Expanding the Reach of Mediation

IMG_2341Mediation and its common sense approach to dispute resolution have reshaped how we approach conflict. Legal professionals throughout the world agree that skilled mediators provide an invaluable service. Yet, their niche in the current legal landscape represents a small fraction of litigation marketplace.

Most mediators are unaware that the annual gross revenue of this country’s largest commercial mediation provider does not rise to the level of inclusion in the American Lawyer’s list of the Nation’s top 100 law firms. This can be attributed to a combination of factors, including a legal profession that is slow to change. Despite these pressures, much can be done to expand the reach of mediation:

1) The mediation profession must do a better job of describing and explaining the value of mediation services.

For example, when large expensive disputes are resolved, post settlement reporting should acknowledge the role of the mediator, and the value of the mediation process.

2) The mediation profession must reach out to a broader audience.

In most communities, the first generation of mediators focused primarily on educating and building an experience base with attorneys, judges, insurance professionals, corporate counsel and other “gate keepers” of disputes. Expanding the practice of mediation will require involving and educating a broader audience, including: politicians, business leaders, professional associations and other potential stakeholder groups. These groups need to become aware of both the high cost of conflict and the benefits of mediation.

3) The mediation profession, starting with its industry pioneers and thought leaders, must move beyond the paralysis of contentment born from their individual success and expand the universe of career opportunities.

Special efforts should be focused on mentoring the best and the brightest of the next generation of mediators.

4) The mediation profession must look for ways to systematize the best available mediation education and training.

Too often, successful mediators fail to see the need for quality training. The next generation of mediators should be carried forward on the shoulders of those who have come before, reflecting their learning and experience.

5) The opportunities to expand the reach of mediation internationally are seemingly endless.

My recent trips to India, Turkey and Mexico, where I trained judges and attorneys in mediation, have vividly demonstrated the tremendous need for access to justice, including alternative dispute resolution across the globe. In many countries, court backlogs of 10 to 15 years are typical. These backlogs are unacceptable in developing democracies and growth-oriented economies.

While the entry point in each country may vary, based on cultural and legal norms, ADR professionals could assist in the efforts to build better systems of dispute resolution. More specifically, mediators who are committed to the long term advancement and success of ADR could assist in fashioning laws and developing court annexed programs that take the best lessons developed in the United States and then tailoring them to each country’s unique cultural environment.

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 recently cofounded Edwards Mediation Academy, an online education platform dedicated to improving the skills of mediators around the world.