Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How to become a mediator: five frequently asked questions about training and careers in mediation

So you want to be a mediator? How to get started.I receive phone calls and emails almost daily from people exploring careers in the mediation field.
Although I have written several articles in the past which have discussed the training necessary to prepare for a career in mediation, explained the significance of certification for our field, and also suggested steps to transition from training to career, I thought it would be helpful to develop a list of FAQ’s, together with my answers, which refines and brings all of this information together in a single article for those who want to succeed in building a career as a mediator.

A couple of points before I start.

First, I recognize that other mediators may have different ideas and recommendations. Therefore, I welcome mediators to join the discussion and share with readers what’s worked for them in building a career. Comments are most definitely welcome, as they are for all the articles I publish here.

Secondly, the information I offer here concerns training and careers here in the U.S. only, since this is where I live and practice. I know very little about standards for mediation practice outside this country and consequently have no authority to describe them or provide information about them. Readers, if you’ve written an article about mediation training and careers, in say, England or New Zealand or Bulgaria or India or somewhere else in the world, please feel free to link to it in the comments section below.

Therefore, with no further ado, here are the 5 FAQ's:

1. How can I get licensed or certified as a mediator?

To answer this question properly, I need to give you the big-picture perspective on a still-evolving profession.

Mediation is a field that has grown and evolved rapidly in recent years. As its influence and availability have increased, and as public awareness and acceptance of mediation services have spread, the mediation field has given rise to numerous models and theories of practice, a vast body of scholarship, together with ethical standards, laws, and well-established best practices to guide mediator conduct.

At the same time, this relatively new field continues to define itself. At the time I write this, no state in the U.S. has established a formal licensing or certification process for mediators. So, unlike other professions--medicine, law, education, social work, psychology, just to name a few--to date there exists no uniform regulatory scheme in the U.S. governing the private practice of mediation.

A few state courts, however, do certify mediators who receive referrals from or provide services to court-connected mediation programs. These mediators must fulfill certain standards, including the completion of a specified number of hours of mediation training, in order to qualify for certification.

Some professional associations for mediators also provide certification for certain classes of its members, but not in conjunction with or under the aegis of any state agency or body. In addition, some private training organizations offer what they describe as "certification training" which should not be confused with certification by a state court or other governmental body. Please be sure to ask what "certification" signifies and what it qualifies you for before registering for any training program.

For further information about certification, including some common misconceptions, please read "Getting it straight: understanding mediator certification", an article published earlier here at Online Guide to Mediation.


2. What kind of training or education do I need to become a mediator?

Training.

First, please begin by reading the answer to Question 1, above, "How can I get licensed or certified as a mediator?"

A number of state courts have implemented qualifications standards, including training requirements, for mediators receiving referrals from courts or providing services in court-connected dispute resolution programs.

These standards vary widely from state to state. However, 40 hours of mediation training have emerged as a widely accepted standard nationwide.

For example, in Massachusetts, where I both live and work, a state law protecting the confidentiality of mediation specifies a minimum of 30 hours of training for mediators (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 233, § 23C). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Guidelines for Implementation of Qualifications Standards for Neutrals , which spell out requirements for mediators in court-connected dispute resolution programs, require a minimum of 30 hours of mediation training, with 36 to 40 hours recommended.

For a list of the requirements for each of the 50 states, see "State Mediator Rosters and Qualifications" prepared by the Institute of Government, College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. A number of state courts, incidentally, provide information online for people interested in becoming mediators. These include Virginia and Florida.

So, where do you find training? Training is available through private training organizations and community mediation programs, as well as through continuing education programs at colleges and universities. Visit the web site for professional associations for mediators, such as the Association for Conflict Resolution, to find a chapter in your area, which in turn will help you connect with chapter leaders who can assist you further.

Before you enroll in any mediation training program, please be aware that not all mediation training programs are worth your time or money. Since training is the first step toward a successful career in mediation, perform due diligence in selecting a training program. Please read my article, "What to look for in a basic mediation training", as well as the excellent "Mediation Training Consumer Guide" from the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution & Conflict Management for tips on choosing a mediation training program and ideas on where to find training.

There are also basic and advanced trainings geared towards preparing mediators for work in specific practice areas such as family and divorce or workplace. These trainings not only cover mediation theory and skills but provide material and information necessary for understanding the issues and challenges unique to these practice specialties.

Finally, please visit this post I published in January on "Getting it straight: understanding mediator certification" and scroll down to the section captioned "One last caveat" for my two cents on online correspondence courses in mediation. (My advice? Don’t waste your money.)

Education.

There is also a growing movement aimed at encouraging those who are interested in becoming mediators to pursue education in the field. College, university and law degree or certificate programs in dispute resolution and mediation abound and provide a richer and more comprehensive immersion in mediation, negotiation and conflict resolution theory and practice than any 40-hour mediation training program can possibly provide. These include:


A list of additional programs in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere around the world may be found here at the Peacemakers Trust web site.

I often recommend that people take a mediation training first, only because it represents a smaller financial investment than a higher education degree or certificate program, and it’s a good way to learn whether mediation is a good fit for you or not. Training is a low-risk way to assess your aptitude for conflict resolution. And the benefits are great, since mediation training provides skills easily transportable into any setting, professional or personal.


3. If mediation training is not required for private mediation practice, why should I bother to take a training?

Training gives you a number of advantages. First of all, a good mediation training will provide you with a theoretical framework to lend structure and context to your practice and promotes the development of core competencies. Mediation trainings introduce students to basic theories of conflict resolution and negotiation, skills and techniques for facilitating joint problem solving, and standards of practice and professional ethics--all of which form a necessary foundation for mediator effectiveness.

In addition, completing a mediation training or a degree program in conflict resolution is a step towards building professional credibility. Although we’re not there yet by any means, I can see the day when training will be required of even mediators in private practice; it makes sense now to get ahead of the curve.

Finally, training can lead to opportunities to mediate--real-world experience--since a number of organizations which provide training also oversee mediation programs or panels which students who successfully complete training may be eligible to join. And training will introduce you to your first professional network--both fellow students and the trainers.


4. Do I have to be a lawyer or have a law degree to become a mediator?

Although a small number of court-connected mediation programs permit only attorneys to serve as neutrals, the answer is a resounding no.

However, it is important to be aware that mediators who are not attorneys may be limited in the kinds of services they can perform for clients and need to be careful to avoid engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. ("Unauthorized practice of law" refers to the provision by a layperson of services an attorney uniquely provides. It can also refer to an attorney admitted in one jurisdiction providing legal services in a jurisdiction to which he or she has not been admitted.) In Connecticut, for example, a mediator who is not admitted to the Connecticut bar may assist a divorcing couple negotiate and reach decisions regarding parenting plans and the division of property and debt but is prohibited from drafting a separation agreement for them.


5. Once I complete my training, how do I get a job and get paid?

Be realistic.
Although there are a seemingly infinite number of disputes, there are more and more mediators that you’ll be competing against. It takes time to build a successful mediation practice, and it won’t happen overnight. There are steps you can take to increase your chances of success, but there are no guarantees. Starting a mediation practice is like building any business. You need ambition, creativity, determination, talent, a business plan, a marketing strategy, and a certain measure of luck.

Practice, practice, practice. Taking a training or earning a degree is only a first step. You need experience in order to build a successful career. The best place to gain experience is by starting with the program that trained you. Find out from your trainers what opportunities are available and how to find them. Typically many mediators begin by volunteering their time in small claims or community mediation programs--all great learning laboratories for putting your training into practice. If possible, seek mentoring from more experienced practitioners and ask to observe them at work.

Keep your day job. Your current position counts in several ways. First of all, it’s a source of financial support, stability, and ready-made contacts. Begin by offering mediation to your clients or customers in addition to your existing services. It’s a way of testing the waters safely with relatively little risk. Second, the profession you’re in right now is a good source for referrals and an ideal place to begin networking. Third, you are more likely to succeed if you provide dispute resolution services in a field you know well, since prospective clients will view you as someone who understands their needs. Disputes abound in every field, whether health care, business, digital technology, environmental, education, labor, public sector, the law. Leverage your expertise to build a successful career.

Get connected. Join professional associations for mediators to get to know and make friends with other dispute resolution professionals. Other mediators are not only potential referral sources but your peers are invaluable resources to turn to as you wrestle with ethical dilemmas or other challenges in your practice. Not only should you join professional associations for mediators, but join associations for your profession of origin, your local chamber of commerce, or other civic, religious, political, or professional organization to cultivate and build your referral network. View every meeting, every introduction to someone new, as an opportunity to educate people about mediation and what mediation can do to help them solve their problems.

Keep learning. It’s called the practice of mediation for a reason--you never stop learning. Continuing education can increase your effectiveness and can open up new doors. It never hurts to get better at what you do.

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