Thinking of ways to enhance your ADR practice? Join the club. The 40-hour divorce mediation training classes are packed to capacity. At ADR Day in New Jersey, it was standing room only for the workshop entitled “Making a Living in Mediation”. During a recent presentation I gave to the Hudson County Bar, at least 50% of the attendees indicated they were thinking about expanding their law practices to include mediation services.
It is easy to establish an ADR practice. In most states including New Jersey, there are no licensing requirements. However, as most ADR practitioners who hang out their shingle find out, “build it, and they will come,” does not usually apply to ADR. It takes planning, hard work, stubbornness, and more than an ounce of good luck to develop a successful practice.
I learn something new every day from practitioners in the field and from my clients. I have taken their collective wisdom and tried to document these ideas. So, with thanks to all those who have assisted me, I share with you A 12 Step Approach to Enhancing Your ADR Practice.
STEP 1: DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB without understanding the cost!
I was a management consultant with Price Waterhouse, and a Vice President with JP Morgan. I left JP Morgan with a nice package at the end of 1996 to establish my mediation practice.
Almost all ADR practitioners were working for themselves before entering the field of mediation; they added ADR services to their existing practice – typically, accounting, family and marriage counseling, financial planning or law. In a prior survey, I found that ADR typically accounted for 40% of their practices. Your primary area of specialty may enhance your reputation in ADR, and your association with ADR may enhance your primary area of practice. Even if it is financially feasible, it may not make sense to quit your day job.
STEP 2: PREPARE A BUSINESS PLAN and track your progress relative to the plan.
When I started my practice; I enrolled in a program with the Small Business Administration that helped me develop a plan, and also assigned a retired executive to mentor me. You will have to invest money in marketing expenses, and may also forgo income from your day job as you work to build your ADR practice. A business plan is a necessity.
Essential components of a business plan include:
Track your progress relative to the plan. Learning experiences are necessary, but losses should be managed. I learned the hard way that print advertising was not very effective for me. After my first year in practice, I dropped almost all my print advertising. I also learned that web site links increased the number of hits to may web site, and devoted more of my budget to this area in my second year.
STEP 3: FOCUS ON BUILDING A BETTER MOUSETRAP not on reinventing the wheel.
I am still using the standard forms such as the Client Information Form, Issues to be Decided, and Budget forms from my divorce mediation training class. However, if something can be done better, I try and make that improvement; many of these are relatively minor.
How do I identify ways of building a better mousetrap?
STEP 4: DEVELOP YOUR UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION to describe what makes you and your ADR practice unique.
Write one paragraph on what makes you and your practice unique. Why? You need to summarize for yourself why people should use your services. You can use components of it in your brochures, letters to potential clients, phone inquiries and so on. You don’t need to include every accolade. Need an example of a USP? Here’s mine: “Divorce with Dignity offers a fair, sensitive and cost-effective approach to family, business and civil, alternate dispute resolution. Anju D. Jessani has an MBA from the Wharton School, and spent nearly 20 year in financial services. She is an Accredited Professional Mediator by the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators, and is a Practitioner Member of the Academy of Family Mediators, reflecting the highest level of training and experience. She is on mediation and arbitration referral lists including the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts, and the National Association of Securities Dealers.”
In my first year in practice, I tried not to mention the MBA. I felt I should be emphasizing my ADR training and experience. This was a mistake. Clients and peers want this information; it is part of what makes you unique. With so many referrals coming from practitioners with primary expertise in another field, the challenge is to present your credentials without disparaging the other professions.
STEP 5: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TRAINING and credentialing opportunities.
I mentioned that there are few barriers to entry for ADR, and that most states including New Jersey, have no ADR licensing requirements. Nevertheless clients are getting savvy. They are asking for information regarding background and training, and are noticing difference between practitioners. However, the reason to focus on training is because the knowledge provided should allow you to service client better, in turn, resulting in more satisfied clients and more referrals.
In tandem with the issue of training is the issue of credentialing. Credentialing provides a way for clients to differentiate the dilettante from the professional who has made a commitment to ADR. The requirements for the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators are similar to those of many other states.
NJAPM mediators holding Practitioner Member status with the Academy of Family Mediators are deemed to be qualified as Accredited Professional Mediators, upon completion of at least 16 hours of training in New Jersey family and divorce law. Otherwise, the requirements for APM status are as follows:
Most credentialing programs have continuing education requirements, further assuring that clients will be serviced by practitioners who are current on issues that could impact their cases; another good reason why clients should be looking at credentials when evaluating practitioners.
STEP 6: JOIN ADR ORGANIZATIONS and network with fellow ADR practitioners.
I mentioned that I learned the hard way that print advertising didn’t work for me. In networking with other ADR professionals, I found that this was a fairly common, although not universal, consensus. If I hadn’t networked, I may have invested in a second-year of expensive print advertising trying different copy and different publications.
ADR organizations also provide great marketing opportunities. 20% of my clients come from other ADR practitioners who can’t take the case because of conflicts of interest and/or geography issues. I also have to refer at least 50% the inquiries I receive, either because they are not appropriate for mediation, or because of conflict of interest and/or geography issues; I give referrals to people I know and have also have a comfort level.
Active participation in an ADR organization will allow you to build a useful Rolodex of referral sources. I frequently have to refer clients to appraisers, financial planners, insurance experts, therapists, and college-aid counselors. Almost all my contacts have also come through networking. Additionally, for each dollar I generate in revenue, the lawyers who do the legal work after me generally make two dollars. While, my clients are free to use any attorney or specialist they choose, most prefer to use a referral. Most ADR practitioners maintain similar lists.
I belong to my state mediation association, the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators. Please visit their web site www.njapm.org; or phone them at 800-981-4800, for more information. NJAPM benefits include statewide marketing efforts, networking opportunities, legislative updates, educational seminars, and a mediation referral program for accredited mediators. Most states have similar organizations.
I also belong to a national organization, the Association for Conflict Resolution. ACR is the merged organization of the Academy of Family Mediators, the Society for Professionals in Dispute Resolution, and the Conflict Resolution Education Network. They maintain a referral program for Practitioner Members of the AFM, and also offer access to various liability insurance programs. The ACR web site located at www.acresolution.org, includes a list of state mediation organizations; you can also call their office in Washington DC at 202-667-9700, for more information.
Anytime you go to a conference, read the resumes of the speakers to see which ADR organizations they have joined. Do a search on the web and see which organizations prominent ADR practitioners hold membership.
STEP 7: GET ON APPLICABLE REFERRAL LISTS for your area of specialty.
I call this getting your name on the map. In terms of psychic energy, this is easier to do when you are starting a practice. However, even for the seasoned ADR professional, it pays to review which lists you are on annually, and to compare your lists with your competitors.
Some lists such as the NJAPM and ACR/AFM, have their own credentialing prerequisites, while others have an application process. On the Internet, there are lists open to all interested parties for a nominal fee. The only free and open list I am aware of on the Internet is at www.split-up.com, a referral list for family and divorce mediators.
I am on the following lists that have an application process, but no fee requirements:
I pay an annual fee from $100 to $250 to be included at various Internet web sites. If you are curious to see where I am listed, do a search on my name. While it is almost impossible to tell which Internet sites are leading clients to me, in addition to www.divorcesource.com, the host of my web site, I believe the following sites have been most effective:
STEP 8: SEEK WRITING AND SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS and set practice goals accordingly. Advertising is expensive and usually has a brief shelf life. In addition, it is often hard to assess whether your advertising has been effective. I am not suggesting that you don’t advertise. Rather, that you invest some time in promoting yourself through writing and speaking engagements. They work!
I set a goal of writing two articles every year. My white papers are among my best marketing tools. Clients are hungry for relevant articles about ADR, and these articles also establish my credibility as an ADR service provider. You don’t need a publisher anymore. You can implement a web site at almost no cost, and post articles at your site. Most of the articles I have written for print publications have been by invitation from an editor who had read one of my summary articles posted at my web site.
When I first started my practice, my goal was participating in one speaking engagement a month. I gave presentations to support groups, library groups, chambers of commerce, attorneys – basically anyone who would listen. My current goal is at least two speaking engagements a year. I now aim for forums where I can expand my referral network rather than targeting clients directly.
STEP 9: GET AN E-MAIL ADDRESS AND A WEB SITE; these are essential to doing business in the 21st century.
In his new book Business @ the Speed of Thought, Bill Gates states that business will change more in the next ten years than it has in the last fifty. Businesses that seize the opportunity and use digital tools to move information inside their enterprise, as well as to reach out to customers in new ways, will lead in this era. “Any activity you’re going to engage in, whether it’s buying or simply planning something, you’ll be able to take advantage of the Web and you’ll even take it for granted.”
I would imagine that I am probably preaching to the converted when I sing the praises of e-mail. However, if there is even one reader who has avoided getting connected, I encourage that person to try using e-mail. With e-mail, I can instantaneously send a Memorandum of Understanding to both clients, and they can e-mail be back their changes, all at no cost. There are not missed phone calls, no messy faxes, and no express mail charges. Of course there is a caveat – e-mail can also be very dangerous. As an example, it’s easy to hit the “reply to all” button when you just intend to reply to the sender.
In speaking with ADR practitioners, every person who has a web site has stated to me that they are pleasantly surprised that is does reach potential clients, and that these clients are much more suitable ADR candidates that those that come through the Yellow Pages. Even if your ADR practice is overbooked, the web can still be useful for reducing your marketing, printing and mailing costs. You reduce the need for mailing out brochures by referring potential clients to your web site when they ask for information about your approach to ADR.
STEP 10: PLAN FOR CHANGE; nothing stays the same.
I see two different forces impacting ADR – one is the increasing acceptability of ADR, and the second is the impact of technology. There are futurists who specialize in predicting change; my views are strictly as an amateur. Here are five ways I believe ADR will change in the near future:
STEP 11: STAY OUT OF TROUBLE by observing generally accepted guidelines for the practice ADR.
Most ADR organizations have a code of ethics for members. With respect to mediation, a group of commissioners of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) has been drafting a Uniform Mediation Act (UMA) in collaboration with the American Bar Association’s Section on Dispute Resolution, which incorporates many of the principles these organizations, and will apply to most areas of mediation, if enacted. It is important that ADR practitioners make themselves aware of acceptable practice guidelines for their state and ADR organizations, and practice within these parameters to protect their professional reputations.
The UMA draft is available on the web at www.pon.harvard.edu/guests/umaDRAFT. Some of the highlights of the draft act include:
STEP 12: BE GRACIOUS.
I am always in awe when genuine graciousness is shown to me. Everyone is busy; we have good intentions but get sidetracked along the way. I believe the trick is to put these activities at the top of your day’s “to do” list. In meditation, my best clients continue to come through referrals. It just makes good business sense to be gracious.
Cesare Pavese stated, “Lessons are not given, they are taken.” Not everything that has worked for me will work for you, and some things that didn’t work for me, might very well work for you. However, I hope that they’re at least a handful of helpful tips you can take and implement from this article. And, I hope that they do help enhance your practice. Have any secrets to your success you would like to share? I welcome your ideas and your feedback.