So, you think you want to become a mediator—but are you sure? Dispute resolution is a personally and financially rewarding career, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for everyone. That’s why the first step in becoming a mediator is to know what the job entails so you can decide if mediation is in fact the right career path for you. To help you get started, here’s some information on what mediators do and the career outlook.
In the simplest terms, mediators are highly-skilled problem solvers. The mediator’s role is to guide parties through a dispute to reach a favorable agreement. Mediators do not judge who is right or wrong in a dispute, nor do they provide legal advice; rather, they facilitate communication between parties that might otherwise have a difficult time exploring the problem themselves.
What does the mediator role entail? According to O*Net, a career exploration and job analysis tool sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, mediator job responsibilities include:
- Conduct meetings with disputants to outline the arbitration process
- Use mediation techniques to facilitate communication and agreement between disputants
- Clarify issues between disputants and discover their respective needs and interests
- Interview claimants, agents or witnesses to obtain information about disputed issues
- Prepare written opinions or decisions regarding cases
What’s the difference between mediators and arbitrators?
If you’re interested in becoming a mediator, you may also be interested in becoming an arbitrator. Both of these roles fall under the umbrella of “alternative dispute resolution,” but there are important differences worth exploring so you know which career path you want to follow. The table below outlines some of the key differences between mediation and arbitration:
|Comparison Between Arbitration & Mediation|
|Arbitrators control the outcome of the dispute proceedings.||Parties control the outcome of the dispute proceedings.|
|Arbitrators are given the power to make final and binding decisions.||Mediators have no power to decide and a settlement is reached only with party approval.|
|Arbitration requires extensive discovery (research and fact-finding).||Parties in mediation exchange information voluntarily that will assist in reaching a resolution.|
|Arbitrators list to facts and evidence and render a verdict (award) based on those findings.||Mediators help the parties define and understand the issues and each side’s interests.|
|Source: Financial Industry Regulatory Authority|
Mediator career outlook
Finally, it may be important to consider the career outlook before deciding that you want to become a mediator. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 10-year job outlook for mediators is 10% (which means a 10% increase in employment overall between 2016 and 2026, faster than average for all other occupations). The BLS also reports that the median pay for mediators in 2017 was $60,670. In terms of median pay, the top-paying states for mediators, according to the BLS, include:
- District of Columbia – $97,470
- New Jersey – $94,250
- California – $93,760
- Connecticut – $93,610
- Minnesota – $91,560
Now that you’re sure you want to be a mediator, the next step is to determine how you’ll get there. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to call oneself a mediator—though being a successful mediator is another story. You don’t need to go to law school to become a mediator, but you do need to do the following.
Learn about the types of mediation practice
As an umbrella term, “mediation” refers to any formal intervention that helps disputants reach a settlement. In practice, however, there are many different practice areas that you can choose to focus on as a mediator. Each practice area has its own culture, networks and processes that you should be aware of as you begin to define your new career path. You may also be able to leverage your professional background and experience to get started as a specialty mediator. Some of the different areas of mediation practice include:
- Intellectual property
- Personal injury
- Real estate
Find a mentor mediator
Networking is a proven way to get your foot in the door in most fields, and mediation is no different. If you want to get into the mediation practice, try introducing yourself to mediations in your area and explain that you would like to learn more about the profession, what they do and how to become a mediator yourself. You may also be able to observe a mediation, although this will require confidentiality agreements with the parties involved.
Complete mediation training
A comprehensive mediator training course will help you develop the requisite skills and abilities needed to practice formal mediation. Although most states do not have requirements for private mediators, the majority of states do have requirements for mediators who wish to be “court-certified” and listed official court mediator rosters. States with such rosters usually require between 20 and 40 hours of approved mediation training. If you have a bachelor’s degree and are thinking about becoming a mediator, the Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree can help. MLS programs provide a foundational understanding of the US legal system and its interaction across several core disciplines. Some MLS degree programs may even offer a concentration in alternative dispute resolution methods, such as our partner Pepperdine University’s Online Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR).
After you have the skills and the confidence to formally mediate disputes, you can either start your own private practice or join a dispute resolution center (DRC) or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) firm in your area. Even if you would like to go the independent route someday, joining a firm or organization that provides ADR services can help you gain experience and credibility so you can more easily market yourself as a mediator once you decide to go out on your own.
Online MLS Degree Programs
Compare online MLS degree programs and find the one that best suits your needs.