“…I’ll Just Be a Mediator…”

The Senior Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association recently ran an article by Doug Noll, a mediator in California, Hey, I’ll Just Be a Mediator When I Retire!

Not So fast…


I’ve been teaching mediation to lawyers for more than 20 years so I was pleased to see Noll’s article address a core issue that I think the 40-hour mediation training program fails to adequately address: why become a mediator? 

Noll is speaking to lawyers later in their careers who are looking for a plan “B.” He is emphatic in saying that “[T]here’s almost no crossover in knowledge, skills or experience between lawyering and mediation.” Florida’s 40-hour mediator training requires every student to sit in the mediator’s hot seat and at the end is asked to reflect on the experience; the most frequent comment is “it looks easier than it is.”  

So the question why become a mediator? seems pertinent to almost everyone who plunks down their money for the training. Because the  Florida Supreme Court bestows its certification on anyone who sits through the class and completes the observations, there is little opportunity for participants to reflect on whether their interest in becoming a mediator aligns with the essential nature of mediation.

The best mediators are in it for the right reasons and their work reflects their commitment to principles:

·      Helping people faced with challenging controversies and difficult decisions

·      Eschewing advocacy for impartiality

·      Willingly working with difficult people

·      Supporting the goal of party self-determination

Beyond the principles, mediators have to master a whole range of skills that they do not emphasize in law school or in the 40-hour program, e.g. negotiation theory and practice, game theory, behavioral science and a host of other topics.

Good mediators offer the parties a depth of experience, skill, wisdom, a sense of humor and a healthy dose of humility. There are no algorithms or shortcuts; you simply have to show up and do the work.