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 blogger Emily Pos has 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 at trymediation.ca.