Lawyer to Mediator

Or planning to make mediation your day job

Lawyer to Mediator

For many lawyers, a career transition to mediation has appeal. Motivations vary, but may include interest in a more collaborative (less adversarial) role than one’s current position, perceived suitability of the practice to gradual retirement, a way of diversifying practice to keep it fresh, a better match with one’s values, and a desire to support people in more flexible problem-solving approaches.

Whatever the motivation, many lawyers form their image of mediation practice while attending mediations as counsel. Apart from commonly limiting observation to one kind of mediation, this is a bit like watching law shows on TV to find out what lawyers do day-to-day: you only see the parts that make good TV.

Here are a few additional observations for lawyers considering a transition to mediation.

  • Marketing is a much bigger part of mediation practice than most new mediators realize. Often people moving into mediation are passionate about mediating but are uncomfortable with or have very little interest in marketing. Experienced mediators describe spending 20% or more of their time in marketing (include presentations, writing, attending events and more). Be prepared for this aspect of the work.
  • There is paperwork! While a mediation practice may generate substantially less “paper”-work than many legal practices, ... someone has to do the administrative work. If you are building a mediation practice while still maintaining a legal practice, you may be able to pass many administrative tasks to an existing assistant. If that’s not your transition plan, give thought to time needed for scheduling, creating, and regularly updating standard communications and agreements, invoicing, financial management, and all of the other aspects of running a business. Talk to other mediators about how they manage these tasks — many have found ways to make this more manageable.
  • The practice can be lonely and isolating. If you’re moving from a firm, you may miss the ease with which one can reach out to colleagues to talk through issues. This isn’t a necessary aspect of mediation practice, but for many ensuring one has a network of colleagues to connect with requires conscious effort. Think about building networks with other mediators from the very outset. Join communities of practice, attend new mediator group meetings, and ensure that you have collegial supports.
  • There are many models of mediation, and many outstanding mediators who are not lawyers. Learn about multiple approaches to mediation and build your own style. You can (and should) learn from mediators with backgrounds in counselling, social work, and financial planning — and from first career mediators straight out of school. Build networks beyond your current legal connections. Think about co-mediating with someone with a very different background: your legal skills and knowledge bring something to the mix, and you may learn much more about trauma-informed practice, engaging external resources, community-based models, and more. The collaboration can help you find and follow your passion in mediation — and can add tools to your toolbox.
  • Similarly, consider broadening your professional development choices beyond just mediation training. Conflict resolution is a highly interdisciplinary field. Explore broader learning options such as equity, diversity and inclusion, neuroscience, applied improvisation, and so many more.
  • More so now than ever, mediation can occur on any platform. You may be attracted to in-person mediation, but explore the multitude of approaches that make use of video, audio, and text-based models. Yes, even avatar mediation is an option. Where do you communicate best? You may be surprised by the opportunities.
  • For some lawyers, mediation offers a chance to do more pro bono work than might be possible in their existing practice. There are opportunities to help within your own communities, whether they be local schools, community sports groups, faith-based communities, clubs, etc. Conflict is everywhere, and you may find that you are able to give back in new ways that align with your interests and values.