Some people decide to settle their legal disputes outside the courtroom through a process known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR). But plaintiffs and defendants aren't tossed into a room alone to duke it out among themselves. That's where mediators, sometimes known as arbitrators or conciliators, come in. They guide the ADR process and help resolve conflicts between disputing parties.
It's the job of a mediator to facilitate negotiation and settlement between disputing parties by providing direction and encouragement, working collaboratively with them to find creative ways to reach a mutually satisfying solution, typically a compromise. Mediators do not represent or advocate for either side in a lawsuit. Their role is to try to bring both parties to a common middle ground.
Mediator Duties & Responsibilities
The specific duties of a mediator can vary widely depending on the court and the state but, in general, they include:
- Facilitating communication between two opposing parties in a dispute to help guide them to a mutual agreement
- Holding introductory meetings with disputing parties to educate them about the arbitration process
- Interviewing witnesses, disputing parties, and other parties and examining documents as needed to get information about the dispute at hand
- Handling procedural matters in an ADR, including time requirements and witnesses needed
In general, the mediator is responsible for facilitating discussion and guiding the direction of negotiations for an ADR. When a solution is achieved, the mediator may prepare court reports, social case histories, correspondence, and other documents. In some cases, they might implement legislative enactments and court rules relating to a case.
A mediator's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and whether they're working for public or private organizations. Most mediators are employed by state and local governments, schools and universities, legal service providers, insurance carriers, and corporations.
- Median Annual Salary: $60,670
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $124,570
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $35,800
Education, Training & Certification
No formal licensing or certification process exists in the U.S. for mediators, but training is available through independent mediation programs and national and local mediation membership organizations. Some colleges and universities in the U.S. are also beginning to offer advanced degrees in dispute resolution and conflict management. Although many mediators are lawyers and former judges, it's becoming increasingly common for non-lawyers from all backgrounds to serve.
- Education: This depends on the employer. Some positions require a law degree or another advanced degree, such as a master's in business administration. For others, a bachelor's degree in an appropriate area of expertise is enough.
- Training: The number of training hours required for mediators varies by state or by the court. Most states require mediators to complete 20 to 40 hours of training, and some require additional training in a specialty area. Mediators will work under supervision for a set amount of cases before working independently. Community mediation centers often offer training if you volunteer with them, and mediation programs and membership organizations also offer their own programs.
Mediator Skills & Competencies
Superior communication, negotiation, problem-solving, analytical and conflict resolution skills are essential to this type of job. Mediators must also have the ability to maintain confidences, exercise sound judgment and discretion, work collaboratively with others and foster effective working relationships with clients, courts, judicial staff, community agencies, and the general public.
In addition to a high level of competence, successful mediators are intuitive and able to help meet their clients’ emotional needs. Neutrality, honesty, creativity, and patience are also crucial to the mediator’s role.
As individuals, businesses and the courts seek to avoid the delays, publicity, and high costs inherent in litigation, alternative dispute resolution is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to lawsuits. As a result, mediators are expected to experience above-average growth in employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of mediators to grow 10 percent through 2026, which is faster than the 7-percent average for all occupations.
In general, mediators work in a private meeting room or office. Alternately, they may travel occasionally to other neutral sites for ADR negotiations.
Schedules for mediators can vary from full-time, Monday through Friday hours to flexible, part-time schedules.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in becoming a mediator may also consider other career paths such as these positions, along with their median annual salaries:
- Judge or hearing officer: $115,520
- Lawyer: $119,250
- Paralegal or legal assistant: $50,410
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
How to Get the Job
The Mediation Training Institute offers a listing of certification requirements for each state.
Join an Association
Becoming a member of a professional group such as the National Association of Certified Mediators can give job candidates an advantage.