Mediation is identified as one of the best careers in 2009 by US News and World Report even though the report confirms that there are more mediators than mediation jobs

Best Careers 2009: Mediator

Overview. If we can’t solve a conflict, we tend to give up or hire a lawyer. There can be a better way: A mediator can often help resolve a dispute less expensively and with less conflict, whether it’s a divorce, a discrimination claim, or the parent of a special-education student seeking more services from a school.

Mediators don’t decide who’s right. They guide a discussion so the disputants can more wisely reach agreement and move on with their lives. Most mediators love their work, helping people beat their swords into plowshares.

The problem is that there are more mediators than there are mediation jobs. In part, this is because the barriers to entry are so low—most mediators are required only to complete a 30-to-40-hour training course.

The oversupply means that most mediators do not earn a middle-class income for one to five years. And even to do that, a mediator must embrace marketing by establishing a niche—disputes among postal workers, people of different races, parents and teens, or even participants in the online world “Second Life.” Until mediators develop a reputation, they must schmooze with potential referral sources, write articles or give talks on mediation, perhaps blog or create a YouTube video, and certainly find well-connected champions willing to recommend them. Ironically, success may be more likely in a slow economy as people and businesses seek lower-cost alternatives to attorneys to solve their disputes.

If you have the gift for establishing trust, generating creative solutions, calming angry disputants, and staying calm amid ambiguity and dissembling, and are willing and able to market yourself, mediation can be a win-win career for both you and your clients.

A Day in the Life. Normally, mediators are wise to specialize and mediate no more than one dispute per day. But here, for illustrative purposes, are three varied cases:

Your specialty is employment mediation. The week before Thanksgiving, Susan had been downsized after 10 years with her company, and she is suing for wrongful termination. In the mediation, her emotions pour out. Not only is she angry that she was let go merely so the company could hire someone cheaper in India, but she has no relatives and has always spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with coworkers. This year, she will be alone. Everyone is moved by Susan’s story, and the company offers her a more generous severance package and a permanent invitation to all company social events. Not thrilled but mollified, she agrees.

In your next mediation, a Muslim employee suffers from depression and has been fired from the small architecture firm for which he worked. The employee claims both that he was a victim of religious discrimination and that the employer failed to provide reasonable accommodations to his depression. The employer vehemently denies that religion or ethnicity was a factor in the firing and maintains that the accommodations would devastate his business. After listening patiently and asking lots of questions, you ask if telecommuting might sufficiently reduce the problem. The disputants agree to a two-week trial, after which you’ll meet again.

Like most mediators, you do pro bono work. In this next case, the police department asks you to mediate a dispute involving a neighbor complaining of frequent parties that last into the wee hours: “My bed shakes with every bass note, and it doesn’t stop until 5 a.m.” The partier agrees to tone down the music and the neighbor agrees to be more tolerant, but you won’t bet your life that this dispute is permanently settled.

Smart Specialty

Mortgage renegotiation. In a weak economy, the market for divorce mediators may decline because fewer couples can afford to break up and thus live on one income. In contrast, with so many homeowners falling behind on their mortgage payments, mortgage renegotiation could be a strong niche for mediators. Get clients by explaining to the branch managers of locally owned banks that mediation can reduce the chances of a borrower defaulting.

Salary Data

Median (with eight years in the field): $59,700

25th to 75th percentile (with eight or more years of experience): $42,700-$116,000


There are many styles of mediation, each of which will be valuable in a particular situation. You’ll want significant exposure to as many as possible. So take two or more of the 30-to-40-hour comprehensive mediation training courses.

Family and divorce mediators will want to take training approved by the Association for Conflict Resolution.

You can get brief exposure to top mediators’ styles by attending workshops at the Association for Conflict Resolution Conference and the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution Conference. There also is a wide range of state and regional conferences, which you can check at

Learn More

Basic Skills for the New Mediator by Allan Goodman

Mediation Information (

Improvisational Negotiation: A Mediator’s Stories of Conflict About Love, Money, Anger—and the Strategies That Resolved Them by Jeffrey Krivis

Making Mediation Your Day Job by Tammy Lenski

Mediation Career Guide: A Strategic Approach to Building a Successful Practice by Forrest Mosten