Those of you I have spoken to over the last month have described mediation and arbitration practices that cover a wide spectrum of substantive areas and participants. Alternative dispute resolution has been embraced by hospitals, elder care facilities, schools, unions, business management, community leaders, courts, state and federal agencies. I for one don’t need to explain ADR processes to the extent I used to in the days when mediation was first introduced into the court system and trial attorneys considered mediators to be wild eyed, overly intellectual optimists at best and traitors and heretics at worst.
Now is not the time to get comfortable with our established niches, however. Mediation is a business as well asa calling. Mediators need to identify and find ways to reach out to under-served communities and share information with other mediators to they too can expand into similar markets in their geographic and/or practice areas. We are not competing against each other when we unite to increase access to and knowledge about mediation. We are not dividing the pie, we are increasing the size of the pie.
As an integral and necessary part of this process we need to create value for our profession in the eyes of the public we serve. For instance, while volunteerism is a vital part of our profession’s commitment to expanding the concept and use of mediation, there is a point at which it negatively impacts our practices and the members of the public we serve.
I practice in a state where the court and Attorney General’s mediation programs are largely volunteer-based. These programs are used by thousands of members of the public annually. For most, these programs provide their only experience with mediation. While volunteer mediation programs provide training opportunities for inexperienced mediators and cost savings to the state and county, these benefits may outweighed by the programs’ negatives: (1) inconsistency in mediation skills due to mediator selection based on availability rather than, for instance, the market; (2) complete control by governmental agencies over training requirements and qualified training programs for, and mediation processes used by, volunteer mediators; (3) unreliability of volunteers whose personal and income-making demands take precedence over volunteer activities; (4)the revolving door nature of a volunteer staff; (5) the damage done to our profession by undervaluing all mediation services by creating a public perception that mediation services should be free and convincing states, counties, and cities that they need never pay their mediators; (6) competing against, and reducing the number and income of private mediators; and (7) as more power over the direction of mediation is ceded to government and other government or privately funded volunteer programs, professional mediators lose the ability to influence the future of mediation.
I suggest that existing mediator organizations assume a pro-active role as industry advocates at the local and national levels. For too long many mediator organizations have had the luxury of focusing on the creative and intellectual aspects of our profession to the detriment of the business side of mediation.
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