Encourage Young Aspiring Family Mediators to Enter the Field: Their Careers, Your Business, and Our Profession Will Benefit
Has a young aspiring mediator ever approached you—as someone they look up to as an experienced professional—and asked, "I want to become a mediator. Can you give me some advice? Do you think I can ‘make it’ as a mediator?"
Your answer, and possibly, your obligation, is to affirmatively reply: "Yes, you can." It would be entirely unhelpful to would-be mediators, the family mediation profession as a whole, and, in the long run, your own practice to respond in various ways that I experienced when beginning my journey to become a full-time divorce and family mediator:
"[Frown-face, head shake] It is really tough to make a living as a mediator. Let's put it this way, I wouldn't quit your day job! [stuffy laughter]."
Or, one of my favorites, and a frequent response:
"[Shoulder shrug] Get experience litigating cases and that might help. Most mediators have practiced law for years or are retired judges."
I was always so glad I asked.
Thankfully, there were a few people who proved to be powerful exceptions to the general doomsday scenario painted by most anyone I spoke with in mediation practice, law practice, or academia.
Lani Baron, a successful young divorce mediator and owner of Alternative Divorce Solutions in Orange County, was the first professional who said to me in our initial conversation some years ago, without hesitation: "You can absolutely do this – there is no doubt about it."
Powerful words to someone about to make a leap of mediator’s faith.
Jim Melamed, family mediation trainer and CEO of Mediate.com was the second professional mediator whose encouragement strengthened my resolve. "You're going to build a successful practice -- I'm not worried about you," he told me after a first conversation. “Just go for it, be patient, and put yourself out there. It will happen.”
Nina Meierding led me to Chip Rose who treated me like a professional equal, despite his breath of experience and status as President of APFM. My first conversation with him, about one-month prior to opening the doors of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation in my hometown, Scottsdale, Arizona, gave me permission to turn the ignition key of my practice.
Cumulatively, their encouragement inspired inner confidence, and calm within me that is mission critical to building a family mediation practice, sustaining equilibrium through the journey of professional growth, and technical effectiveness with clients in the room.
Encouraging young mediators to enter our field is also the greatest hope we have for the future widespread use of family mediation in America.
There is great power in numbers. In many localities there are still relatively few professional divorce and family mediators, per capita. Low numbers of mediators are often congruent with the demand for family mediation, only but for the lack of public awareness that mediation is a better option than litigation to resolve family matters. And so, the landscape in much of America sustains this environment: few professional family mediators, serving small numbers of very satisfied clients, mainly because the public has been inadequately exposed to the promise of divorce and family mediation.
Understandably, some mediators may feel that, due to the current marketplace environment, more mediators entering their localities could dilute their own business productivity. However, this is a shortsighted view. In fact, when greater numbers of professional family mediators begin informing the public about mediation, the net effect will result in an expanded demographic that will seek our services. In the long run, general increased awareness will increase business productivity for us all. It is this professional divorce mediator uprising that has the serious potential to shift masses of families away from court, toward mediation.
Of course, growing numbers of Professional Family Mediation practitioners cannot occur responsibility without universal standards and quality control. This highlights the parallel need for mediator credentialing, individual adherence to professional practice standards, and mediators’ involvement in organizations such as APFM.
As we support these critical advancements, here are some suggestions for responding now to aspiring mediators.
First, I suggest that they immerse themselves in everything mediation.
Read, read, read. Read substantive works to develop an understanding of mediator strategy and technique. I introduce them to books by John Haynes, Don Saposnek, Jay Folberg & Alison Taylor, and Steve Erickson & Marilyn McKnight, just to get started.
Inter-library loan is an excellent way to find video materials to watch mediation tapes of pioneer mediators in action.
The Professional Family Mediator is another exceptional publication to which to direct new mediators for information. I also tell them to replace CNN.com on their “Bookmarks Bar,” with Mediate.com. The ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Magazine is another fine resource.
Practice development literature is also key to get new mediators thinking about how they are going to approach their practices. Woody Mosten, among others, have written extensively on how to effectively build a successful mediation practice.
Immersing oneself in a field also requires membership in professional organizations, like The Academy of Professional Family Mediators and attendance at annual conferences, in order meet and learn from leading professionals on the topics they need to know.
And, of course, aspiring family mediators, regardless of prior mediation, legal, or mental health experience, should seek out specific family mediation trainings. Trainings in-person, as well as certain available online programs can be extremely beneficial.
Second, I suggest new mediators organize their plans by developing a comprehensive business plan. A mediation practice plan is essential to shaping a new mediator’s overall vision, strategy and messaging. A plan should include a mission statement, goals and values, complete descriptions of services, a marketing plan, operational plan, business management approach and projected budget.
The plan can and should change over time. New mediators can use their plan to stay focused, and track the evolution of their approach.
Finally, I suggest that new mediators begin believing in themselves!
While an honest assessment of the challenges facing young mediators is more than appropriate to discuss with those who seek your thoughts and advice, experienced mediators should take care not to dissuade future colleagues from believing in their capacity to reach their goals.
Heck, that youngster might just help you create that Facebook Page for your own mediation practice—the one that you’ve been putting off for too long! Or, if you can’t wait, check out my last article, Facebook Fun For Family Mediators published in the Summer 2015 edition of The Professional Family Mediator.
1 - See Standards of Practice For Professional Family Mediators, Standard XII, page 2, 13 (2014).
2. Credit to MaryAnn Pierce, my mentor and law school Contracts professor for being the first person, while not a practicing mediation practitioner, to express her belief that I could develop a successful mediation practice, and to support me throughout the development stages of opening The Aurit Center For Divorce Mediation.
3. After meeting Lani, I attended her extensive training for aspiring full-time mediators that dealt with the approach and techniques of her owned and operated ADS Institute for Best Practices in Divorce Mediation.