So, You Want To Be a Mediator?

By: WAMS Staff

Every year since 1981, WAMS has received inquiries from “want to be mediators”, attorneys (and non-attorneys) interested in joining the WAMS panel of neutrals. It’s one thing to have the paper resume for becoming a professional mediator, but it’s quite another to be professionally successful in the very competitive market for mediation services. Before venturing into a new career in ADR, WAMS advises a period of serious self-reflection and networking to help determine if mediation will be a good fit for you.

First comes the self-assessment part: do you have the reputation and personality to attract mediation clients and allow them to feel comfortable with you and willing to share personal details and insights? Is your law practice one that has left a trail of bitter adversaries behind or are you known for your professionalism and collegiality in advocacy? Are you in a practice niche that can attract mediation clients through networking with colleagues and former adversaries? The most obvious way to garner a good reputation as a mediator is to first be known as a reasonable, experienced trial attorney with integrity, tenacity and dedication to the legal profession. “Prospective mediators should have some degree of subject-matter expertise, litigation experience and familiarity with both sides of advocacy,” says Diane McGaha, Attorney Director of Washington Arbitration and Mediation Service (WAMS). “Ideally, a mediator will be someone who has been a plaintiff’s attorney and  a defense attorney at some point in his or her career. A mediator should genuinely appreciate what it means to be a litigator in the trenches and have a scheduled trial bumped from the court calendar after a three year wait.”

If, after conferring with colleagues and current mediators, you decide to pursue mediation training, WAMS recommends that you attend the right training for you. It’s easy to assume that becoming a professional mediator is just a matter of attending any convenient 40-hour training program, but McGaha says one crucial step is often skipped at the outset. “Too often, lawyers pay big bucks to attend mediation training, and then ask for advice from others in the profession”. What’s often discovered, belatedly, is that the training attended by the prospective mediator was inappropriate for his/her future area of practice. Before signing up for mediation training, investigate the trainers and training content. If your interest is in commercial mediation, don’t attend a divorce-oriented training conducted by mediators with degrees in social work. While their training format and content may be appropriate for non-attorney mediators interested in child custody disputes, a very different training is needed for commercial dispute resolution. Check out the training links and resources available at http://law.pepperdine.edu/straus/ as well as at www.mediate.com. Once trained, try to gain experience with one or more of the volunteer mediation programs available in Washington, including the various Dispute Resolution Centers, opportunities through the courts, EEOC, Settlement Now or Better Business Bureau, just to name a few.

So, what happens next after the training and volunteer work have convinced you that a career in ADR is still in your future? Consider whether you have the administrative and networking capabilities to allow you to be a successful sole practitioner neutral. If you don’t want the responsibilities of scheduling, billing and overhead for hearing rooms, affiliation with a mediation service may be your best option. Most trial attorneys in the Pacific NW are familiar with WAMS, JDR, JAMS and the AAA. Each organization has its own panel requirements, fee structure and administrative policies. At WAMS, for example, a mediator prospect is typically a current WAMS client who has been identified as a potential mediator based on personality and advocacy skills demonstrated over several years of interaction with current WAMS mediators. Mediation advocacy can be indicative of a lawyer’s attitude and aptitude for the practice. For instance, WAMS will evaluate how the prospective mediator prepared both mediator and client for their mediation. When considering whether to add an applicant to the WAMS mediator panel, McGaha mentioned that “One of the considerations I have as the Attorney Director of WAMS is about the prospect’s reputation as a person. Has this lawyer been able to maintain good relationships with opposing counsel despite being a zealous advocate? Has this prospect pursued a ‘win at all costs’ approach to litigation and ruined his or her reputation for integrity and fair dealing in the process? Does this person provide pro bono service or volunteer his or her time to a charitable cause? Is this potential mediator well regarded within the local and legal community?”

While the aforementioned guidelines may provide some assistance to prospective mediators, keep in mind that mediation as a career is an ongoing learning experience. Each member of the WAMS panel has come to the career by a unique path that may not be applicable for anyone else. Bill Joyce was told that he was far too young to be a mediator just four years out of law school. Pat Duffy’s solo practice in Sumner made him an unlikely candidate compared to more high-profile firm attorneys. But both Bill and Pat were determined to have mediation careers in addition to their law practices – and both have been resoundingly successful in that endeavor.

If mediation is your desired future vocation, consider the advice offered above and find a way to make it happen.

Think you have what it takes to become a professional mediator?

For advice or inquiries about WAMS panel opportunities, contact Diane McGaha, WAMS Attorney Director, via email to dmcgaha@usamwa.com.

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