Mediation certification, part 2: the conversation continues at Cafe Mediate

Each month at Cafe Mediate, the monthly podcast series, a group of ADR professionals gathers to discuss the business, practice, and future of the field.

Last month we began a two-part discussion of certification and credentialing for mediators in private practice. Professional mediator  and author Tammy Lenski, international business mediator Amanda Bucklow, commercial mediator Victoria Pynchon, conflict specialist and NYC law enforcement detective Jeff Thompson and I continue the conversation on mediator certification, exploring these and other questions:

  • Should certification be benchmarked to the lowest common denominator of qualifications, to a high standard that is difficult to achieve, or somewhere in between?
  • What value would certification offer the public, and how would it benefit individual mediators as well as the growth of mediation as a profession?
  • How do we know certification would improve the quality of mediation services for consumers?
  • In what ways might certification have a negative impact on mediators and growth as a profession?

You can download or listen to Mediator Certification: An Idea Whose Time Has Come? (Part 2).

To enjoy this and earlier episodes of Cafe Mediate (motto: “where conversation, not caffeine, is the stimulant”), you can:

We welcome your suggestions. If you have a question you’d like us to consider or a topic you’d like to hear us address, please submit your ideas in the comment section to this post.

5 responses to “Mediation certification, part 2: the conversation continues at Cafe Mediate

  1. Mediation certification is something I have a bee in my bonet about. I think there are many challenges around certification, they are;
    1. What criteria is one using to judge whather an individual is competent or not? It seems to me there are so many different ideas about mediation, what it, it’s core principles, what makes a mediator effective or less effective.
    2. Who is applying that criteria and in which way? What I mean here is how does one go about the process of assessing the competence of an individual, especially in something so practical as mediation. I have come across so many assessors who espouse one thing but act inconsistently, their inferences seem so far removed from the data that they seem to be observing – it just doesnt seem fair.

    I could go on and as I’m talking I realise that I need to order my thoughts! So I shall endeavour to do this and pop back to air them, if that’s ok?
    many thanks


    • Aled, thank you for raising these issues. You’ve put your finger on some of the problems in developing a certification scheme. Consistency and the articulation of standards that can be objectively applied are among the challenges. Please know that you’re always welcome to share your opinions here.

  2. Diane, Aled,
    these are the objections that have often been raised in connection with the schemes devised in consultation with the mediator and communities by IMI ( I could provide some pointed responses already available on the IMI website, but I think a general question may be the most effective: what is the alternative? Right now pretty much anyone in the world can go around calling themselves a mediator just because they decide one day that it’s a good job to try out. How does that advance the profession? Or, differently, can the practice even be considered a “profession” in the eyes of the users in the absence of standards and certification?

  3. Michael, thanks for your comment – you’re absolutely right to point out the dangers in failing to institute more formal mechanisms for regulating the profession.

    I’ve been laissez-faire in my views up to now, but I’ve seen the light, as I’m sure you’ll be glad to know. You may be interested in reading my post on my conversion, The 40-hour mediation training: a good argument for regulating the private practice of mediation. There were four straws that finally broke the back of that poor proverbial camel.

  4. As a certified paralegal, I appreciate the issues being considered here.

    My initial education was a 9-month paralegal certificate program through a private college. While earning this certificate, I worked in a small law firm. I then prepared for and passed the intensive two-day certification exam administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants. I followed with my bachelors in Legal Studies and was preparing to apply to law school

    However, having been a paralegal for approximately eight years by that time, and I could no longer ignore the voice inside my head saying: “There are better ways to address conflict!!!” That voice led to my MS in Dispute Resolution/Conflict Management.

    So – what’s this got to do with anything?? 🙂

    Maybe it’s just Portland, Oregon (where I live and work) – or, maybe it’s the attorneys I’ve worked with – or, maybe it’s just me – but, the CLA (“Certified Legal Assistant”) I include with my signature seems to have very little meaning to anyone. Legal secretaries with no formal education call themselves “paralegals” and “legal assistants.”

    So – has my certification benefitted me??


    It ensured that I have the education and experience necessary to do my best work. And, it requires me to continue my education in order to keep my certification.

    I have confidence in my abilities and knowledge, and know that once I show what I’m capable of, I will be given challenging, substantive projects. I’ve had wonderful opportunities that cover the spectrum from interviewing and videotaping clients involved in a mass toxic tort case against the federal government, to drafting responses to dispositive motions involving numerous complex legal theories, to writing an appellate brief currently being reviewed by the 9th Circuit. Attorneys trust my work. Clients trust my work. I trust my work.

    The field of mediation – and our clients – would be well served if mediators had similar opportunities and requirements to receive the education and experience necessary to provide top quality services.

    My only concern regarding certification for mediators involves that confounded law of unintended consequences. . .!!

    I’m just not sure that the institutionalization of mediation by the court system has been helpful to mediation as a whole. I’m concerned that many people come away with the feeling that mediation is fairly limited – that it is simply a settlement conference using a “neutral” third-party. I would not support certification if it inadvertently/unintentionally “cements” that narrow notion of mediation.

    I look forward to following this thoughtful discussion.

    Thanks so much.
    Debra Healy
    Healy Conflict Management Services