Tuesday, February 27

Starting a Mediation Practice

Handed the meme talking stick by Diane Levin and Dina Beach Lynch, I offer my take on starting out.

And I do so conscious of the wonderfully generous posts that have gone before - by Diane and Tammy - both set off by Vickie Pynchon when she opened the stopper to allow a viral post out of the beaker with her must read first in the series, How to Start a Mediation Practice...

Someone please tell me, where else would you find gold nuggets given away so freely like this?

At the risk of being preachy - and there is no worse criticism of a blog - can I offer some things that I think are carved in stone.

(I have used this as an excuse to take a road trip around my blog, so many of the links are to my favourite posts)

1. Examine your motivations for entering the mediation field, don't run away from whatever it is you do now, but do allow yourself to be called to mediation.

How cool is that - a job that is your calling.

2. Don't go cold turkey - connect up what you do now with what you want to do as a mediator and grow outwards from that.

An HR professional starts with workplace mediation, an engineer initially promotes himself in the construction defect area etc.

3. Start (and stay) lean. You don't need fancy offices. Get rid of your desk and spend it on a website.

Extreme outsource so that you can spend long periods not earning (whitespace) without your fledgling empire eating it's head off.

4. Earn your stripes - do the hard yards and remember this is no ordinary profession with established pathways to practice.

My story involves lonely days at the afternoon movies in my first year, wearing suits to an empty office in case I met one of my old partners in the street and putting the kids' school fees on Visa.

Eight years later it involves doing brain surgery work in my chosen field.

5. Niche, niche, niche - don't be a generalist.

A retiring Family Court judge wrote to me the other day seeking some advice and said she was going to focus Child Inclusive Mediation, where parents can agree to involve children in care disputes. She will co-mediate with her husband who is a child and adolescent psychiatrist - brilliant!

6. Hope is not a plan. Dare I say it - have a written business plan.

I hated the bloody things when I was at my law firm - full of meaningless vision and mission statements along with other platitudes.

Here's my first effort from 2000 - its a back of an envelope affair but it works. It's simple, it's one page and it's real to me.

It's always in my kit and I drag it out when the plane is delayed.

I have 3 highlighted columns at the top with details underneath.

For example the big picture item is 1. I want: to be the best and busiest mediator ... a thought leader... Next level down is 2. I will do that by: value/bang for buck...writing 3 times/yr etc. The detail is in the final column 3. How I will achieve that: premed work, generous info, add value email, availability, downtime to be creative...

7. Be prepared for the loneliness of practice. No that's not the right word, solitary is better - don't be surprised at how separate you are.

I romanticise it, but you may not.

Just the other day, I shared a taxi back to the airport with one side of what had been a good mediation. I got a ring the next day from the other side saying it was not a good look.

Then there was the time I got outed for using a law firm pad to write notes on...

8. While we are on the dark side, know that mediation practice is full of rejection - get used to it.

We all get passed over and don't make the short list for that high stakes mediation we know we would do better than the other guy.

9. Most of the time you will be right there - in the present, everywhere, on top of everything.

But one of the biggest challenges, when you have not only survived but you've thrived and you're working 4 months ahead of yourself, will be the days that come out of nowhere.

The days when you don't care enough, when you can only see their lips move and your answer to their conflict is 'you just gotta' move on...'

Go home, accept the off days and wake up tomorrow ready to do better. Keep your compassion - it's a privilege to be involved in other peoples' conflict.

10. Evolve - my Dad told me always be mid-career, even when you're 65. Don't be average he said.

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