Why do lawyers move to mediation, and how should they get there?
My original title for this article about lawyers transitioning into mediators was The Mediation Metamorphosis. After all, many lawyers dream they will awake one day reborn as free-floating mediator butterflies. They have left behind the cocoon of law practice to bring peace to the world. I was going to provide a quote from the 1915 novella The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, who trained as a lawyer.
However, “metamorphosis” implies a change from a lower form of being (lawyer) to a higher one (mediator). That is not a fair or accurate description of either of my two professions. Both are noble callings, which can be equally fulfilling and, dare I say, beautiful.
Also, Kafka’s story is about a man who wakes up one day to find that he has turned into a giant, hideous cockroach.
I needed a new title.
I decided upon The Mediation Migration since one definition of “migration” is moving from one place to another for work. I use “place” in a non-geographic sense (although mediators tend to travel). Most migrations are not simple or easy. They are hard work, involving time, dedication, uncertainty, obstacles and perseverance. Moving back and forth (in this case, between professions) is also an inherent part of many migrations.
Cockroaches, to my knowledge, don’t migrate.
Why do lawyers migrate to mediation practice? For some, the butterfly metaphor speaks to them. They are tired of the daily grind of a busy law practice and they seek a change of lifestyle. Mediation offers a different pace (although not slower), a degree of freedom and a focus on “the positive”. For others, the migration is intended as a second or third career after, or leading up to, retirement.
It is also alluring to be briefly involved in a file, and above the fray. Toronto lawyer and mediator Kumail Karimjee, one of the speakers at the OBA’s April 27 program Establishing a Successful Mediation Practice, likes that “as a mediator, you often make a relatively small appearance, sometimes only a half day, in the life of a dispute that may seem intractable to the parties. I like the intensity of the short intervention.”
I think these are all good reasons for lawyers to move towards mediation. For me, the primary reason for taking on mediations, at the expense of legal work, is that I love being a mediator (although I still love being a lawyer who attends mediations). Mediating aligns with my values and my personality, and how I prefer to relate to people.
I also agree with Karimjee when he told me that mediation can be a “hugely rewarding experience.” Personally, the satisfaction I feel from settling a case as a mediator is far greater than winning at court as a litigator.
If you are considering making the mediation migration, here are five tips based on my experience:
Mediation training is time consuming, ongoing and expensive -- but so is legal training. Seek the advice of practising mediators and choose wisely. Don’t forget informal training: Find a mentor who will permit you to shadow them at mediations (hopefully, without charge). Sample different mediation styles and types of disputes. This can also lead to referral work or other opportunities to practice new skills.
Get Out There
Become involved in the mediation community. Join the ADR Section of the OBA, attend and participate in professional development programs (like the OBA program mentioned above) and networking events. See and be seen. Write and be read. Volunteer your time.
The ADR Institute of Ontario (ADRIO) offers professional mediation designations like Qualified Mediator (Q. Med) and Chartered Mediator (C. Med), along with other benefits.
Everyone seems to know a lawyer who became a full-time mediator and was suddenly inundated with hundreds of hungry customers offering top dollar. Meanwhile, little do you realize how rare this is -- and how much time, effort, marketing and pure skill are involved in any successful mediation practice. For most of us, the migration is far slower and full of bumps in the road. Be patient, be persistent and be a realist.
Get Focused, Yet Flexible
While patience is a virtue, so is focus: If you really want to be a mediator then ask “is your day job is helping you, or is it holding you back from pursuing your goal?”. When I became serious about building a mediation practice, I wasn’t prepared to quit law. However, a few years ago, I purposely changed my litigation practice to align with my mediation ambitions and my values: I became a Settlement Counsel. Now, whether I am lawyer or mediator, my rule is the same: ABS (Always Be Settling). This also provides me with a flexible calendar so I can readily take on mediator work when it presents itself.
If and when you leave full-time legal practice, you may need or want to supplement your income. Many mediators have other rewarding roles like teaching, arbitrating, coaching, workplace investigating, and even part-time lawyering. Of course, many mediators prefer to have more than one profession.
One side-gig I don’t recommend is cockroach exterminator. Please leave that to the professionals!
About the author
Mitchell Rose is a Chartered Mediator, lawyer and settlement counsel with Stancer, Gossin, Rose LLP in Toronto. He can be reached at email@example.com. He doesn’t mind bugs.