Don’t give up your day job. Be patient. Unless you are spectacularly well known (e.g. Supreme Court judge) or very lucky, it will take time to build your practice. You can’t hang out your shingle as a mediator and expect a flood of work. It is a ‘word of mouth’ practice (unless you are a government mediator) so your practice will build with each job you do, but it takes years to develop fully.
Get training, experience, references.
The hardest piece to get is the experience. The hardest mediations to get are the first five, then the next five, and it gets easier from there. Be prepared to dig for co-mediations, observations, pro bono mediations to get those first few. Get references along the way from anyone who liked you, ideally in writing (you’ll need them for roster applications).
Look close to home for the experience. Get the initial opportunities from people who know you, fields that you are known in, organizations that employ or work with you etc.
Find a niche and build it. It doesn’t even have to be what you do. Build on the opportunities you get.
Join organizations that can give you information, contacts, co-mediation opportunities, etc. (e.g. ADRIO, OBA ADR Section)
Find mentors within the mediation community, if you can, to help you grow and to find opportunities, but recognize that some may see you as competition.
Market yourself- website, business card, do talks, etc.
If you want to be a government mediator, these days you need a sizeable amount of training to qualify, as well as about 10 mediations under your belt typically. Training requirements range from 100-200 hours of ADR/Mediation specific training.
Keep thinking critically as you grow, and learn from each mediation you do. The first ones won’t be perfect, but you will learn a lot from them.
Once you have a certain amount of experience (5-10 mediations), start applying for rosters/accreditations. They don’t usually guarantee you any work, but they solidify your resume and add credibility. Each roster will have its own set of qualification criteria you need to meet.
Create a mediation CV and a mediation one-page bio for use with clients.
Get sufficient mediation insurance.
Enjoy the ride!
Distinguishing Your Mediation Practice
Speak to parties directly and early on files. Become someone they know.
Treat everyone you mediate for, and everyone you meet (parties, lawyers, translators, assistants, receptionists etc.) with respect. They all matter.
Find a niche. Build it (even if it is one that found you, rather than one you sought).
Be interesting. Be interested.
Do things other mediators don’t usually do (or do well):
Hold pre-mediation conferences to pin down the administrative logistics at least several weeks before the mediation.
Don’t give up easily. Try everything you can (e.g. blind offers) before you usher them out the door without a resolution. Even mediations that don’t settle can lead to referrals if you leave no stone unturned along the way.
Follow up with them as appropriate in given cases to see how things are going. Show that you are invested in their success.
Be creative. If most mediators don’t brainstorm options (as they don’t in the commercial world), do brainstorm new ideas and approaches.
Let it be their ultimate decision.
Show empathy for the people, as well as an understanding of the issue.
Speak their language (e.g. if it is an engineering issue, become familiar in advance with the terminology and what it means).
Use questions to educate rather than opinions to persuade/push.