Making the Mediation Pie Bigger—A Comment

Passive peacemaking will not make the world a more peaceful place. But this is the stance we are told to take in the field of mediation because that’s what the expert’s rules say we are supposed to do: be passive and let the conflicts come to us. We are to be neutrals in all ways at all times. We are not to recruit clients for we would be deemed no longer “neutral”. It’s time to break the rules and I’d like to invite you to join the effort.


Those of us who are mediators are thrilled with the changing tide of litigation and the move to alternative dispute resolution options. The problem has been or is that the wheels of change are far too slow, especially in the legal arena. Business moves and changes at the speed of light and must do so or get left behind in the dust by their competitors. The same is true of our profession: change or follow the path of the dinosaur.


Currently, mediation trainings are being offered to lawyers of all persuasions for many reasons. Disgruntled litigators and contract attorneys, among others, are screaming, “I want out of the rat race, the billable hours contest, and the win-lose (or often lose-lose) situation of adversarial advocacy.” The floodgates have been opened by these trainings. They provide hope to the disgruntled, even if momentary. Because what happens soon after mediation training comes the “big let-down” that there are no jobs (or even volunteer opportunities) in the field unless one wants to hang out their own shingle. Even mediators who have their own firms fall victim to “the field is saturated, there is no work” mentality. This saddens me, yet gives me cause to remind all of us that our thinking is a bit skewed. We need only shift our thoughts a few degrees and we will have transformed the profession, our own lives and those of our clients.


How do we change?


First, we change the pie. We don’t use the same pie dish. We get a bigger one. We think bigger. We think expansively. We think “who needs us and how can I fill that need?” We need not think scarcity and that there are only so many cases out there to be mediated and only so many mediation firms that can be utilized. There is room for all who have the skills to be mediators. Almost any conflict has some portion within it that could benefit from mediation and the skills of a mediator.


Second, we educate not only those in our profession about mediation, we offer our expertise to businesses, families, friends, churches, synagogues, schools and government agencies. In other words, we get the word out. We give ourselves away in order that we may receive.


Third, we sell ourselves. This may be a concept that is distasteful to some, but it shouldn’t be for the verb “to sell” comes from the Scandinavian root “selvig” which means to “serve”. When we walk out of our house in the morning and head to see a client, we must sell ourselves, our credibility, our wisdom and our talent in order to satisfy them. We must do this to keep our jobs. We must do this to build our social networks. We sell to provide a benefit to another. “Selling” mediation to potential clients is a gift bestowed, for offering alternatives and solutions is always a benefit when another is in crisis. If this concept catches in your throat, then consider “sharing” mediation options with others.


So here’s my “sales” pitch: let’s make an effort to be proactive peacemakers, not a people waiting for the wheels of change to move, for if we wait we will surely be left behind! I dare established firms and mediators to hire new mediation associates and partners to help make the pie bigger. New associates can do education and sales. The hours and work will follow, as will the tremendous benefits to you, if you will only believe that there is room for more peacemakers in our midst.


See how shifting a thought opens up possibilities.

                        author

Lee A. Hopkins

Lee A. Hopkins, M.Div., J.D. may be reached at lhopkins@law.harvard.edu or 617-441-5281 or 1770 Massachusetts Ave., PMB 132, Cambridge, MA 02140 for any comments, dialogue, and speaking or mediation opportunities. MORE >

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