Written by: Alex Romano
Published: April 2023
Dispute Resolution is a great career choice but transitioning to mediation isn’t as flawless as it seems.
At Matrix Mediation (“Matrix”), we have seen numerous attorneys attempt the transition to mediation without knowing what goes into making a successful practice. From believing common misnomers about the work effort required to failing to financially plan for the transition period, we dare to say we have encountered it all in our seventeen (17) years in operation when it comes to planning for life as a mediator.
This article navigates through the process of successfully transitioning your practice from litigation to mediation and highlight some key considerations to keep in mind before taking the plunge.
Evaluating your Finances Before the Transition
One of the most common misconceptions we hear is that the money comes quick as soon as you become a mediator. However, for many, that is not the case. Instead, we have experienced that it takes about one (1) to two (2) years for a mediator’s business to take off from occasional mediations to full time work regardless of their prominence as an experienced trial lawyer or judge.
As such, it is important to evaluate your finances and plan accordingly before transitioning to mediation. This includes (i) evaluating your savings, (ii) budgeting for necessary business expenses, (iii) taking into consideration the timing of when you leave your practice and (iv) considering future life events that might impact your financial plan.
Should I keep practicing and mediate?
We are often asked – can I keep litigating with a mediation practice? Legally and ethically, yes. However, it is important to keep in mind that keeping your practice will lead to a greater likelihood of conflicts of interest. Also, would you trust your secrets with a mediator you may have a case against next month? Here at Matrix we are frequently asked if mediators are still practicing.
Network, Network, Network
When you’re not fully booked you should be spending your time seeking mediation opportunities. This includes reaching out to old classmates and every person you have ever litigated with or against and asking for a chance to mediate their next case. We have time and time again seen that the mediators that take this advice see profound results in the quality and volume of their practices.
Does that mid-week happy hour or Saturday night legal event on your calendar bring you dread? Well, to build an established mediation practice it will now be your full-time job to meet as many people as you can and get your name out. If attending networking events isn’t your style, then consider getting involved with various bar organizations to help you network in a more organic setting.
The Price is Right
You may an experienced trial attorney, but you’re a new mediator. Consider choosing a price point that encourages new clients to try you out, get a book of business, and then you can set your rate higher. Many new mediators often respond with “I have never looked at how much a mediator charged why should I start low?” To build your business, you have to get business, which starts with offering reasonable rates commensurate to your experience in the field.
Calling Ahead & Following Up
Not everyone calls ahead, so it will set you apart from the pack. It provides the attorney with the opportunity to tell the mediator things they might not want to put in writing, can offer valuable insight into the position of each party before mediation occurs and can establish your relationship with a client before the mediation even begins.
Follow-up on impassed cases. The mere fact that you called will keep that case in the forefront and help with an earlier resolution. Although your time is important, consider not charging for follow-up, which helps keep things more fluid. In our experience, if you give a few minutes away for free, it will pay dividends.
Mediation is your new full-time career, not a retirement hobby; Results require effort, focus and perseverance. As clients expect more than they ever have before, it is more important than ever to put in the effort and concentration that clients not only deserve but expect.
Concerned about the competition in the field? Don’t be. Every day we get feedback from practitioners that their favorite mediator is booked, and they are looking for new blood. If you are willing to give your best effort you will find that dispute resolution is a rewarding and satisfying career.
Alex Romano is a Director at Matrix, a full-time mediator, and trainer at Matrix Training Institute. Prior to coming on as a mediator she did over 50 jury trials and has worked at Matrix for 17 years in various capacities. She has an extensive understanding about not only what it takes to be a successful mediator, but the nuts and bolts of how to run a successful mediation practice on a large scale.