Ten key tips: pivoting to a mediation practice

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April 7, 2021 | By Rafeena Bacchus, guest contributor

In Part I of this series, I provided 10 tips by way of a general roadmap to pivoting a legal career. Here, I will expand on those tips in the context of embarking on a mediation practice.

  1. Know your skill set and determine your area of specialty

    Here are some common traits of mediators: trustworthy; humble with confident strengthen; principled and ethical; non-judgmental; patient yet tenacious; empathetic; and logical and rational. Start with this list and add to it.

  2. Obtain the necessary training before the pivot

    While training is not mandatory, consider the Qualified Mediator and Qualified Arbitrator certifications offered by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario. They involve 80 hours of alternative dispute training and completion of an ethics course, followed by two mediations or an internship. The Stitt Feld Handy Course, Alternative Dispute Resolutions, is a very worthwhile alternative.

  3. Seek out and receive assistance and information from others in the field, and find a mentor

    Speak to as many mediators as you can, tap into your network, and find an established mediator to mentor you. It is invaluable to have someone to shadow, answer questions and with whom to practice your openings.

  4. Determine the investment needed, and arrange financial backup

    Startup costs are low. Since mediations usually occur at a mutually accessible boardroom or court reporter’s office, working from home is no problem. Usual expenses include software, a website, letterhead, insurance, and possibly help in the form of an assistant, virtual or otherwise. Because businesses need time to grow, have a line of credit available.

  5. Determine your approach to billing and rates through research, but be sure to keep your real value in the marketplace in mind

    Your rates will vary with your years of practice, experience as a mediator, and your belief as to the value of your services. It’s a good idea to compare rates for mediators in comparable circumstances.

  6. Determine your business practice setup

    Some mediators ease into their new role while maintaining their law practice or taking on part-time roles like teaching or sitting on a board or tribunal. Consider joining mediation chambers that provide a web presence and administrative support. But remember that there is no mandatory or preferred model. Pick the one that best suits your lifestyle. My choice has been to set up a professional corporation to take on select cases as counsel while building my mediation practice.

  7. Be prepared for hiccups and enjoy the journey

    Something’s bound to go wrong: accept it and move on.

  8. Use the opportunity to prioritize your time and energy

    The administrative tasks and details associated with opening and continuing a mediation practice can be overwhelming. Accompanying these tasks will be decisions, decisions and more decisions: try to get through them one at a time. Explore ideas and opportunities such as speaking, writing, networking and other forms of marketing – but prioritize your time and energy wisely.

  9. Give back and pay it forward; use your new career to help others benefit from your experience

    Doing pro bono mediation or volunteering as a community mediator for a non-profit is a great way to get experience.

  10. Step out of your comfort zone, but take care of yourself

    Push yourself out of your comfort zone, always being sure to take care of yourself in the process. You started this venture to get more freedom, creativity, self-expression and joy. Handle these new responsibilities with a positive attitude: so, for example, say no to clients or ideas that do not align with your business plan.

Rafeena Bacchus is a Toronto-based insurance defence and human rights litigator. She’s now turning to a career in mediation.

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