Mediators love information gathering. It is an essential part of our process. When I meet with a couple I often discourage them from even starting to think about addressing issues until they have all the information they need to make a decision. Thus, coming from my “information is power” background, I find the internet to be an amazing (and sometimes underutilized) tool for people searching for a mediator or looking for information about the mediation process. While some of us hang on to what were the traditional forms of advertising such as yellow pages, most mediators these days do at least some form of advertising over the internet. The problem today is generally not that there is not enough information but rather that there is an overwhelming amount of information. So how is one to weed through the multitude of Google ads, mediation websites and third party sites such as superpages.com, avvo.com, justia.com. mediate.com …? If you are a consumer looking for a mediator over the internet, here are some tips:
1. Look for the substance
a. What are the mediator’s credentials? Someone may have done a fantastic job with their website. The site may be visually attractive, inviting, interactive and informative. However the bottom line is does it answers the questions that you have? What does the site tell you about the mediator? What kind of experience does the mediator have? In states that have certification, is the mediator certified? There are private organizations that provide certifications. For instance the Association for Conflict Resolution (www.acrnet.org) has an Advanced Practitioner status for mediators that have mediated at least 25 cases and completed at least 250 hours of face to face mediation. (There are also a number of education requirements). In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation (www.mcfm.org) has a similar certification process based on the mediator’s experience. How many cases has the mediator been involved in?
b. Has the mediator written articles, lectured or trained others in the area of mediation? In looking at articles written by a mediator, one can gain a lot of information about the mediator’s style, knowledge, approach and depth. Similarly, a presentation at conferences, particularly national conferences, tells you a great deal about that mediator’s credentials.
c. Does the mediator train other trainers? If someone is training other mediators, that is at least some indication that the mediator has a good deal of knowledge about the subject matter. Training others to be mediators takes a lot of preparation, research, thought about the topics being presented and experience.
d. Some sites like avvo.com rate lawyers and mediators based on numerous factors including years of experience, reviews by peers or clients, and training and publication history. While I would not rely on these sites in isolation, they are useful particularly if there are reviews by clients and recommendations by other professionals.
e. Look at the substance contained in the mediator’s website. One big advantage of the internet and websites over yellow pages and print advertising is that websites can include an enormous amount of information and can provide potential customers with a lot more substantive information than a 3 inch advertisement. Is the website informative? Does it help you understand the mediation process? Does it give you confidence in the mediator? Is the information on the website current?
f. What else does the mediator do professionally? Is mediation one small portion of the services offered by the professional or is it the bulk of what the mediator does professionally? Does this professional participate in 3-4 mediations per year or 3-4 mediations per day or week?
2. Google adwords
Just because a mediator appears first on the Google page does not mean that they are the best. Through Google adwords, an advertiser essentially creates an ad campaign and depending on many factors including what key words they use and how much they are willing to pay each time someone clicks on their ad, their ad can come up in a high position on the Google search page. From an advertising standpoint it is an amazing tool. So, when an ad appears for a mediator in a box on top or on the side, it means that the mediator is paying per click for you to go to the advertisement. So the fact that the mediator’s name come up first on the page does not mean they are necessarily the best mediator. (Although that is the impression that it might create. It means that they are probably paying the most per click. The pay per click system is sort of like an auction. You bid on how much you are willing to pay per click and that bid is based on what others bid and how high up on the page you are wanting to be. As a consumer however it is important to go beyond just that first click and look at the information contained in the website for substance.
3. Beyond Google
Although Google is the most popular search engine, other sites such as Yahoo and Facebook have similar advertising schemes. The same applies to these. Look at the substance of the mediator’s website not just how often their name appears or high up on the page the ad appears.
4. There is nothing like word of mouth
Have you asked around? As between seeing someone’s name popping up a lot on the web and hearing someone’s name pop up every time you mention you are looking for a mediator, which would you choose? Word of mouth is still the best method of evaluating a mediator. There is nothing like first hand knowledge.
As a mediator, my best clients are those who have been referred by previous clients. Clients who have come to you from the web or yellow pages are often shopping around and thus are more likely to assessing you based on your cost and location (convenience). On the other hand, the conversion rate (percentage of clients who call who end up hiring me) of word of mouth clients is probably close to 100%. In addition to former clients, I most value referrals from other professionals whether it be therapists, lawyers or accountants. For obvious reasons, there is a strong likelihood that if a client is given a referral from a professional they trust, they will follow through on that referral.
When clients come to see me I always ask how they find me. And although I get some pleasure when I hear that they found me through yellow pages or the web (at least my advertising dollars have paid off a little) I would still rather get clients who answer that question by saying that they heard about me from 4 different people including their lawyer, therapist and hairdresser, personal trainer or financial advisor.
People going through a divorce are dealing with just about every major aspect of their lives. The decisions they make will affect the rest of their lives. Choosing the right mediator is no different than choosing an attorney, accountant contractor or any other professional. I am always amazed when I talk to people who show up at my office because they saw my sign or saw my yellow page advertisement. There is so much information available on the internet. Clients who are looking for a mediator should not cut corners when locating a mediator. Scratch the surface. Find out as much as you can using the internet and certainly word of mouth.