A recent article in the August 2009 edition of the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal (found here) identified mediation as a legal practice area that is thriving in these recessionary times. The article stated that businesses and private individuals seeking to avoid the high cost of litigation in the present economic downturn have turned to alternative dispute resolution techniques, such as arbitration, mediation, negotiation and collaborative law, to resolve business-to-business, consumer and family conflicts, resulting in a rapid increase in mediation and similar jobs in the dispute resolution arena.

I’d like to share the ABA’s optimism in the purported growth trend in the mediation field, but, honestly, I don’t see much if any growth in the overall number of mediation jobs available now compared with the number of jobs there were in the years before the downturn. The one possible exception: the area of divorce mediation. Mediation has gained a lasting foothold in the divorce area, and the popularity of divorce mediation seems to be growing in the present economic environment. Outside of divorce mediation, however, my impression is that the number of mediation jobs has actually contracted in the past year. Other practicing mediators I’ve spoken to have said the same thing, and the writer of this blog post apparently also agrees. Frankly, getting work in the mediation field has always been difficult. This year it seems even more difficult to find work.

This law review article, the Economic Analysis of the Market for Mediators in Private Practice, published by the Albany Law Review, explains some of the reasons why so few of the more than 100,000 trained mediators are able to make a living as mediators:

The supply of willing mediators by far exceeds the demand for their services. . . . The profession is unstructured and large because there are few formal barriers to entry, because it is perceived as very emotionally rewarding, and because of entrant over-optimism that mediation is a viable career option. Unlike law, psychology, architecture, medicine, or social work, mediators in private practice are not licensed or regulated by states. Most mediators are required or choose to complete only a thirty-to-forty-hour training course. Mediation is also seen as fun, as opposed to the drudgery of much of law practice. As a result, there are many more mediators than there are mediation jobs.

Observers speculate that there are between five and ten thousand full-time providers of [alternative dispute resolution] services in the United States today. The vast majority of people who enter the mediation market drop out within two years. Of those who persist, only [a] few thousand mediators in private practice are able to mediate full-time, and the majority of those earn $50,000 or less. There are [only] . . . a few hundred [mediators] who make a good living, grossing $200,000 or more per year. Only a couple dozen or so mediators, primarily former judges and a few high-end commercial mediators, are able to consistently bill over $1,000,000 per year.

[In addition,] private demand for mediation has been underwhelming as most people remain leery of negotiation as a means of settling disputes. . . . In a survey of New Jersey residents, only 2 out of 400 respondents mentioned mediation as a possible means of resolving disputes, and neither spoke positively about it. The study suggests that American citizens are committed to litigation and are not anxious to give up courts for mediation.


As a result of weak demand and excessive supply, there are many more mediators than there are mediation jobs.