I find myself regularly asked “what do I need to do to become a mediator?” While I do not pretend to have all of the answers, here are a few suggestions.
Identify Types of Mediation Practice That Interest You
First, it likely makes sense to identify the types of mediation that attract you. The development path for each practice area is somewhat different. Each practice area will have its own “culture,” “network” and “process” for getting cases to mediate. Here are some of the types of mediation:
Identify Web Resources
Having identified a few “niche” areas that you desire to practice in, the next thing to do is to read more about those areas of practice on the web (information is freely and immediately available). For example, Mediate.com offers more than 30 Sections at www.mediate.com/Sections and a drop down list of topics at the top of every page of Mediate.com. Also see our main content search at www.mediate.com/search.cfm.
Also be sure to visit the Association for Conflict Resolution and the American Bar Association Section for Dispute Resolution. A general list of international, national and state organizations is available at www.mediate.com/Organizations.
The best centers for Online Dispute Resolution are OnlineDisputeResolution.com and the Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution. Resourceful Internet Solutions now offers "Caseload Manager" for secure online case management for both practitioners and ADR programs.
Take A Mediator to Lunch
Another great way of introducing yourself to mediation is to find mediators who are already doing the type of mediation work that you desire and doing it well. One way to find mediators is with the Mediate.com Directory. Take a couple of established mediators to lunch and ask them about the “mediation culture” that they work in. What is the network and system that creates cases? How do mediators get established in their niche? Who decides which mediators are selected? Talk to established mediators and see how they have become successful.
If possible, see if you can talk your way into observing a mediation or two (this will require confidentiality agreements with clients). Some community programs and internships build observation right into their training package.
Learn and Network at Trainings and Conferences
You will want to get at least one, preferably more, 30-40 hour comprehensive mediation training. Trainings available here: Mediate.com/University. You really want an A-Z overview of the world of mediation, as well as the opportunity to try this mediation thing on for size (role play). The reality is that, if you are turned on to mediation, this will just be the beginning of your training. You will want more, really as much as you can get. There are many ways to mediate. Learning from a variety of capable practitioners and trainers is smart. There is no single recipe for success. In fact, one could argue that it is the mediator’s flexibility that is most connected to success, rather than any magical formula.
Conferences are a good opportunity to get a relatively quick overview of the field, or portions of it, and to take a variety of workshops with leading trainers. If you like someone, you can track them down and see what other training they offer. Among the leading conferences are the Association for Conflict Resolution Conference (next conference is October 2014 in Cincinnati) and the American Bar Association Section for Dispute Resolution Conference (next conference is April 2014 in Miami). There are also a wide range of state and regional conferences. See www.mediate.com/Calendar for the best listing of conferences and trainings.
When considering basic mediation training, be sure to do some homework on the training requirements in the state(s) where you want to practice. Training requirements vary from place to place and also change over time. There may be a number of public sector panels in a state that may have different training and experience requirements. You can research training requirements for a state at Google. You might also consider contacting a practitioner in your desired practice area (as described above) and pick their brain about the various panels and requirements in your area.
The odds are that you are going to conclude that you need a 30 or 40 hour basic mediation training to get started. A number of leading trainings are listed at www.mediate.com/Market and also be sure to see the Mediate.com Calendar at www.mediate.com/Calendar. Ask established mediators who they think the best trainers are.
In the divorce mediation area, there are standards for approved family mediation trainings at www.acrnet.org. Also be sure to see the Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM) at www.APFMnet.org. Also see the Association of Family & Conciliation Courts for conference and training opportunities.For commercial mediators, be sure to check out the International Mediation Institute.
If you are thinking about getting started with voluntary community mediation (a common way to get a few cases under your belt and to help out), be sure to see the National Association for Community Mediation.
Read a Few Books
In terms of establishing a practice, you may want to read Peter Lovenheim’s book Becoming a Mediator: An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Careers in Mediation. Another good resource is Woody Mosten’s Mediation Career Guide. An an overall text, consider Chris Moore’s The Mediation Process. There are many excellent books and resources in the field. The leading publisher is Jossey Bass (now Wiley). Also take a look at the Program on Negotiation Clearinghouse.
What Will You Conclude?
Odds are that you will conclude that this mediation stuff is really interesting. What is also true is that the standards (usually minimum training and experience) for entering the field are relatively low, maybe too low. As the barriers to entry into the field of mediation are relatively low, this tends to mean that there are plenty of “wannabe” mediators. Those that are successful in moving from wannabes to successful practicing mediators tend to be those that do not need to rely on mediation income immediately. It is perhaps best to think of your growth as a mediator in incremental terms, most likely over 1-3 years. There is little reason to delay getting going, and it is lots of fun along the way. What is also true is that “success” will not come over night, but rather over time. Your ability to steadily grow your mediation practice will be the key to your survival and success.
Ultimately, getting cases is a matter of reputation. You want to build your reputation as a capable mediation practitioner by participating in quality training, networking with colleagues, networking in your chosen niche areas of practice and by steadily informing your marketplace of your availability and of the quality of your work.
The Internet has dramatically changed how mediators spread word of their existence and special qualities. Mediators need and are well served by web sites to assist in the convenient distribution of comprehensive information. While the qualification requirements for mediators vary, one thing that is constant is that mediators have an ethical duty to disclose to parties whatever qualifications you think you have.
Surely, clients and referral sources compare mediator web sites in deciding what mediator to work with. It is important that you as a mediator do well in that comparison. In fact, your web site will likely become a metaphor for your developing practice. In the moment, you may not have a whole lot to put up on your web site to convince disputants to choose you to work with. That is, however, exactly your task: developing a presentation (both physical and online) of yourself that has disputants and referral sources saying: “This mediator looks good, let’s go with them . . .” It is when awareness of you as a competent mediator and a ripe case intersect that magic (paying work) happens.
So, it is a journey and there is much terrain to cover. While not necessarily providing much of a detailed roadmap, I am thinking that perhaps this article is helpful as a “fly by” providing orientation to the terrain ahead. At this point, it is almost surely the case that the best thing you can do is to pursue one or more comprehensive mediation training opportunities where you can further the general guidance offered here. Go for it and I hope to see you down the road and online!