Become a Mediator: Education and Career Roadmap

Apr 27, 2020

Find out how to become a mediator. Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in dispute resolution.

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Should I Become a Mediator?

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; some employers or states may require a master's degree or Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Degree Field Conflict resolution, public policy, law
Licensure and/or Certification Requirements vary by state and position
Experience May be required
Key Skills Decision-making, listening, and critical-reasoning skills
Mean Salary (2019) $73,720 (for all arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Mediators attempt to resolve conflicts between parties before the dispute ends up in court. Mediation can keep disputing parties amenable, prevent costly trial expenses, and relieve overtaxed court systems. These professionals might work with individuals, families, governmental entities or corporations. For example, they might serve as liaisons between businesses and workers. Participation in mediation is voluntary for the parties involved in the dispute. Although mediators can make suggestions regarding ways to solve disputes, their advice is not legally binding. Travel to neutral mediation sites is sometimes required. Many mediator positions are part-time, and those who wish to work full-time might need to pursue other types of employment.

Mediators can work for a judicial system or be self-employed. Thus, they can be salaried employees or earn fees on a per case basis. Their hours can be irregular and mediation sessions are typically private, so discretion and confidentiality are essential for those working in this field. Mediators also need decision-making, listening, and critical-reasoning skills. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators earned a mean annual salary of $73,720 as of 2019. Let's trace the steps to work in this field.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Mediators usually need a bachelor's degree to begin their careers. Bachelor's degree programs in mediation and conflict or dispute resolution are available at some universities. These programs typically include courses in interpersonal communication, psychology, and negotiation strategies. Sometimes, a certificate in mediation can be earned alongside a bachelor's degree in another discipline. An aspiring mediator also might earn a bachelor's degree in a different field with the expectation of attaining additional education.

Step 2: Complete Graduate or Law School

Education requirements for mediators vary depending on their work setting and specialty. Some mediators are attorneys, while others have an advanced degree or postgraduate certificate in dispute management, conflict resolution, or mediation. Some master's degree programs, particularly in business or psychology, offer a concentration in dispute resolution. Aspiring attorneys must complete a three-year law school program after earning a four-year bachelor's degree.

Step 3: Receive Training in Mediation

State-sponsored programs, educational institutions, mediation associations, and commercial mediation centers offer mediation training. Training programs can run from a few days to several weeks. They might be conducted online, in classrooms, or through home-study materials. Coursework often covers negotiation skills, research techniques, communication, and diversity training.

College graduates also might consider pursuing a postgraduate certificate program in mediation. Programs generally require 12 credits, of which three or more might include an internship or practical experience. Applicants are usually able to choose a specialization, such as organizational conflict or family relations.

Here's a tip for success:

  • Participate in an internship or externship. Completing an internship or externship can provide aspiring mediators with real-world work experience. Additionally, individuals who perform well might be able to obtain permanent employment with the cooperating business or agency after graduation.

Step 4: Become Certified or Licensed

The federal government, states, municipalities, organizations, and corporations have different requirements for mediators. Some require professional or state certification, while others require state licensing. Federal agencies often have their own professional accreditation standards or programs for mediators. Some states offer mediator certification through local community colleges or certification centers. Requirements for certification or licensing might include completing an approved mediation training program and accumulating mediation experience.

Step 5: Attend Industry Events

Conferences are held regularly by organizations that operate to inform both the public and industry professionals on issues regarding conflict resolution. Professionals might consider joining an organization such as The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR), which offers members discounts to such events, as well as access to industry publications and job listings.

To recap, the path to becoming a mediator varies, but typically includes completion of a bachelor's degree program and formal training in mediation. Advanced education and certification or licensure also might be required.

Expert Contributor: Edward LaBarge Edward is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional & digital forensic examiner. He's taught cyber crime courses & worked in the US Army.

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