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Ten Success Secrets from Top (Non-Starving) Mediators

Yes, There Is Money in Mediation! Ten Success Secrets from Top (Non-Starving) Mediators. It isn’t exactly easy to make big bucks as a mediator, but industry standout Jeffrey Krivis says it is possible. In his new book, he has teamed up with some of his successful colleagues to share a few lucrative tricks of the trade.

Doctor. Teacher. Firefighter. Professional athlete. And mediator? Actually, yes. While few second-graders are naming this career on What-I-Want-to-Be-When-I-Grow-Up Day, mediation is becoming a hot career choice. Since the early 1990s many people, lawyers in particular, have jumped on the mediation bandwagon. As a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), mediation continues to grow in popularity. No wonder. Its high success rate and lower costs (compared to those of a court case) have led to a boom in mediators. And surprise! Some of them are making serious money.

“Mediation is a career of extremes,” says mediator Jeffrey Krivis, co-author (along with Naomi Lucks) of the new book How to Make Money as a Mediator (And Create Value for Everyone): 30 Top Mediators Share Secrets to Building a Successful Practice (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2006, ISBN: 0-7879-8204-0, $40.00). “This is a field in which it’s possible to become wildly successful—think Tiger Woods, Martina Navratilova, Lance Armstrong—but only a relative few make it to that top tier.

“There are many mediators who struggle,” he adds. “And because they consider their career a calling, they accept the struggle. They’ll tell you they can’t imagine doing anything else. But the truth is, you can fulfill your calling and build up a healthy bank account.”

Krivis and Lucks have written a book for mediators—and aspiring mediators—who want to do just that. It’s an invaluable resource filled with practical, proven, and down-to-earth information on how you can develop a satisfying and lucrative career as a mediator, no matter what your area of interest: labor and employment mediation, intellectual property, environment, personal injury, family and divorce, contract, securities, or international peacekeeping. The book provides advice from 30 top mediators, who give a behind-the-scenes look at how they achieved success in this highly competitive profession.

Here are 10 great tips from How to Make Money as a Mediator that can put any new (or struggling) mediator on the path to success:

1. Inspire trust. You must ensure that your clients and potential clients—whether they are lawyers, helping professionals, families, or community leaders—feel they can trust you to be fair. They must believe you can help them grapple with the life-changing issues that arise in mediated negotiations. All top-tier mediators will tell you that inspiring trust is paramount. “The mediator must be able to find connections with the parties so that they feel like this person can help them work through difficult issues—a personal bond,” says Chris Moore, who specializes in dispute resolution at CDR Associates in Boulder, Colorado, and is featured in the book. “If people are going to be in a lifeboat on a stormy sea, they want someone with them they trust and have some connection with. But they also don’t expect you to be totally partial to them—they expect you to be fair. And they hope you can help them talk to the other side, people whom they have historically found to be difficult to talk with. You facilitate and design a process that helps them talk and reach agreements.”

2. Cultivate champions. A passion for mediating and terrific natural skills can take you only so far. You need to cultivate champions—influential people who believe in you as a mediator and who are happy to help you get your name out there to larger groups. “I have had several champions who paved the way for me, introducing me to important potential clients and polishing my reputation,” says Krivis. “If you have even one such champion, you can consider yourself fortunate indeed. But note: they will not always come into your life by chance. You need to cultivate these relationships.”

3. Practice authenticity. Authenticity is the bedrock on which trust is built. For a mediator, authenticity means being strong enough to work with ambiguity day in and day out, and to face the internal conflicts it sometimes engenders. You can’t always know where things are going or how you are going to get there, but you must lead from an honest heart. This will give you the ability to walk the fine line between deception and honesty and to make the parties feel that you always have their best interests at heart. “Many people confuse authenticity with ‘honesty’ or living out of your ‘authentic self,’” says Robert Benjamin, a practicing mediator since 1979 and a Fellow at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law. “But this denies the fact that, in life as well as in mediation, self-delusion and deception are inescapable. In mediation, the operating definition of authenticity is your ability to connect with people, gain their trust, and build up that kind of capital, so that when you ask them to consider doing something they are resistant to, they will do it.”

4. Create value. Great mediators are always working to provide direction and encouragement, giving clients new tools for solving problems, guiding them around potential land mines, and helping them discover new opportunities. Krivis calls this creating value. In fact, he says, creating value might well be the foundation for getting clients and settling cases. When marketing your services, you can create value by finding out from the parties what their pain threshold is, what’s causing them the most concern, and what has to happen in order for them to select you as the person who can help them solve their problem. Once you have this information, you can innovate regarding how to solve their problem.

5. Embrace rejection. Mediation is an isolated world. For every case you get, there are 10 you didn’t. To be really successful, you have to expect rejection and embrace it. You must hold the view that when you’ve been rejected, it means that someone who believes in you has tried to sell you. He or she will keep putting your name out there, and eventually you’ll achieve critical mass. “I hear the statement, ‘Oh, your name comes up all the time’ from people who have never used me,” says Krivis. “Don’t let rejection get to you. You may be on every lawyer’s list of three top mediators, but you’ve got to remember that there are two other mediators up there with you. You just can’t take the decision personally. It may be based on timing or scheduling, or the would-be clients just plain prefer another mediator over you that day.”

6. Practice the Three Ps: Patience, Perseverance, and Persistence. Every single mediator who made it to the top did so because he or she understood the importance of the Three Ps. It can take three to five years to build a successful mediation practice, so relax, dig in your heels, and prepare to be there for the long haul. Believe in your abilities, believe that you can and will build a successful career, back up that assurance with real skills and real successes, and then stay the course. “Use your time wisely; be clear about priorities,” advises Nina Meierding, the director and senior mediator at the Mediation Center in Ventura, California. “Otherwise, when the downtimes come you get frantic. My first year, I made $600. After four years, I was nowhere close to six figures. But I was also thinking, what is my goal? How much time and money am I going to invest before I reach six figures? You have to have an inordinate amount of patience. I haven’t had a down month in ten years—it’s been a very consistent, solid, respectable six-figure income for ten years.”

7. Learn to deal with emotional overload. Sometimes, especially after a particularly rough or draining session, you just have to put the day out of your mind and move on. “Some of us deal with highly emotional cases, stories you don’t want to hear about, let alone think about,” says Cliff Hendler, president of DRS Dispute Resolution Services, one of Canada’s largest providers of ADR services. “Hearing about these things and becoming involved in helping to resolve some of the issues help you grow as a human being and help you be thankful for what you’ve got. They make you more humane. But there are cases that haunt you because they’re so horrific. You’ve got to let it go—a bathtub memory. When it’s over, you pull the plug and let it go.”

8. Make yourself a standout. Here’s the brutal reality: there are far more mediators than there are mediation opportunities. Think hard about who you are and what makes you unique, and how you can help your clients and potential clients recognize that uniqueness. Find creative, compelling ways to help yourself stand out from the pack whether it’s through teaching courses, writing, or attending CLE programs. Put your name and face in front of your clients with enough frequency that you become familiar—a known quantity they respect. Whatever you do, be discriminating in the marketing choices you make for your practice.

Interestingly, says Krivis, standing out doesn’t mean tooting your own horn. “There’s one key paradox every new mediator should remember when he or she starts marketing his or her practice,” he says. “Even though you’re doing all this in the furtherance of your understanding and your career, if you want to build a substantial practice, it can never be about you. You have to go out there—whether it’s a cocktail party or a training course—ready to listen to other people and discover what they want. You’re not out there to tell people how great you are, but to find out what’s going on in their practice and how you can help. When they remember your name and face, that’s the subliminal message they should receive on their radar screen.”

9. Market yourself as a professional. What does it take to establish yourself, to be the name that repeatedly shows up on the ledgers of people who are looking for mediators? You must think of yourself as a professional mediator, believe in yourself, and live the part every day. You must develop a reputation for mediating well and staying with a case until it closes. But beyond these fundamentals, you must understand how to market yourself as a mediator: what it takes to get the power players on your side and what you need to do to be seen as—and become—part of their inner circle. Don’t inadvertently market yourself as a fringe player. “I wear a suit and tie to work every day because when people go to court, they wear a suit and a conservative tie,” says Krivis. “I would be far more comfortable in khakis and an open-collar shirt, but I would also be viewed as a fringe player by the established players—lawyers—by whose good graces I survive. In other words, I dress accordingly. That doesn’t mean I have to conduct the process in a staid and conservative manner—far from it. But dressing the part gets me in the door.”

10. Stay fresh to survive. Yes, everyone gets tired at some point. But you’ll survive in this business by making an effort to stay fresh in your approach and your outlook toward your practice. Do all you can to maintain your compassion for the parties you serve. If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself getting stale or robotic in your approach, take corrective measures fast. You can get your blood pumping again by collaborating on ideas with other mediators or taking “educational vacations” to exercise your mind by learning about faraway places and far-out ideas. “You stay alive by constantly reinventing yourself as a mediator,” says Eric Galton of GCB Mediators at the Lakeside Mediation Center in Austin, Texas, “acquiring and developing new techniques, hanging out at least twice a year with other mediators, and taking enough vacation time to recharge. Also, maintaining your other passions is critical. I don’t feel I compete with other mediators. We collaborate and exchange ideas. We all need to get better at what we do. At least twice a year, I take a hard look in the mirror and ask, ‘How can I do what I love better?’”

Many factors determine whether or not you will be a successful mediator, says Krivis. If you’re considering mediation as a career, know them and know them well. Embrace both sides of mediation: how fulfilling it can be and how difficult it can be. Then, the amount of success you ultimately achieve will truly be up to you. “Your grasp on what it takes to market yourself as a mediator and manage your business well will make or break your career,” says Krivis. “Making money isn’t the whole ball game, but it’s a sign that your skills are recognized by your peers, that you have a high degree of business and marketing savvy, and you’re 100 percent committed to the practice of mediation. You’ve distinguished yourself from the mass of mediators and made it to the top. You’ve got the right stuff . . . and knowing that is a great feeling.”

How to Make Money as a Mediator (And Create Value for Everyone): 30 Top Mediators Share Secrets to Building a Successful Practice
By Jeffrey Krivis and Naomi Lucks
ISBN: 0-7879-8204-0; $40.00
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint; 2006


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