A Roadmap to Build a Successful Mediation Career

Many students in our mediation training programs ask about the steps they should take to translate their professional training into a successful mediation career. While an education and a high-quality mediation training program are essential for laying the foundation of a career, they are not the ultimate indicators of a successful career in mediation.  What will ultimately shape and define one’s mediation practice is a life-long commitment to self-improvement, continuous learning, and ultimately delivering the highest-quality service.

I often tell those interested in pursuing a career in mediation that most jobs available in our still nascent mediation profession have yet to be created. That’s because conflict is ubiquitous in our human condition. One needs only to turn to the internet or glance at headlines to know that the world is rife with conflict and that opportunities for conflict resolution abound.

Today, law school and graduate degree programs in dispute resolution abound, creating career interests in dispute resolution. This growth in career interest, against a backdrop of diminishing judicial resources in most communities, has led to an expanded role for commercial mediators.  Moreover, an increased appreciation for the cost of conflict in government and organizations has led to formalizing institutional roles for mediators and ombudsmen, ensuring a bright future for career paths in conflict resolution in the U.S.

Action Steps for a Successful Mediation Career

For those interested in a career in conflict resolution generally, and commercial mediation specifically, it’s critical to first understand yourself and then embrace the actions required to prosper in the profession.  Thirty-five years ago, I decided to leave the practice of law to begin one of the first mediation companies in the United States. Over the ensuing years, I’ve mediated almost every day, mentored dozens, if not hundreds, of aspiring mediators, and helped grow the world’s largest commercial mediation company. From the lessons I learned along the way, I developed a roadmap with action steps that will prove helpful to mediators in developing a successful mediation practice.

1. Self-Reflection to Activate Your Mediator’s Mind®

Woman sitting on steps writing in a journal

                                    A successful mediation career begins with self-reflection

Mediation Begins with ‘Me’

Most “how-to” programs on developing a successful career in mediation begin with practical recommendations. What is lacking is the essential first step of personal self-reflection: Who am I? What are my strengths and weaknesses? Why do I want to embark on this new profession? How do I see my intervention? Who do I want to become? How can you hope to assist others in conflict, often with high emotion, unless you first honestly know yourself?

 A variety of self-assessment tools are available online, yet the keenest insight may well come from spouses, family, or close friends. Importantly, self-reflection is not a “check the box” moment in career development, as the most successful mediators maintain learning journals, participate in ongoing reflective groups, and otherwise treat self-reflection as a lifelong journey.

The Mediator’s Mind® 

Career development, generally, and mediation more specifically, begins with developing a mental model or philosophical construct that I have coined, a Mediator’s Mind®. This model focuses on how you view your conflict intervention and will shape your thinking about career options while guiding your moment-to-moment decisions once in the profession. Think of the Mediator’s Mind® as your north star illuminating your career path. 

2. Crafting a Strategic Business Plan

Chart of elements that go into a business plan
                                   Developing a business plan
The road to failure in mediation is paved with those who thought that prior career success and a long contact list of former clients would guarantee success. The reality is that unless one demonstrates a commitment to strategic planning and follow-through, chances of a successful practice will remain a distant aspiration. As the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Mission Statement

The exercise of reducing your strategic plan to a single paragraph forces you to be clear on objectives and realistic about specific goals. It will also help avoid the natural tendency to overreach in pursuit of being a mediator for all disputes.

Short and Long-Term Objectives

The longest journey begins with a single step, and in this case, a series of short-term, single steps for which there must be direction and accountability. Short-term goals that are both measurable and realistic will enable an aspiring mediator to ultimately pursue long-term objectives.

Defining Geographic and Substantive Reach

 For many entering the field of mediation, they will encounter a degree of competition. While competition is somewhat relative, given the potential breadth of the conflict environment, those destined for success will begin with marketplace research. Where do I see the most favorable entry point for my brand development? What are my most transferable skills? What is the opportunity to assist a potentially underserved population?   

Understanding the Business of Mediation

Image of a male at computer developing a business model
                                   There are various mediation business models
Understanding mediation as a business and, more particularly, how various business models can influence your career trajectory presents a blind spot for many seeking to prioritize skill development. The business of mediation represents the support framework that will allow you to pursue the passion of your chosen intervention. Ignored, it could become the Achilles heel of your economic success.

Business Models and Opportunities

The past several decades of our nascent profession have, in part, reflected a grand experiment in the business of mediation and, more specifically, have provided vital lessons about what business models can provide to those who aspire to offer their services as dispute resolution professionals. From solo practitioners to corporate employees to those who choose to sign on with ADR providers, there are a variety of opportunities that merit careful consideration depending on one’s preferred career path.  

Mastering Finances and Efficient Operations

For many, this will sound more like a business school course than one in dispute resolution. A keen appreciation for office overhead, marketing budgets, accounts receivable, and strategic pricing are central to career success. 

3. Marketing

Image of a male pointing out the various components of a marketing strategy                                    Developing a multi faceted marketing strategy

The concrete steps required to gain experience mediating are the sine qua non of career development programs. Specific strategies for marketing, branding, and creating mediation opportunities are the standards against which most such programs are judged. Fortunately, industry success stories abound, and important lessons can be universally applied.

Brand Development and Social Media

While success in the dispute resolution environment represents the best possible marketing, gaining those opportunities begins with getting one’s name out to the marketplace. The ubiquitous reach of social media presents unique and creative opportunities for those entering the field to develop their own brand identity while reaching a broad audience.

Write, Talk, and Teach: Selling the Value Proposition of Mediation

For those looking to enter commercial practice, it’s not enough to advertise. One must seek to distinguish oneself while advancing the value proposition of mediation to potential consumers of ADR services. Looking for opportunities to write, talk, and teach about the many benefits of mediation will elevate your reputation in the profession as both a thought leader and one who has mastered the nuanced skills of the mediation process.

Developing Opportunities to Mediate

For most aspiring professionals, this is where the rubber meets the road. How one is afforded the opportunity to assist others in conflict will depend upon what role one chooses in the profession. From volunteering to co-mediation to paid opportunities, patience and persistence will be required.

4. Enhancing Skills

Image of woman taking an online training and skills course
Online learning allows busy professionals to learn new skills
Long-term success in the mediation profession is equal parts consistent skill development, marketing, and successful navigation/resolution of conflict opportunities. Strategic career planning and development ultimately pale in comparison to what an aspiring mediator is able to accomplish behind closed doors in mediation. While it’s important not to conflate outcome success with process and personal satisfaction in the mediation process, how one “sells” her services by example in the mediation room will have a far greater impact on career success than any other variable.

Pursue Continued Skill Development

Although this article focuses on career development, it can’t be overemphasized that career development goes hand in glove with mediation skills and techniques. The more one demonstrates a fluid understanding of conflict moments and a nuanced skill set in response to those moments, the more likely long-term success. Stated more succinctly, people will remember a job well done. Become a lifelong student of skill development, and it will pay dividends beyond the largest marketing budget.

Building on Mediation Success

Once one has gained early mediation opportunities and demonstrated a firm grasp of skills, the longer-term focus shifts to sustaining and enhancing one’s reputation and practice. Here again, the question is one of finding ways to advance one’s reputation and career opportunities. Building one’s reputation through activities within the profession, expanding one’s subject matter expertise, or simply passionately pursuing success in the mediation room are all strategies for long-term success. Regardless of career accomplishments, the most successful and experienced mediators never stray far from the lessons learned at the outset of one’s career.  

                                   Online learning allows busy professionals to learn new skills.

To assist those considering a career in dispute resolution, as well as those who are looking to enhance their existing dispute resolution career, Edwards Mediation Academy has made available an online course on Developing Your Career in Mediation. Our instructors, some of the most experienced professional mediators, share insights on the common challenges facing mediators in their careers, building a business plan, and the action steps to take to stand out as a professional mediator.


Ask any successful mediator, and they will tell you that it takes months, if not years, of commitment and persistence to build a successful mediation career. Yet, for those who persevere, there are many rewards. What could be more fulfilling than a career focused on helping parties in a dispute resolve conflicts through intellectual and emotional engagement? 

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Bruce A. Edwards is an ADR industry pioneer and recent chairman of the board of directors of JAMS, this country’s largest private provider of ADR services. Along with his wife, Susan Franson Edwards, Mr. Edwards cofounded Edwards Mediation Academy, an online education platform dedicated to improving the skills of mediators around the world.

Bruce A. Edwards

Bruce is one of the pioneers in developing mediation to resolve commercial disputes in the United States. He has been a professional mediator since 1986 and has mediated over 8000 disputes. Bruce was a co-founder and former chairman of the board of directors of JAMS. In 2023 he joined Signature Resolution to continue his mediation practice while pursuing his passion for delivering high-quality mediation training through Edwards Mediation AcademyBruce has consistently received recognition for his work as a mediator, most recently being accepted into the inaugural edition of Who’s Who in ADR by ADR Times 2022; once again recognized as a Best Lawyer in the ADR category by Best Lawyers® 2022 and recognized as a Global Elite Thought Leader and Mediator in the US by Who’s Who Legal, 2023.