Don't sell yourself short: why fair compensation should matter to mediators

Fair compensation for mediators“If you do it for money, then you’re cheapening something special and meaningful that should only be done for love, out of the caring in your heart.”

Does that statement refer to

1) Sex
2) Raising dairy cattle
3) Cultivating cymbidium orchids
4) None of the above

If you chose 4), None of the above, you’d be right.

Believe it or not, what that statement actually refers to is mediation.

It was precisely what a volunteer community mediator said to me one long ago day when I mentioned to them my plans to go forward with a full-time mediation practice. “How are you going to support yourself?” they asked. I was puzzled for a moment, and then I replied, “Well, I’m not providing mediation services for free. I’m charging for them.” This was greeted at first with an appalled silence, and then, moments later, by those words this post began with.

The work mediators do is undeniably valuable. Mediators boldly go where angels fear to tread–right into the very heart of conflict. And, like intrepid guides, we are able to lead disputants to level ground. We help people achieve resolution and overcome their differences, even in the face of seemingly intractable conflict. We give them tools to improve their critical relationships, be they personal or professional.

As incredible as it sounds, there are still those within the mediation community, as well as those outside it who benefit the most from mediation’s advantages, who devalue the work of mediators.

Two dispute resolution professionals have written passionately and eloquently on behalf of underpaid mediators everywhere. Begin with Charles Parselle‘s article from the most recent newsletter , “L.A.’s Policy Of Free Mediation Benefits Everybody But Mediator“. Then visit Mediation Mensch, published by ADR entrepreneur Dina Beach Lynch, who has written several articles exploring this issue: “Pay for Mediators Threatens Status Quo,” “Pro Bono NOT Volunteering,” and “Pro Bono Strategies for Mediators“.

We all need to ask ourselves: how do we value ourselves and the services we provide as mediators? Are we inadvertently devaluing our own worth? And what are we individually and collectively doing to increase or depreciate the value of the work we do? Mediators, you have nothing to lose but your chains.

2 responses to “Don't sell yourself short: why fair compensation should matter to mediators

  1. Last July the Oregon Bar Bulletin ran a tribute to the late Sid Lezak, written by Susan M. Hammer. She wrote:”Sid likened the legal community’s perception of mediation during the ’80s to ‘visiting the sick’ — a nice thing to do but certainly nothing that one should be paid for. While Sid did more than his share of pro bono mediation, he strongly believed that mediation was a profession, if done by those with training and experience. His rule of thumb was, if the lawyers are compensated, so should the mediator. If the lawyers are volunteering their time, so should the mediator.”A fair rule, I think. Some judges seem to rely on retired bench and bar to serve as mediators pro bono. Success in law does not guarantee success in mediation. Speaking from experience, to be a good mediator a lawyer must put aside years of seeing cases in terms of rights and learn to see cases in terms of interests. Speaking from observation, many lawyers have trouble making that shift. (Lezak was a notable exception.)Hire a mediator. It’s worth it.

  2. Once during my private practice days, I billed a CPA friend for a legal service I rendered for one of his varied business interests. Because of our friendship, I provided him with a very generous discount.Several days later he called to talk about the bill. To my great surprise, he said, “If you don’t value your service, no one else will. I’m used to paying for the service I receive. You provided me an excellent product – now send me a real bill that reflects the quality of your work.”I respect the right of any mediator to proclaim their love for personal involvement in the resolution of disputes. It is, indeed, a noble calling. For those, however, who proclaim that their calling should be without compensation, my guess is that they are “mediation hobbyists.” Not that they aren’t committed to the nobility of their calling, but that they can afford a “no financial reward” attitude because they receive other compensation from their “real job.”However, in my opinion, by insisting that mediators, unlike all other professionals or service providers, should not be compensated trivializes the importance of the work of mediation. For those of us looking to make mediation a “real job,” my choice is to do the following – receive fair financial value for a fair service rendered, earn a living from some other source while “dabbling” in mediation, or win the lottery.But as mediation continues to grow, so will the professional demands. Ultimately the “dabblers” and “hobbyists” will find their own level of dispute resolution, while the professionals will be resolving disputes in another arena. If you consider yourself a professional in mediation, like my friend reminded me, “If you don’t value your service, no one else will either.” I choose to believe that there is great value in the service I deliver, and, like all professionals, I should be financially compensated for that effort. Like the compensation paid to religious leaders, doctors, educators, judges, elected leaders and many others, compensation does not take away from the nobility of the service delivered. But compensation does enable them to be fully committed to their unique calling.