Mediation Jobs Myths

By far the most common questions I get from users of this site are those below:

  • I Want Information On Becoming A Mediator.

  • How Do I Train To Become a Certified Mediator?

  • I Have Had Some Mediation Training But Would Like Guidance About More Training to Become Certified as a Divorce, Disability, Special Education Mediator.

I started this site, because some of the most visited pages on my All Things Conflict Resolution are the ones dealing with mediation and conflict resolution jobs. Lots of people, it seems, want to become mediators and go into private practice.

Influenced by articles like the December 29,2009 U.S News and World Report Article, Mediator, One of the 50 Best Careers of 2010 or this Forbes, May 2009 article, America's Most Surprising Six-Figure Jobs, which included arbitrators and mediators in the mix, people are anxious to jump onboard the mediator express and cash in. Those are one set of headlines.

Mediation Cartoon

Here is another set of headlines:

  • The Supply Of Willing Mediators By Far Exceeds The Demand For Their Services

  • Many Mediators Who Cannot Find Work Become Mediation Trainers.

  • While Training Courses Are Plentiful, There Are Few Mentoring, Internship Or Other Job Opportunities For Beginning Mediators To Develop Their Skill Set

These are some of the headlines for the reality of pursuing a career as a mediator in private practice. Before you read the details, I want to stress there are lots of satisfying careers to pursue in conflict resolution and even some in mediation. You can check out our Jobs in Conflict Resolution: Lessons From the Front Lines for ideas. However, you cannot take a 30-40 hour course and expect to hang out a shingle and start to rake in money. Read on for the facts.

The Supply Of Willing Mediators By Far Exceeds The Demand For Their Services

As a result of weak demand and excessive supply, there are more mediators than there are mediation jobs in the U.S. An accepted estimate by the dispute resolution community is that over 100,000 people have received some kind of mediation training including community mediation centers and university and college degrees.

According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics there were 9,900 people employed as mediators, arbitrators and conciliators as of 2008 earning a median income of $50,600. Projected growth to 2018 is only 11,300 or 1400 new positions.

Of those trained, relatively few actually practice mediation and even fewer make a living as full-time mediators. Most people who enter the mediation market drop out within two years. Of those who stay, about ten thousand earn $50,000 or more per year from the sale of mediation services. A large percentage of these people are employed in salaried positions with state or local governments, the courts, or with private organizations, such labor associations, insurance carriers, or law firms,

More to the point, of those who decide to become mediators, 80 percent cannot make a living from mediation only activities. One of my mentors once described the practice as "you eat what you kill" and she was right. Aspiring mediators are constantly searching for work, but rarely find it. It takes an estimated five years to develop a decent practice.

This accounts for the high drop out rate. Unable to support themselves and their families those same aspiring mediators are forced to return to their old jobs or find some non mediation source of income. Fifteen percent or so of mediators manage to establish a practice, keep busy and make a decent living but nothing spectacular.

The top 5 percent, however, are booked months in advance and can gross upwards of a million dollars per year. I have worked with some of these people and they get to put things like "we mediated the Microsoft (anti trust) case" on their websites.

Many Mediators Who Cannot Find Work Become Mediation Trainers

Mediation training has been a boom market for the last several years. People are drawn to mediation because they consider it a fun, rewarding career - not like their boring last job. But consider this, the person or organization that provided your mediation training did so because they couldn't make a living being mediators!

And to lure you in these training providers typically oversell mediation's potential creating expectations that cannot be realized. In actuality, they are training you for jobs that do not exist!

Keep in mind these programs aren't cheap ranging from several hundred dollars to $2,000 or more. No wonder they want to lure you in. The pay is much better than actually mediating. Many of the training programs include marketing techniques in their courses, but few honestly describe the status and availability of job opportunities or the difficulties in setting up a practice.

This failure by mediation trainers to provide accurate information about opportunities to make money contributes to excess market entry. And, they are shameless. On one of the ADR group discussions I belong to on a professional networking site someone had posted a discussion about "What Mediation Skills Do You Need to Brush Up On To Enhance Your Marketability During the Economic Downturn?"

Naturally they were offering training. Not content to have already soaked people for their initial training they now want to lure you back for additional thousands in order to practice skills you have yet to use!

That's not the only way they are shameless. I have also seen ads for online mediation training - what a joke. Mediation is a hands on activity, in order to learn it you need to practice it in real time.

Another offering that is out there -- mediation trainings offered at sea and in desirable vacation locales. By all means if it means a tax deduction and you have the cash, have a good time. However, don't delude yourself that you are actually learning a marketable skill.

While Trainings Are Plentiful, There Are Few Opportunities For Beginning Mediators To Develop Their Skill Set

Although mediation training is necessary first step, it is just that a first step. As dispute resolution professional and blogger Diane Levin has written in Mediation Career Myth-Busting: 5 Urban Legends It's Time To Debunk", a 30-40 training "is an orientation to the profession, not an instant qualification". To become an effective mediator, you need hands-on experience. It has been determined that experience, not training, is the most important factor in predicting high mediator settlement rates.

One successful mediator has observed that "it usually takes about 30 mediations to even approach a point where you are ready to charge for your services." Making Peace and Making Money: Economic Analysis of the Market For Mediators in Private Practice by Urška Velikonja. While this may sound like little, many full-time mediators - which means they are more successful than 80 or more percent of all mediators - only mediate 100 or so cases per year.

There are few internship programs, mentoring sources or other job opportunities for beginner mediators to get practice. Mediators try to get the practice they need by volunteering at a community mediation center which usually has an abundance of free talent. There they mediate community disputes such as landlord tenant issues or small claims.

Community mediation centers typically have one or two paid staff and some government or grant funding. They survive by offering, you guessed it, mediation training programs, and competing for business in the private mediation market. They also charge a fee to provide you with opportunities to practice, until they are willing to accept you as a volunteer mediator.

In 2006, twenty-five thousand individuals mediated in six hundred community mediation centers around the United States, mostly as volunteers. Most mediators in community mediation centers provide services to their clients on a part-time basis free of charge, though a few centers pay their mediators a small stipend ($25 per case). And, reports from volunteer mediators confirm that all that volunteering typically leads to more opportunities to mediate for no pay.

Another factor is that because the field is so new, there is no formal career path to follow to become a mediator. For virtually all mediators, mediation is a second or third career; most are in their fifties or older, as they are the ones with sufficient financial resources to survive a few years with little to no income.

For the rest of this article please go to Mediation Jobs Myths, Part Two.

In researching and writing this article I relied upon the following sources:

Mediation Career Myth-Busting: 5 Urban Legends It's Time To Debunk.

Making Peace and Making Money: Economic Analysis of the Market For Mediators in Private Practice.

Too Many Mediators, Not Enough Mediations: Is It Fair To Keep Training Neutrals With Career Prospects So Grim?

Mediation Certification And Credentialing: Getting Accurate Information On Becoming A Mediator.


  • Conflict Resolution Jobs Court ADR Programs
  • Jobs in Conflict Resolution: Lessons From the Front Lines
  • Mediation Jobs Myths, Part One
  • Mediation Jobs Myths, Part Two
  • This information doesn't mean that you should be discouraged, rather that to have a satisfying career in conflict resolution you need to broaden the scope of your search! Thank you for visiting Conflict-Resolution-Jobs.com ...I hope it has been helpful in your job search! If you enjoyed this site, and felt it provided you valuable information, please share it with a friend! Please let me know if there are other features you would like to see on the site.

    - Marsha

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