program administrators and mediators may be better able to
screen out cases unlikely to benefit from mediation while still
allowing mediation to go forward when the parties feel it can be
of use in their particular circumstances.
MEDIATORS MUST TAKE COURT CASES
TO BUILD A CAREER
Mediation as a career has become a reality for tens of thousands of conflict resolution professionals across the US and
other countries. The field of mediation was featured as one of
the “Top 30 Careers for the Next Decade” by U.S. News and
World Report (2007/12/19), due to rapid growth and relatively
low barriers to entry. In 2017, the Bureau of Labor (www.bls.
lists the mediation field as having 11% growth, significantly
faster than the average career category. Since the 1980’s,
many courts have increased their use of mediation as a tool
for pre-trial settlement, generally to good results. In many
jurisdictions mediation is required before disputants can come
before a judge and use the court’s scarce resources. While
vast differences exist between and within U.S. states in regard
to the prevalence of court-mandated mediation, much of the
growth in professional mediation has occurred in and around
litigated cases. Yet, in many regions, court based mediation
has nearly “topped out,” meaning all the cases that can go to
mediation are going there. In these areas, as in others, we are
seeing tremendous growth outside of the court system. Additionally, many courts use unpaid, volunteer mediators. Those
seeking to build a mediation career often gain valuable experience within small claims or other courts, but then market
themselves as mediators to other case types or venues.
More than a decade ago, the term “mediation” was fre-
quently confused with “meditation” in the popular mindset.
Also, the average person couldn’t explain the difference
between arbitration and mediation. These terms are now
common enough to be used in the popular media without
an accompanying definition. We are seeing an increase in
the number of people requesting, rather than being ordered
to, mediation. Thanks in part to peer mediation programs in
schools, the idea of a neutral third party who helps facilitate
dispute resolution is no longer foreign to many people and
within many organizations.
As a result, in areas where court-connected mediation is
common, the biggest growth in the field of mediation appears to
be outside of the court system. Elder issue mediation services
(e.g. estate planning and division; long-term care decisions,
etc.) are increasingly being offered to seniors and their families
through referrals from health care providers or residential facilities. Homeowners associations are realizing that mediation is
more conducive to neighborly relationships than arbitration
or litigation. Better Business Bureaus and Chambers of Commerce are offering low-cost services to their members and
their customers. Special education mediation brings parents,
teachers and administrators together to improve educational
outcomes for kids with learning disabilities or unique needs.
Organizational ombuds/ombudsmen are working to prevent
and manage conflict in our workplaces and civic organizations.
The Ombuds blog, for example, (http://ombuds-blog.blogspot.
com), lists 434 universities and 187 other NGOs, government,
and business entities with ombuds offices.
In many areas of our lives, mediation is available and increasingly common. Even in court-connected cases such as divorce,
more and more cases are being mediated prior to being filed
in court in order to reduce costs and preserve relationships.
Parent-teen mediation is being used to negotiate rights/
responsibilities and help families improve their ability to communicate productively in the future. Marital mediation is offered
to couples considering divorce, but trying to remain together.
These agreements help clarify expectations between the parties, reach agreements that help prevent the recurrence of past
conflict, and sometimes allow a peek through the keyhole to
see what child support, alimony and parenting schedules might
look like they were to proceed with a divorce. This information
helps couples make informed decisions about the potential
costs of divorce, while equipping them with the conflict resolution skills needed to succeed in overcoming existing problems
(often while going through counseling rather than as a substitute for it). In short, the range of cases using mediation is
growing by leaps and bounds, with the potential to affect our
lives, communities and careers in positive ways.
While court-connected mediation remains a familiar source
for cases, many mediators are building careers without ever
stepping inside a courthouse.
Some of our long-held assumptions about mediation have
turned out to be accurate, once put under the researcher’s
microscope, while others have not. As a group, mediators tend
to be inquisitive and open to new ideas, even when those ideas
contradict their previously held beliefs. As the field of mediation
and ADR has expanded rapidly over the past four decades, it is
an important that we inform our practice with the best that current research has to offer.
In many areas of our lives, mediation is available
and increasingly common. Even in court-
connected cases such as divorce, more and more
cases are being mediated prior to being filed
in court in order to reduce costs and preserve