In the Fall 2013 issue of Conflict Resolution Quarterly, authors Susan S. Raines, Sunil Kumar Pokhrel and Jean Poitras examine challenges faced by professional mediators. (See “Mediation as a Profession: Challenges That Professional Mediators Face”.) Not unexpectedly, the researchers found that the primary challenges include getting and keeping clients, educating the parties and the public about mediation, and finding professional development opportunities. Drawing on their research, the authors relate strategies mediators use to overcome those challenges.
Responding to the authors' survey, only approximately one quarter of the mediators indicated that they had as many cases as they could handle, while the remainder indicated that they would like a steadier stream of cases. Potential strategies to overcome this challenge include public speaking, volunteering to gain both exposure and experience, pursuing additional income sources such as training and coaching, and remaining constantly engaged in marketing and efforts. More than one quarter of the respondents emphasized the need for practitioners to be ambassadors for mediation whenever possible, in order to educate lawyers, judges and the public about mediation, clarify misconceptions, and create greater awareness and recognition of mediation as an effective dispute resolution option.
A surprisingly large number of the study’s participants expressed a desire for more mentoring, both through educational opportunities and peer input and support. “The responses, when taken as a whole, lead to the conclusion that there is some degree of loneliness among advanced practitioners who seldom commune with each other or meet for mutual support.”
Mediators "seem to truly love their work on a deeper level”. In fact, there is a very high rate of job satisfaction among mediators, who point to such things as the ability to help people find their own solutions to conflict and avoid litigation; the adrenaline rush accompanying settlement; the need to use varied types of skills including analytical thinking and emotional intelligence; the instant gratification of seeing the impact of one’s work; and the opportunities for continuous personal and spiritual growth.
But although many mediators accept as an unfortunate fact the prevailing wisdom that “it is impossible to make a living” as a mediator, two things seem apparent: One, that there are in fact mediators who are making a living, either by mediating full-time, or by supplementing their mediation income with related activities; and two, that there is a great need for alternative dispute resolution services, including mediation, in areas that are as yet untapped.
If we can find a way to strengthen the mediation community, create certification and best practices standards, and work together to make mediation a more recognized and more widely accessible option, we will be able to expand the proverbial pie, thereby allowing many more of us to turn our passion into a viable career. One of the ways in which I am attempting to contribute to this is by creating peer consult groups, which will allow mediators of varying backgrounds and experience levels to create a feeling of community, learn from and support each other, and share techniques, tips and strategies, either online or in small in-person groups. If you are interested in learning more or joining in this effort, please contact me by phone at (425) 298-7839 or via e-mail at Sasha@PhilipMediation.com.
Author Sasha S. Philip can be found online at PhilipMediation.com. She was named as the sole "Rising Star" in the area of Alternative Dispute Resolution in the 2014 issue of Washington Law & Politics' Super Lawyers magazine.