Jim Melamed is 2007 Recipient of ACR John Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award: A Tribute and Lament on the Field of Mediation


by Robert Benjamin

October 2007

Robert Benjamin

Writing this tribute to Jim Melamed is an honor, even if a troubling one. On the one hand, there could not be a more fitting recipient for this particular award, named for John Haynes, than Jim Melamed, the CEO and co-founder with John Helie of Mediate.com. The work for which both the recipient and the namesake of this award are known highlights what has been most compelling and important about the field of conflict mediation. On the other hand, this award can also not help but highlight the ebbing of the energy that first gave rise to mediation practice and a falling away from some of the first principles. What John Haynes was, and Jim Melamed continues to be, is a tireless entrepreneur doing the critically important work of selling mediation in a culture that does not exactly welcome the idea of negotiating differences with open arms.

John was not a lawyer or counselor. He was, however, a practicing Quaker, who was, as Jim is, deeply committed, both personally and professionally, to the notion that people, not professionals, should be making the important decisions of their own lives. At the same time, both realized early on that the basic notion of people settling their own disputes was and remains revolutionary, if not downright subversive. We live, after all, in a culture where expert professionals --lawyers, doctors, counselors -- are often viewed as high priests of our techno-rational religion; they are too often thought to be the exclusive guardians of wisdom and right answers.

For mediation to be accepted requires a paradigm shift in thinking of the first order. Haynes and Melamed have been on the front lines of this shift as entrepreneurs, minimizing the friction and dislocation associated with a shift of that significance. Haynes, spread the word by writing some of the first books on mediation which remain current to this day, in his training of mediators throughout the world, often for minimal compensation, and in being a co-founder of the Academy of Family Mediators. Although, while often associated with family and divorce mediation, Haynes practiced in many contexts, including business, workplace and other matters. He was first and foremost a mediator and resisted the trend to specialize in a specific dispute context which is regrettably so common in mediation practice today. In short, he was instrumental in putting in place the early outlines of the field and it is more than a little unfortunate that so few current practitioners are familiar with his work and the history of the field.

Melamed’s work has been every bit as significant as was Haynes in fostering and furthering the growth and acceptance of mediation. Jim is among the very first to bring internet technology to bear on mediation practice and in elevating the availability of resources for both practitioners and the public. Mediate.com, begun in 1996, is now contacted by some 15 thousand visitors per day -- 4 million people per year. Early on, when many of us persisted in our Luddite mentality and refused to see the validity of those infernal computers to market ourselves, Jim patiently persevered and calmly demonstrated why the machine will not bite you or steal your soul. His efforts have not always been appreciated; on more than a few occasions, he has had to bear the criticism of being self-promoting as he tried to present the importance of the internet to practitioners at conferences and in other forums.

As a practicing mediator, Melamed understands the practical realities of growing a quality practice. As a trainer, he continues to explore the best ways to present complex ideas and selflessly shares what he knows on-line and in person. He is the founding President and Executive Director of the Oregon Mediation Association (in 1985) and was the first full-time Executive Director of the Academy of Family Mediators (1987-1993). Jim placed AFM on sound financial footing and set in place much of the digital technology that still exists to day. The lesson he offers, as John Haynes offered before him, is that mediation, as great a service as it may be and as vital as it is to the future of our society, does not sell itself. Mediation's acceptance is directly tied to how effective we are at marketing our services as safe and effective. Unfortunately, this message may be slipping away from our attention: the essential commitment of mediation practitioners to effective marketing and be actively entrepreneurial. When Haynes and Melamed began their practices, few courts or agencies embraced mediation. They, and a handful of others, were on their own to sell the mediation process as a viable mode of conflict management to anyone who would listen. Now, as mediation has become institutionalized, too many of us seem content to merely send out brochures to referral sources or sign up for panels and wait for cases to be sent to our door. Too often we work as agents of the establishment and not as independent, innovative professionals.

The acceptance and legitimizing of mediation by courts and other organizations may be the best thing that has happened to mediation practice -- and perhaps also the worst. Haynes often warned that without very careful monitoring, mediation would become just another cog in the institutional machinery. He knew, as does Melamed, that unless mediators appreciate the necessity of being independent and effective practitioners, not beholden or reliant on anyone but the parties for their professional survival, the field may be in jeopardy. Haynes and Melamed could not be better role models for what is required as passionate entrepreneurs for a noble professional endeavor, the effective management of conflict. I can only hope there are more Jim Melameds following in the footsteps of John Haynes, preparing themselves to further the field mediation.



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Biography




Robert Benjamin, M.S.W., J.D., has been a practicing mediator since 1979, working in most dispute contexts including: business/civil, family/divorce, employment, and health care. A lawyer and social worker by training, he practiced law for over 25 years and now teaches and presents professional negotiation, mediation, and conflict management seminars and training courses nationally and internationally. He is a standing Adjunct Professor at the Straus Institute for Conflict Resolution of the Pepperdine University School of Law, at Southern Methodist University’s Program on Conflict Resolution and in several other schools and universities. He is a past President of the Academy of Family Mediators, a Practitioner Member of the Association for Conflict Resolution, and the American Bar Association’s Section on Dispute Resolution. He is the author of numerous book contributions and articles, including “The Mediator As Trickster,” “Guerilla Negotiation,” and “The Beauty of Conflict,” and is a Senior Editor and regular columnist for Mediate.com.



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