“I Wanna Drive the Zamboni” OR Is a First Career in Dispute Resolution an Impossible Dream?

It may be that my timing in entering the field of dispute resolution was just exceedingly fortuitous, or Aaron Volpatti watches the wheels on the zamboni go round and round.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.[1] 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.

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.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[2].  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 Response to the “Facts” by Nancy Cameron, QC.
  • 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.

[1] Check out the American website ADR as First Career for examples – and confirmation that this is a concern facing other jurisdictions as well.

[2] Experienced professionals interested in mentoring should read the On Co-Mediation blog series

Photo: Vancouver Canucks “Photo 2 of 15 – Game Day: Canucks vs. Ducks” 15 September 2010 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *