For the sixth post in Sharon Sutherland‘s curated series on First Careers in ADR we’re doing something a little different. Preston Parsons and Civil Roster mediator Jaime Sarophim sat down for a filmed chat with C.D. Saint to explore some of their experiences as new(er) mediators. The conversation ranged over a number of topics, and they’ve been broken down into shorter segments.
We hope you enjoy the switch-up to the format this week!
New Mediator Challenges
Meet the mediators: Preston and Jaime.
For mediators who are also lawyers, what sort of challenges might a mediator building their practice face while working at a law firm?
Show Me the Money!
How would you go about setting your mediator fees/rates (if your firm doesn’t set them)?
Make It Work!
How do you manage to mediate when you work full-time?
I Have the Power…Networks!
Where do you find clients? How do clients find you?
Is word of mouth valuable in building a client base?
We would like to thank Preston and Jaime for talking with Mediate BC. Big thanks also go to Darsey Meredith for filming and editing these short videos of our conversation and to Sharon Sutherland for bringing us together to talk.
You can find all posts in the First Careers in ADR series here.
2014 was the inaugural celebration of Conflict Resolution Week in BC. Following last year’s success, Mediate is excited to organize Conflict Resolution Week 2015 October 17-24th. It is a special week with events highlighting the options for resolving conflict effectively.
This year, we’re asking “Why not mediate?” Mediation is an effective, affordable, timely and accessible option to resolve disputes.
Mediate BC Roster mediators are also pulling back the curtain with short videos. People are invited behind-the-scenes to see what really happens in mediation: the role a mediator plays, what it is like for the participants, the different kinds of conflict that are well suited to mediation, and mediation success stories.
Roster mediators are also hosting free events throughout the province. They’re sharing their knowledge and experience of mediation and how it can assist people resolve all sorts of conflicts and disputes.
How can you participate?
Attend one of the free events around the province and encourage clients and colleagues to as well
Share mediator videos, facts and information on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube marked with #WhyNotMediate
Talk to clients, colleagues, friends and family about what mediation is, and why it might be the right choice for them now – or when a conflict arises they can’t resolve on their own (we’ve got some handy ideas here)
We know that mediation is a great way to resolve conflicts for businesses, workplaces, individuals and families. Conflict Resolution Week October 17-24 is our time to really bring a spotlight to the good it can do for so many people.
On Friday, September 18th Brian Gibbard (the new Mediate BC Board of Directors Chair) and Monique Steensma (Mediate BC CEO) presented Joyce Bradley, QC with the Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation.
Joyce has been mediating since 1984, after having been called to the Bar in 1979. She had a hand in the establishment of several mediation organizations (SPIDR, FMC, MDABC) and developing standards of practice. Joyce went on to become one of the first Certified Comprehensive Family Mediators through FMC. She was the first lawyer who had restricted her practice to mediation (1989) to be named Queen’s Counsel in 2003. Joyce has always made herself available to other mediators formally through coaching and mentoring (Mediate BC, JIBC, CLE, CoRe Clinic, Child Protection Mediation Program) and informally as well.
On receiving the award, Joyce commented:
“One of the things I think was most exciting about having watched this field develop is the many areas it’s moved into, the many ways it’s been adapted – people have found so many things to do with it!
…I think when I got my QC (which heaven knows having given up the practice of traditional law in ’89 I never expected THAT to happen!) I regarded it as a sign that mediation had come of age: in the courts; in the legal community; in the mental health community; and all the other areas where these new initiatives were springing up.”
About the Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation
Funny thing: It never occurred to me that mediation couldn’t be a first career.
I came into mediation almost accidentally. I was always interested in relationships, human connections and how people communicated (and miscommunicated) with each other. I did my BA at the University of Waterloo in Speech Communication and like many newly minted BA grads, got my first post-university job doing what I had done before, working as a receptionist in a law firm. That job first introduced me to labour mediation and planted a seed of interest. A year later I resigned from that job with a clear vision to return to school and study civil mediation at the Justice Institute of British Columbia. Two years later, I had graduated from the JIBC with my certificates in Family Mediation and Third Party Intervention. I had discovered that mediation was truly a realm in which my gifting and passion lay. Meeting my husband and our subsequent engagement brought me back to my home town of Fort St. John with a vision to build a practice; that was almost 10 years ago.
I have been blessed to build my practice in a small town, particularly a town where I have deep roots. I’ve been asked to specifically speak to the challenges and opportunities of developing a practice in a smaller community. What I have learned is that the challenges and advantages are two sides of the same coin.
First: I know a lot of people.
People from school, work, church and life; and if they don’t know me they probably know my husband, or my family. This is a terrific advantage because word of mouth is a powerful business development tool. The disadvantage is, of course, conflict of interest. I have found that this is manageable through crystal clear transparency. I make sure to look out for any preexisting connection I might have with one or more of my potential clients, ensuring everyone is aware of what connection exists, and always checking and rechecking throughout the process that participants are comfortable and have confidence in my neutrality and confidentiality.
Second: As a remote community we have a shortage of professionals in all fields.
This is an advantage because people are used to seeking out alternative processes and professionals to accomplish their ends. Necessity is the mother of invention. Mediation is still a new idea to a lot of people. However, they are willing to see if it will work for them; sometimes because the “old” way of doing things isn’t perceived to be accessible or practical. The disadvantage is that there is a shortage of professionals. Consequently parties often face difficulty obtaining the independent legal advice, agreement drafting or other legal services that are often critical parts of collaborative dispute processes.
Third: I’m one of a handful of practicing mediators living in my region.
There is certainly a perceived advantage to being any size fish in a really small pond. I am not sure however, that this is entirely true. A robust community of mediators could have a positive impact on the local cultural attitudes toward mediation as a legitimate option, and would improve my practical skills and be a support network.
Finally: Building a sustainable mediation practice has required a long view approach.
This community is my home, and this work is my professional calling – these things are not changing. I have never been busy enough as a mediator to call it a “full time” occupation. I have always required an additional economic engine to underwrite my mediation work. It has only been in the last couple of years that I would even describe my mediation work as “steady.” I don’t actually think of this as a bad thing. One of the experiences that drew me to mediation over a decade ago, while still a receptionist at that law firm in Waterloo, was meeting one of the partner’s wives. She was a mediator who had built a practice that fit her life and supported her priorities with respect to her children and family. I saw that mediation could afford me a work life balance that was consistent with my values.
Year over year my practice has built momentum and I confidently see the trend continuing. I am succeeding. Mediation is my career. I am satisfied not only with the outcomes of my work, but I am meeting the interests that undergird those outcomes. What more could a mediator want?
Guest bloggerEmily Poshas been mediating since 2006 and is a Civil, Family, and Child Protection Roster mediator. She keeps an active practice in the small town of Fort St. John (pop. 18,600) in northern BC attrymediation.ca.
This is the fifth post inSharon Sutherland‘s curated series on First Careers in ADR. Find all posts in the serieshere.
After reading both of these insightful blogs, I realized that these 10 myths also apply to graduates from other areas of study that similarly want to pursue a career in consensual dispute resolution from the start. These people also hear the same discouraging pieces of advice. For these (my) people, I address these myths (with some adjustments for a custom fit), and have added one just for them!
BONUS MYTH: One has to be a lawyer to be a mediator
Ok, so how about this: “One can be a mediator and not be a lawyer, but better to be a lawyer too.”
With all due respect to my brothers and sisters in this work who are Law Society members, it is no better or worse to be a lawyer than to have a different occupational background. It is just different.
I would expect one with a legal background to be stronger in regards to knowledge of the law. I would expect someone with a counseling background to be more effective in dealing with high conflict. I would expect someone with an accounting background to help all parties quickly understand the financial implications of their agreements. I would expect someone with more pure mediation training to be better at uncovering the deepest interests of the parties.
I have been inspired and mentored by mediators with and without law degrees. I work with both as well, and I can list great mediators that come from a wide variety of backgrounds. The field needs that variety. Our thinking is evolving to recognize that the industry is richer because of it.
Myth #1: Litigate for 10 years before mediating
Gaining understanding about the law and court processes as a litigator is useful when mediating disputes with legal implications, and the same can be said about others’ areas of experience. Working as a therapist for 10 years would give one valuable experience, wisdom and knowledge about what is happening for people in moments of stressful conflict. It might also make it easier to understand family systems and dynamics, which would be especially useful in family mediation.
Virtually every career could be enhanced by having experience in another field first. So how do you start on a career if you could be more effective in it by doing something else first? This logic leads to paralysis.
We all started somewhere, doing something – and became good at it.
I also believe that similar to litigation work, other occupations emphasize and value certain ways of thinking and behaving that must be “unlearned” to be an effective mediator. As Nancy points out, there is benefit in establishing the most effective neuropathways from the beginning!
Myth #2: You need a good reputation to get work, and you need work to build a good reputation
It is true that the better the reputation one has, the more work will come their way. The same can be said about most other career choices too. New mediators volunteer their expertise, teach when they can and partner with others.
Finding creative ways to get experience is not unique to mediation. It is also not a good reason to not try!
Myth #3: Grey hair equals credibility
Life and career experience can give comfort to potential clients. However, that is not the only way to gain credibility. Education, certification and other credentials go a long way to establish trust.
One benefit of starting in this field at a young age is that one can build up wisdom and knowledge over a longer period of time. There are very few mediators here in BC who have been doing it for more than 20 or 25 years. Imagine how the field can mature and evolve when we have a generation who has committed their careers to this work and all have 40 to 50 years of experience! Research, theory, practical methods, evaluation and public awareness would all be enhanced and taken to a new level.
More immediately, young mediators may have an advantage with access to certain demographics that older mediators would not. Some clients prefer professionals who are more closely connected to their “culture” (stage of life, values, interests, communication preferences, etc.). Where cultures are related to younger age groups (technology, pop culture, etc.), the young mediator will be comfortable and aware of the nuances of the cultural “language”, all of which builds trust in their clients.
What about online dispute resolution and other new and creative ways to approach the process? I expect that the bulk of our creativity and forward thinking will come from new mediators.
For the record, these ideas are generalizations, not every veteran mediator is out of touch with pop culture and not every young mediator is tech savvy. However, there are likely some differentiators that can be leveraged.
Myth #4: There is not enough work
This is the most challenging of the 10 myths. While the field is growing, mediators wish it were growing faster. We have some work to do to make people aware of the effectiveness (and even the existence) of better ways of handling conflict.
It is true that it takes time to build a mediation practice, just as it takes time to build virtually every other kind of business. It is not easy to start most careers; few things are automatically successful. Where mediation ranks on the list of “Most Difficult Careers to Develop”, I am not sure, but difficulty is not necessarily a reason to abandon its pursuit.
In his On Co-Mediation post, Ron Smith actually argues that more mediators will actually increase the overall awareness of the mediation process, meaning more clients for us to serve.
Myth #5: Don’t quit your day job
This is the advice I heard a lot when I was training to do this work. It is true that you will not make all the money you want to make when starting out, but what is the shame in having to do other things to support a growing practice?
Mediation is not the only occupation where one needs to gain other income as their “main” career gets established, and in some ways, younger people are better suited for this. They tend to have less financial obligations (spouse, children, elderly parents, mortgage, etc.) than those who are older (with the possible exception of student loans). Their costs of living are lower and their finances more flexible. These are the kind of people who best suit the entrepreneurial nature of a career in conflict resolution.
And even when the practice is running well, virtually all mediators have several aspects to their practices that contribute to its success (as Nancy suggests): Mediation, facilitation, teaching, training and coaching are all ways to engage with people, their conflict, and share your passion!
Two professional benefits also come to mind for those with several aspects to their dispute resolution practice:
1) Few people could mediate things like family separation every day all day, without burning out, and 2) Having several income streams can be a more stable business model than having just one.
Myth #6: The field of mediation is shrinking
Any industry has shifts and swings with regards to the size of the market. Mediation is the same. However, there seems to be a steady growth in awareness (even though we wish it were faster) and interest in mediation. More schools are training in it, and the laws are changing to emphasize it.
Over the long term, I believe that consensual dispute resolution will continue to grow, and I believe this to be true globally, not just in BC.
Myth #7: The rosters are full so there is no way to get work
Some of the rosters that drive work directly to mediators are difficult to get into, however, new rosters occasionally open up. It is possible to become part of these new rosters by being aware of new projects and partnerships. Mediate BC continues to be a main player in developing creative opportunities and the source for announcements of opportunities developed by others.
As well, rosters like the family and civil ones at Mediate BC do help to direct clients to its members. While maybe not always as directly as some other rosters, they still help to establish credibility for mediators qualified to join.
Myth #8: Females are at a disadvantage
I realize gender bias is a problem in many kinds of occupations, and I don’t know what it is like to be a female mediator. I do know that if one day my daughter wants to join me in this pursuit, I would support and encourage her all the way. (And I think she would be really good at it!)
Like in many places, we have some work to do to make it a more level playing field for everyone. If my little girl does decide to be a mediator one day, I hope that the landscape is different than it is today.
Myth #9: No one can mediate and litigate
Not being a lawyer, it is hard for me to comment on this.
Myth #10: One cannot make a career at this
For many years I was involved in the leadership of organizations that focused on programs for youth and young adults. It was common for them to ask “What should I do with my life?” My advice was always “Pursue your passion and see where it takes you”.
When I speak to people who feel compelled to do this work, I advise them to pursue it, even if the financial rewards are less than what they could attain elsewhere. It is possible that for some, mediation does not end up being a sustainable career, but you won’t know until you try.
It is not easy to start and develop a busy mediation practice. You will need to be patient. I speak to many who are exploring this field as a career, and I am honest about how difficult it can be. It is not for everyone, and not everyone will succeed.
While these challenges are real, other occupations also have real challenges that some people will not overcome either. Challenge is not unique to this field. On the other hand, every challenging industry has examples of young, passionate people who have succeeded!
If we discourage young people who are passionate about conflict resolution, we risk missing out on their energy, creativity, optimism and long-term commitment. Consensual dispute resolution needs these good people to help us push it forward.
Guest blogger Darrin Hotte is a Family Roster mediator, a Mediation Advisor in the Vancouver Justice Access Centre for Mediate BC, a coach, trainer and mentor. He keeps an active practice at New Solution Mediation focusing on leadership, family mediation and family businesses.
This is the fourth post in Sharon Sutherland‘s curated series on First Careers in ADR. Find all posts in the series here.
When I was called to the bar, the Law Society had a provision requiring lawyers to practice law for at least three years prior to conducting a family law mediation. It was many years before the Law Society changed this requirement, and I was never able to figure out the logic behind these facts: there was no prohibition against conducting a murder trial shortly after being called to the bar, yet there was a prohibition against acting as a family law mediator.
Reading Robin Phillips’ 10 Common (and Discouraging) Pieces of Advice Offered to New Dispute Resolution Practitioners, I am concerned that lawyers are building a narrative that has replaced the Law Society’s prohibition, and may be just as effective in discouraging newly called lawyers from building a dispute resolution practice. Have we replaced the Law Society’s “You are not allowed to” with: “Trust me (and my grey hair). You will never succeed.”? In examining Phillip’s list of Mediation Myths, let me suggest a new narrative for our times.
Myth #1: Litigate for ten years before mediating
Basic neuroscience does not support this. Why spend ten years developing specific neuropathways that are not only useless in mediation but may actually interfere with your dispute resolution skills? As a sixteen year old in Japan, I was the only left-handed student in my high school. I know there were others who showed an early preference for their left hand, but consistent with Japanese culture, this was discouraged and all learned to use their right hand. At sixteen, the effort to make this change seemed impossible. Basic neuroscience was working for all those Japanese toddlers. Let it work for you.
Myth #2: (a circular argument) no one will hire you until you have built a good reputation, and you can’t build a good reputation until you have mediated many cases & Myth #3: you need a head full of grey hair
Grey haired mediators are expensive and not everyone can afford their hourly rates. As well, I have noticed that the more comfortable we are with our skills, the less likely we are to continue learning and building new skills. Professionally, I believe we have an obligation to support and encourage newly called lawyers to develop their skills as mediators, ensuring a broader section of the public can afford our services. I also believe that the “fresh edge” of mediation, the courage to try new techniques and approach practice from a true interest based perspective as opposed to a strongly evaluative perspective often rests with younger practitioners eager to build and expand their skills.
Myth #5: you must have a split practice & Myth #9: you can’t have a split practice
OK, now I’m dizzy! I see the “practice” distinction differently. Some lawyers combine forms of consensual dispute resolution with litigation, others limit their practice to consensual dispute resolution and no court work. What I know is that the public (the people we serve) need all kinds of services. The question, as I see it, is: how do you choose a practice life that is compatible with your values, personality style, and how you want to spend the significant number of years you will work in this profession? For me, the answer to these questions has led me to build a practice that includes mediation, Collaborative Practice, Views of the Child Reports, teaching, and synthesizing research and writing in the consensual dispute resolution field. For someone else, it might be a combination of mediation and unbundled services. Listen to what the clients that come through your door need, and be creative in brainstorming process options with your clients. This may be your most valuable opportunity to learn. Senior practitioners with a strong mediation practice have a certain lens. As a newer practitioner, you have the advantage of not being burdened by the status quo. Be curious. Give permission to your passion. In addition to mediation, offer coaching to those negotiating on their own or to those attending mediation without counsel. Think about offering distance mediation, and market this to smaller, rural communities. It is time we shift our thinking beyond the “mediate or litigate” paradigm and think creatively about offering the services clients need and can afford.
Myth #4, 7 and 10: variations on don’t try, there is no room for you and you will never make money
The use of mediation is increasing. The number of civil trials is decreasing. Yet we don’t tell new lawyers, “Don’t practice litigation, you will never make a living at it.” Why do we reserve this caution for new lawyers wanting to practice dispute resolution? Thank goodness Stu Webb did not take this message to heart when he decided on something new: Collaborative Practice.
Myth #6: Mediation is falling out of fashion, and is no longer a growing area
I asked my eleven year old granddaughter if she learned anything new at Leadership Camp. “Not really,” she replied. “What did they teach you,” I asked. “Conflict resolution,” she answered, implying this is nothing new to an eleven year old. Mediation and other forms of consensual dispute resolution have finally become a wave large enough to observe. I believe we are responsible for ensuring our profession continues to grow and adapt to provide needed services, services congruent with a growing public vision of resolving disputes, or we may be in danger of “lawyers falling out of fashion.”
Myth #8: Certain sectors may not take a female mediator seriously
Would these sectors be populated mostly by men? Are we telling women lawyers to stay away from practicing in these areas? Or female judges not to hear these cases? Thank goodness we have Madam Justice Beverly McLaughlin as a role model. I am not so naïve as to believe that gender bias no longer exists. Nor am I so fearful or exhausted as to turn and walk away because of it. I am fueled by Gandhi’s simple suggestion: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe this is the most powerful tool we possess for creating change.
Have courage, Robin, and all the other newly called lawyers that want to build a dispute resolution career.
Our profession needs you.
The public needs you.
May we provide the support and encouragement you deserve as you create the new normal and help change our litigation-centric narrative.
Nancy Cameron, Q.C.
Guest blogger Nancy Cameron is a lawyer who limits her practice to mediation and collaborative practice, a writer, and an educator. She has led and designed training in dispute resolution and has been an adjunct professor at both UBC Law School and HKU. She is also a Mediate BC Family Roster mediator.
To compliment Nancy’s post addressing these myths for lawyers embarking on careers in dispute resolution, the next post will be Darrin Hotte’s response to these myths.
This is the third post inSharon Sutherland‘s curated series on First Careers in ADR. Find all posts in the serieshere.
Our colleagues at Fasken Martineau have published an excellent blog post summarizing this case and highlighting its significance for mediation in the province. The decision sets a high bar for a party seeking an exemption from the Notice to Mediate (General) provisions and includes some encouraging language around the importance of civil mediation. In reaching this decision, Mr. Justice Kent refers to his personal experience with mediation in more than 30 years of practice before joining the bench and concludes:
The beauty of mediation lies in its confidentiality and flexibility. With the assistance of a skilled mediator, the parties are free to speak to each other directly and to frankly express their concerns and interests without fear of prejudicing the litigation should the matter not settle. That is to be encouraged. Empathy and apology can and often does play a powerful role. Seemingly intractable positions become less so. The legal issues framed in the pleadings frequently do not reflect the real interests or concerns motivating the litigants. Creative remedies not available to the court can be forged to bridge differences. Important relationships can be repaired. -Mr. Justice Kent [at para 18]
I haven’t met many new mediators who aren’t passionate about mediation as a career path, be it on a full-time or a part-time basis. There can be little doubt that the work is out there; the issue is how do we get the work to come to us? I was fortunate when I started mediating that I obtained a contract that sent mediation my way with little effort on my part (other than the effort of providing a consistently positive mediation experience on each file). That contract allowed me to develop both experience and a reputation that has since allowed me to slowly grow my mediation practice in other areas. I am not working as a mediator full-time yet, as I am not quite ready to give up my “day job”, but it has become a significant and rewarding part of my business. I can also see the opportunities out there when I am ready to dedicate my efforts to mediation as a primary business.
So I was thrilled when I was asked to Co-Chair the upcoming Dispute Resolution Conference 2015 on November 10th offered by Continuing Legal Education BC with Sharon Sutherland. As we started talking about what might be of interest to dispute resolution practitioners around the Province we quickly found common ground. Our theme “Share the Land” reflects our belief that if we bring practitioners together, we will find ways to share our experiences and learn from others, so that we can grow mediation and other dispute resolution processes in our own careers and in each other’s, for the benefit of our clients.
Mediating in Smaller Communities
I am excited to be Chairing a panel on the particular challenges faced by mediators based in “smaller communities”, both geographically and culturally. Living and working in a smaller community raises issues not always found in larger centers including, but obviously not limited to:
reduced availability of legal and other resources to support clients,
greater travel time and cost factors,
credibility issues when clients are choosing between a local mediator and one from a larger centre,
and an increased likelihood of conflicts of interest due to our personal and professional relationships.
I look forward to canvassing these issues and ways to approach them during the conference.
I am also looking forward to the panel we have put together on diversity. We are fortunate to live in a country and a province that is incredibly multi-cultural and diverse. However, many of our professions (including our highly qualified rosters of mediators) do not reflect the ethnic, cultural and sociological make-up of our population. A diverse mix of practitioners ensures that all clients are able to work with someone who can appreciate and understand their needs so that each client feels valued, respected and supported. Diversity also opens the door to the sharing of new ideas and approaches that can then be used by others in helping clients solve their disputes. I am curious to hear about the progress that has been made towards highly diverse rosters and what more we can do as a profession to ensure that we increase our inclusivity.
November 10th is going to be an incredibly exciting and enriching day. I hope to see many mediators from around the province coming to learn about how they too can share the land!
Today’s guest bloggerJenifer Crawfordis a Civil, Family and Child Protection Roster mediator and has maintained a law practice since 1995 in the Kamloops area. In addition to her busy law and mediation practice, Jenifer is a sessional instructor of Dispute Resolution for Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law. She is Co-Chair of the 2015 CLEBC Dispute Resolution Conference.
Graduating from law school with an interest in mediation and alternative dispute resolution seems inevitably to lead to the question: what now? Although law schools offer options to learn alternative dispute resolution theory and some schools still offer hands-on mediation training, it can be hard to find concrete guidance on how to pursue a first career in mediation after being called to the bar.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to speak with various professional mediators and have had some wonderful, supportive conversations. That said, there are certainly some very prevalent beliefs about the feasibility of entering the field of dispute resolution as a new practitioner that are much less encouraging. For this blog, I have been asked by the series curator to write about the negative ‘cautions’ that I have heard about pursuing a career in mediation as a means of framing a discussion about the perceived barriers to entering the field. These ‘cautions’ or ‘myths’ will be responded to in an upcoming blog and, hopefully, will generate discussion at the upcoming CLE conference (Share the Land) where dispute resolution as a first career will be the topic of one of the panels.
Below is a list of some of the disheartening input that most want-to-be mediators have likely heard (at least once).
You cannot go straight into mediation; you have to be a litigator for at least 10 years. 
No one will hire you as a mediator until you establish a good reputation, and you won’t be able to establish a good reputation until you have mediated many disputes.
You need a full head of grey hair to be taken seriously as a mediator (i.e. you cannot have a mediation career while you are young).
There is not enough work in mediation to make it a full-time career.
You must have a split practice and cannot be solely a mediator.
Mediation is falling out of fashion and is no longer a growing area.
Rosters are closed or full and there is nowhere to find work as a nascent mediator.
Certain sectors may not take a female mediator seriously.
You cannot be both a mediator and a litigator, the skill set is not compatible; if you work in litigation, you must give up your mediation career.
You will never make enough money pursuing mediation as a career.
Admittedly, there is some overlap in the above list (e.g. #4 and #10), but each entry can stand alone or be woven together; no matter how they are packaged, they represent a discouraging parcel of advice.
Throughout law school, I enjoyed many positive discussions with Sterling J. Nelson about the various ways we may each be able to pursue a career in dispute resolution. Preparing information for this blog, I have spoken with some wonderful individuals who have managed to carve out a career in mediation straight out of law school or following articles. Three of these people Carrie Gallant, Laura Matthews, and Janko Predovic, will join Sterling on November 10, 2015, at the CLE Conference on Dispute Resolution: Share the Land. The panel “I Wanna Drive the Zamboni”: Dispute Resolution as a First Career will offer an opportunity to hear their stories and discuss much needed advice on ways to achieve a thriving dispute resolution career. If you are interested in the topic, please join us there and bring your questions and comments to enliven our discussions.
Guest blogger Robin Phillips graduated from Allard Hall Faculty of Law (UBC) in 2014 and articled with Race and Company LLP. Robin took a number of dispute resolution courses at UBC, including the clinical Mediation program, and completed Mediate BC’s Court Mediation Practicum. She continues to have a strong interest in dispute resolution and will be pursuing further opportunities in the field.
 As a recent law school graduate, my focus has been on developing a dispute resolution practice within the legal field, and so the comments I’ve heard tend to reflect the presumption that one is a lawyer first, and then a mediator. Several of the comments here presume that one is also engaged in a litigation practice before entering into mediation. I would be very interested in hearing from other young practitioners the degree to which these perceived barriers apply to other fields of study.
It may be that my timing in entering the field of dispute resolution was just exceedingly fortuitous, or perhaps I was simply so naïve that I “missed the memo”: but somehow, I decided straight out of law school that I wanted to specialize in dispute resolution and mediation and didn’t run into anyone who seemed to think it was a crazy idea. In fact, I received a great deal of support from my articling principal, colleagues, and experienced mediators who all seemed to think it was a perfectly logical idea.
By the time I was working with the Court Mediation Program in its early days, and even more so once I was teaching at UBC Law, I started to hear from so many new practitioners that “everyone” says you can’t make DR a first career. The range of discouraging comments students and young professionals were hearing ran the gamut from “No one will hire you to mediate if you don’t have gray hair and 30 years of legal practice” to “There’s no work for anyone outside of the current 15 (or 20 or 25) full-time mediators”.
My own experience, and that of many young colleagues, tells me that is simply not true. Nonetheless, the perception that it is, continues to discourage new practitioners, and to create barriers based on false assumptions. These perceptions have the biggest impact when held (and expressed) by senior practitioners who launched their own careers at a time when mediation was often conceived of as a retirement job for senior counsel, or a mid-career change for people seeking a greater chance to be part of problem solving than their first careers provided. When senior members of a profession assume that something can’t be done, it’s very difficult for new practitioners to hold onto their hope that it can.
This message that DR needs to be a second or third career should be a concern for everyone who hopes to see collaborative decision-making processes continue to expand in BC. As long as young practitioners are blocked from entering the practice, the field can never become sustainable. New programs will falter as experienced professionals leave en masse as they retire or reduce their practices because younger professionals will not have gained experience alongside these potential mentors. If we want to see dispute resolution thrive in this province, we need to identify ways to engage younger practitioners from the start of their careers.
First Careers in ADR Blog Series
This series will look at both the challenges and the opportunities connected with becoming a dispute resolution practitioner as a first career. It will also include examples of the paths people have taken to achieve that goal. You can expect to see posts that cover:
The 10 Most Disheartening “Facts” Shared with New Mediators by Robin Phillips.
A vlog discussion between young lawyers about the challenges of building a practice while entering the legal profession.
The challenges and opportunities of developing a practice in a smaller community by Emily Pos.
Thoughts on ways to bridge the gap between training and experience by Rob Finlay.
Profiles of 10 BC professionals who made DR a first career.
Join us over the weeks, and share your thoughts via comments, tweets, emails, etc. This is a discussion that will benefit greatly from the input of practitioners at every stage in their careers!
Sterling J. Nelson will be hosting a panel discussion with four practitioners who made their first careers in dispute resolution at the November 10th CLE Conference on DR – “Share the Land”.
Our guest curator for this series on First Careers in Dispute Resolution is Sharon Sutherland. Sharon is a Mediate BC Civil Roster Mediator. She began her dispute resolution practice in 1994 immediately following her call to the bar in Ontario. She is co-chair of the November 10th CLE Conference on Dispute Resolution.
 Check out the American website ADR as First Career for examples – and confirmation that this is a concern facing other jurisdictions as well.
 Experienced professionals interested in mentoring should read the On Co-Mediation blog series