.

He is an also an "Expert Witness" in California Superior Courts.

When not mediating, his hobbies are photography and playing zydeco music.



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