The court systems are indispensable for delivering justice and resolving disputes. However, not all cases must be resolved through a trial. For that matter, not all disputes must be submitted as official complaints to the court.
Many disputes are resolvable through less confrontational means: mediation. What does a mediator do, exactly, and what’s the process for how to become a mediator? This guide will provide you with answers and may help you decide if becoming a mediator is the right choice for you.
In This Article:
- What Is a Mediator in Law and What Does a Mediator Do?
- What Don’t Mediators Do?
- What Types of Cases Do Mediators Work On?
- A Typical Mediation Career Path
What Is a Mediator in Law and What Does a Mediator Do?
Now that you are familiar with mediation, you might be wondering, What is a mediator in law? Mediators act as neutral third parties in a dispute. They facilitate discussions between the opposing parties. They may ask questions for the parties to consider and provide direction for the discussion. Mediators help guide the opposing parties toward a mutually agreeable solution for the dispute.
What Don’t Mediators Do?
Although mediators can play a central role in resolving disputes, they do not hold decision-making authority. Both sides in the dispute must mutually agree on a solution. The mediator cannot force either side to accept a particular resolution.
If a resolution is not forthcoming, the dispute may need to be resolved in court. In addition, mediators are not responsible for ensuring that the terms of the resolution are carried out.
However, the mediation agreement is a legally binding contract. If either party violates its terms, the other party may sue for breach of contract. The case may then be taken to court.
What Types of Cases Do Mediators Work On?
Nearly any type of case that could be taken to a civil court system may be addressed through mediation instead. Mediators can work on a variety of non-criminal cases, including disputes pertaining to child custody and visitation, divorce, employment, business and labor unions. Mediators may also work on disputes between neighbors, landlords and tenants, family members and business partners.
A Typical Mediation Career Path
Now that you know the answer to the question, What is a mediator in law? it’s time to take a look at how to become a mediator. There is no single mediation career path; people can come to the profession from a range of backgrounds and qualifications.
It’s important to note that states set their own requirements for training, licensing and certification regarding how to become a mediator. You should research the requirements for the state in which you’d like to work before beginning your own mediation career path. Adhere to your state’s requirements, even if they differ from the guidance below.
Choose a Specialty
It’s common for mediators to work within a particular specialty. Some, for example, specialize in family law cases, while others work on disputes involving intellectual property, financial services, housing law or construction.
Obtain Higher Education
The specialty or practice area you choose can influence your choice of degree. For example, you might choose a bachelor’s degree in business management if you’d like to handle corporate disputes. A legal studies degree could be another reasonable choice that may translate to various practice areas.
For some mediators, a bachelor’s degree, mediation-specific training and work experience may be all that’s needed. Other employers require mediators to have a law degree or a relevant master’s degree.1
Complete Mediation Training and Obtain Licensure
Training and licensure requirements vary by state. Most of the states, however, require mediators to complete between 20 and 40 hours of training courses to become certified, and some states require additional training in a practice area.1
Some court systems may require mediators to be licensed attorneys. For some practice areas, mediators must be certified public accountants (CPAs).1
Obtain Work Experience
It’s common for a new mediator to work under the supervision of an experienced mediator. You may also gain some experience by volunteering your time at a community center that offers mediation services. Once you’ve gained sufficient work experience, you can begin working on cases without supervision.1
Important Skills and Traits for Mediators
In addition to your formal education, it is helpful for mediators to have the following characteristics and skills:2
- Communication: Mediators must be excellent communicators who are capable of interacting effectively with people from a diverse range of cultural, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds.
- Objectivity: Mediators must avoid the appearance of favoring one particular side in a dispute, and instead must remain objective at all times.
- Empathy: Some disputes can be quite complicated, and it’s helpful for mediators to develop a keen understanding of the positions and feelings of each party.
- Problem-solving: Effective mediators are creative problem-solvers who can propose compromises that solve the dispute.
Mediator’s Ethical Guidelines
Mediators must remain aware of professional ethics at all times. Three of the most important principles are confidentiality, procedural fairness and impartiality:
- Confidentiality: Professional mediators hold the details of each case in the strictest confidence. They must not divulge information about the parties or any details of the dispute to anybody not involved. An exception is if the mediator is compelled to release information by law or by a governmental agency that has appropriate jurisdiction and authority.
- Procedural fairness: At the beginning of each mediation, the mediator must ensure that each of those involved understand the mediation process and all applicable rules. Mediators must make sure that procedural time is balanced. In other words, all involved individuals must have opportunities to be heard in a timely manner. All parties must also have the opportunity to seek legal counsel before agreeing upon a resolution.
- Impartiality: By definition, mediators are neutral third parties. However, it is common for mediators to experience feelings of favoritism or distrust for other individuals. Mediators must never let their opinions surface during a session, and they must never allow their feelings to influence the proceedings.
Students who are passionate about criminal justice and legal studies can find a supportive and friendly learning community at Grand Canyon University. If you dream of pursuing a career as a professional mediator, consider applying to our Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies or our Master of Science in Criminal Justice with an Emphasis in Legal Studies degree program. To learn more, fill out the form on this page or visit the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
1U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, September 6). How to become an arbitrator, mediator, or conciliator. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved September 14, 2023.
2Indeed. (2022, August 11). What are mediator skills? Definition and examples. Indeed. Retrieved September 14, 2023.
Approved by the assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Oct. 24, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.