What Roles Can Mediation Mentors Play?

With the CoRe New Mediators Group planning a  “Speed-Dating” session for October 19th, it’s become very clear that new mediators, and both new and experienced mediation mentors, have questions about what roles a mediation mentor might play. Does a mentorship mean a commitment to co-mediate with a new mediator in 10 sessions so they can apply for roster membership? Is an informational interview at the start of a mediation career a form of mentoring?

Wendy Lakusta and I asked a few of our colleagues to share their thoughts about mentoring roles in a Mediation Works video. Thanks to Julie DaumRichard Singer, and Gordon White for taking the time to discuss the topic with us.

Clearly there is a very large range of possible mentorship relationships that an experienced mediator might enter into with a new mediator including (but definitely not limited to):

  • Informational interviews – on niche markets, educational opportunities, volunteer opportunities, understanding the context of training and rosters, etc.
  • Regular or occasional “coffee” meetings to discuss developments in practice
  • Coaching through the scheduling of a mediation
  • Sharing Agreements to Mediate, intake documents, invoicing protocols, etc.
  • Discussions before and/or after mediations to assist in planning and/or debriefing
  • Practice consulting: availability to respond to emerging challenges in a mediation or to discuss issues confidentially following a mediation
  • Coaching role plays
  • Referrals of mediations that the mentor might not take for various reasons
  • Sharing opportunities to speak on panels, participate in conference sessions, co-author articles or blog posts, etc.
  • Co-mediating in one or more mediations (perhaps mediations the new mediator has been asked to do individually or perhaps something the mentor is working on that is appropriate to co-mediate)
  • Support around burn-out (and in some forms of mediation, support in addressing the potential for vicarious trauma).

If you’re interested in joining us at the “Speed-Dating”  – as a mentor or as a new mediator – please send me a note or email coreclinic1@gmail.com. We are especially keen to hear from potential mentors who might be up for sharing expertise in any way ranging from a single coffee meeting through co-mediations!

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Thinking about Theatre and Conflict Resolution

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of joining Amanda Semenoff and C.D. Saint on their podcast, Overthinking Conflict. Our discussions ranged widely over the many intersections of theatre and conflict resolution and ended up as two podcasts:

I’m sure the conversations would have been a catalyst to reflection whenever it took place, but it happened to fall just before my first trip to Edinburgh’s amazing Fringe Festival! And, of course, I arrived back from Scotland just in time to be immersed in Vancouver’s Fringe Festival! Not surprisingly then, I’ve been thinking about intersections between “Fringe” theatre and what is less and less frequently called “alternative” dispute resolution practice. I have belatedly recognized that there just may have been a common draw for me when I started attending early Fringe shows and studying mediation and ADR 25-30 years ago. I may just have to acknowledge a certain attraction to the “alternative” that has not dimmed over time.  (My Smilin’ Buddha days make so much sense now…)

VanFringe Recommendations

Ahead of the Fringe, I offered a few thoughts about plays that Conflict resolution professionals might enjoy: VanFringe Plays for Conflict Resolution Professionals. 

I’ve now seen about 20 plays and have heard lots of word-of-mouth about others.  If you have a chance to go to a play or two this weekend (the last weekend of the Fringe), then here’s the plays that I would recommend most strongly:

PrincessYour Princess Is in Another Castle

This one didn’t make it onto my list of recommendations for Conflict Resolution Professionals, but it probably should have. Nancy Kenny is amazing in everything so I wasn’t surprised to enjoy the show, but I wasn’t expecting it to be such a clever reflection on social issues. If you like funny, intelligent, feminist humour, check this one out!

Multiple Organism

The team behind Mind of a Snail justifiably has a strong following for their amazing shadow puppet artistry and creativity. This show definitely steps outside their usual fare though – while retaining all of amazing visual effects. Adding bodies as canvasses, mature themes, and lots of technical experimentation, the company has produced a fascinating show. If you’ve seen them before, be warned: it’s does earn its 18+ rating. You may not want to go with your mom.

Katharine Ferns Is In Stitches

Some of the best Fringe theatre work is always personal storytelling. Katharine Ferns takes a very difficult tale of domestic violence and addiction and delivers it as a stand-up routine. Its powerful, and offers real insights on the nature of domestic violence and resilience.

shoesAn Arrangement of Shoes

A truly charming performance by Radhika Aggarwhal makes this a delightful exploration of a family’s history against historical events in India.

Now I’m off to see Nobody’s Boy which I hear is also must-see! Hope to see folx at the fringe this weekend!

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Mentoring 101: Finding the Balance between Supporting and Adopting a New Mediator

In planning for CoRe Conflict Resolution Society’s New Mediators, I’ve been turning my mind to the role of mentors in the support of new mediators. For many of us, we remember the people who were important in supporting us as we developed our skills and built a practice, and we are motivated to be that person for another new mediator. And yet, …

I’ve spent the last week speaking with colleagues about a plan to host a “Speed-Dating” session to help new mediators connect with more senior folks who have a willingness to offer assistance. I’ve gained some excellent insights into good mentoring (and less than good mentoring) that I’ll share in future posts, but the most important issue that has come up in terms of planning the session has been the genuine concern amongst potential mediators that new mediators’ expectations of a mentor are simply unrealistic.

Of course, everyone I spoke with knows this concern is a generalization, however, it arises from a common experience potential mentors shared of being approached by learning mediators that they have never met before and asked, in the first conversation, to commit to 10 co-mediations, on-going coaching, and maybe referral of a few mediations for the new mediator to do solo. One colleague commented that simply agreeing to take a call from a new mediator seeking support often feels like a marriage proposal before the first date!

No wonder there’s hesitation amongst potential mentors in agreeing to attend a “speed-dating” session! Does agreeing to “speed date” mean they’ll be expected to commit to take on responsibility for someone’s mediation career based on a two-minute conversation? The short answer is “of course not”, but it’s obvious that there is a need for clarity about a great many topics related to mentoring.

For that reason, I’ll be writing a series of short blog posts on related topics over the next few months. Based on my first few conversations about mentoring, I plan to cover:

  • What roles can a mentor play in supporting a learning mediator? Is it all or nothing? (Spoiler: It’s not!)
  • How NOT to approach a potential mentor (and a few ideas for how to do so)
  • Tips for mentoring during mediations (including a few DON’Ts that it has surprised me to hear happen with some frequency)
  • Co-mediating with a peer

I’m also excited to announce that Wendy Lakusta and I will making a few short Mediation Works videos on the subject to offer more fulsome stories about mentoring.

In the meantime, I invite conversations about mentoring from colleagues who are willing to share their thoughts about great mentoring they’ve experienced, and specifics about what works on a micro-level. Please feel free to share stories here in comments or to email me to set up a time to chat!


Photo credit: Cathie Roy.

P.S. – I’d like to start this series with a shout out to Lee Turnbull who was my most significant mediation mentor. What made Lee a fantastic mentor? Lee shared her enormous expertise and knowledge generously, but never made me feel that my relative lack of experience meant I had nothing to contribute to conversation. She listened, reflected on ideas, shared information I might be missing, and encouraged me to reflect further when I was rushing to a conclusion. Lee and I weren’t in the same mediation together until the very end of the Court Mediation Practicum – 18 years after we had started working together! – and yet, she influenced my mediation approach and my skills more profoundly than any in-the-room mentor or co-mediator. Thanks yet again, Lee!





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New Mediators’ Group


Since the Court Mediation Practicum Program ended over a year ago, I’ve heard from so many new mediators seeking practice opportunities. Colleagues tell me that they are receiving more and more emails and “cold calls” asking for mentoring opportunities, tips on finding co-mediators, etc.  The sheer volume of requests led me to wonder if there was sufficient interest to bring together a New Mediators’ Group to work together to solve the challenges of getting experience as a new mediator. Fortunately, my fellow board members at CoRe Conflict Resolution Society saw this idea as fitting nicely into CoRe’s mandate. As a result, CoRe will be hosting a New Mediators Group Planning Meeting on April 12th, 6:30-8:30pm at KPMG.

If you’re a new mediator, join me and my CoRe colleagues to discuss the topics, approaches and even meeting times and locations that are best for you. We’re considering:

  • topics (and speakers) related to business development
  • identification of market opportunities
  • perhaps hosting role playing opportunities to keep skills sharp
  • bringing in experienced mentors who can speak about mentoring models (to help new mediators in their discussions with possible mentors)

We are also planning to reach out to colleagues that we know have mentoring expertise to discuss ways that we can share best mentoring practices to make it easier for new mentors to offer their help.

Join us to add your ideas to the mix!

The first meeting is scheduled to follow CoRe’s regular Speaker Series event. Patricia Lalonde will present on Financial Mediation, 4:30-6:00.  To join this session, please come to the 11th floor, 777 Dunsmuir Street.

PLEASE NOTE: If you will arrive after the Financial Mediation presentation, please RSVP to ensure you’re able to access the building after hours. Email coreclinic1@gmail.com.

There is no charge to participate in this group. We encourage participants to consider becoming members of CoRe, but it is not a prerequisite to participation.

We also encourage potential MENTORS to get in touch with us to discuss your availabilty to attend a future meeting.

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Zombie Fight or Flight launches on Kickstarter!

zombie-11For the past few months, I have been working with a group of colleagues – mediators, lawyers, and creatives from other fields – to develop a collaborative card game.  I’ve written elsewhere about hosting Game Jams and the potential that I see in collaborative games to support teamwork and shift our thinking about fun games to include games that everyone wins or loses as a team. Zombie Fight or Flight grew out of one such Game Jam held in Tsawwassen in June 2016.

Amongst other game making goals at that Game Jam, two of us hoped to create a simple, fast-playing collaborative game that might be used in a Continuing Legal Education Society course we will be facilitating on Halloween – Negotiation Skills for the Zombie Apocalypse.  We were quickly joined in the game play by others as participants decided to alternate focus between two games.  The result was that Zombie Fight or Flight underwent a highly collaborative development process and is a much better game for everyone’s contributions!

PignPotato Games (made up of 7 of the Game Jammers) has just launched its Kickstarter campaign for Zombie Fight or Flight!

We started by hiring Rachel Petrovicz to create amazing art for the cards, and have continued to test and improve the game over the past few months.  In the process, we’ve developed both ideas for classroom uses (for grades 3-12) and trainers’ notes for using the cards in conflict resolution and negotiation training.


The Kickstarter campaign will run until November 26th, but some rewards are limited in number, so check the campaign out soon if you’re interested in custom artwork, custom ceramics, or conflict resolution training and game jams!

Zombie Fight or Flight and Drunken Zombie Fight or Flight decks are available to ship worldwide, but if you’re in Vancouver, want to save shipping costs and can pick up on December 17th, make sure you choose the “without shipping option”.

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Gifts to Inspire Conflict Resolution

Over the past few years, I’ve developed several “gift” lists for conflict resolution professionals (especially mediators):

This year, I wanted to take a different approach to the idea of conflict resolution gift giving and focus on ideas for gifts for anyone that might just inspire the recipients to think more about conflict resolution.  Here’s four categories of gifts, most with a few examples, that conflict resolution professionals might very well think about giving to their family and friends this holiday season. And please do check out previous lists for ideas that suit folks who aren’t mediators but have an interest in a world with a culture of collaborative decision-making!

1. Collaborative Games

HanabiIf you played board games or card games as a child, you almost certainly played competitive games.  While cooperative board games have been around for many years, the early ones were almost exclusively created for children and were so didactic as to be boring!  Hence, the cooperative game of yore was played once or twice and then relegated to the back of the closet while Monopoly, Risk and Trouble came out for family gatherings.  The consequence, of course, is that we were exposed to a constant stream of messages about the importance of being competitive, learning to be a good loser and a gracious winner, and the implicit notion that collaborating is “weak”.

Happily, over recent years, an enormous number of excellent collaborative games have developed – games which have all the excitement of competition, but that require genuine teamwork to “win” against the game.  My first recommendation for everyone this holiday season is to choose a collaborative game and introduce your family to an entirely different way of thinking about competition.  Let’s normalize a culture in which the best teamwork results in a “win”!

IMG_2273Here’s a list of collaborative games that Emily Martin (a labour mediator from Seattle) and I developed for a recent CoRe Speaker event.  Of this list, my favourite is Pandemic, but it’s a bit of a tough entrée game for people who aren’t very familiar with gaming generally.  (It’s great if you have one gamer who can help others figure out the mechanics for the first few rounds, but tough if everyone has to keep reading the rules!) So if you’re new to games, or haven’t played much besides Monopoly, I’d suggest starting with with Hanabi (very simple and easy to learn) or Forbidden Island (a bit trickier, but aimed at a younger crowd and so easier to get a handle on than Pandemic).

2. Books

There are so very many book possibilities!  Outside of the range of non-fiction books that offer negotiation advice or other ideas for conflict resolution practice, there are a large number of books that can be viewed through a “conflict resolution lens” to great effect.  Wendy Lakusta offered a brilliant example of the value of reading novels through such a lens when she led the first CoRe Book Club meeting in September and guided an enthusiastic group through a reading of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Consider giving both the first book and Wendy’s Book Club question list to inspire someone to think about the book in a new way!

fledglingOnce you apply a conflict resolution lens to one book, it’s so easy to apply the same lens to others!  An easy way to start might be to give a friend or colleague a copy of Octavia Butler’s Fledgling along with a pass to the next CoRe Book Club session on January 26th, 2016.  This session is definitely not just for conflict resolution professionals, but will focus on lessons for conflict resolution in the book.  (And you might just want to package this book and book club combo with one more Octavia Butler book: Parable of the Sower is a brilliant exploration of a world in which hyper-empathy has the potential to be both a disability and a gift.)

What came beforeThree more books that strike me as powerful opportunities to examine conflict resolution themes are:

  • The Speed of Dark – Elizabeth Moon (This 2003 Nebula award winning novel explores a world in which autism can be “cured”. Who decides whether the “cure” is the best choice for an individual?)
  • What Came Before He Shot Her – Elizabeth George (While this book explores the backstory of a shocking murder in another novel, it’s not necessary to read this as part of the connected series.  This novel stands alone as an examination of a series of seemingly inevitable decisions leading a young boy to become a murderer.)
  • The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith (This series by the author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency offers a fascinating lens on life: Isabel Dalhousie examines every choice through the lens of applied ethics.  For the conflict resolution practitioner, the explicit consideration of each and every nuance in decision-making will feel very familiar, despite the change of focus.)

(You can purchase any of these books through the CoRe aStore and support CoRe Conflict Resolution Society).

And check out these lists for books that might appeal to younger readers (or folks like me who love YA fiction):

3. Theatre Tickets



Just as books can explore conflict resolution themes in new and enlightening ways, live theatre can engage with all the same topics but brings a number of qualities that are simply not part of the usual reading experience such as immediacy, the sense of communal engagement in the narrative, direct engagement of the senses in the performance.  The simple fact that most theatre-goers attend with a friend increases the likelihood of an engaged discussion about the topics raised in the production.  Over the past year, I’ve seen a number of excellent productions that explicitly engage with conflict resolution topics. (I’ll blog about my 2015 top picks on CoReJolts over the holiday, but they certainly include A Story of Os (Vancouver Fringe), Cock (Rumble Theatre), Nirbhaya (The Cultch) and 52 Pick-Up (Twenty Something Theatre/Theatre Wire)).

Why not look ahead and book a couple of tickets to plays in 2016?  Here’s a few that I have on my list that look like they’ll stimulate great conflict resolution discussions:

  • The Motherf**ker with the Hat (Firehall Arts Centre)
  • Little One (Alley Theatre/Firehall Arts Centre) – I saw this one at the 2014 Fringe Festival and it’s both creepy and excellent.
  • Ga Ting (thefranktheatrecompany/The Cultch)
  • Reclaiming Hope (Theatre for Living) – I’ll be watching for news about public performances when this one is developed.

VanFringeFest_2016_RGB-with-datesAnd, of course, buying someone a Frequent Fringer pass for the Vancouver Fringe Festival is a perfect option, too!  (They’re not available until the summer, but a promissory note now works.) I wasn’t specifically looking for conflict resolution themed productions this past September, but still saw 12 shows that I would classify as fitting the bill.  Next year, I’m going to blog about my best bets for conflict resolution shows in advance of the Festival so others can join me to view them and discuss at a CoRe Speaker event and/or a Mediators’ Lounge.

4. Human Library

I can’t list books and plays and leave out the Human Library project!  If you haven’t come across the project before, the Human Library is an explicit response to a hate crime that seeks to end violence one person at a time. Borrow a “human book” for a 20 minute conversation intended to narrow ideological gaps through personal connection.  The Human Library is offered as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.


This post is shared here by permission of True North Collective.

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Co-Mediation and Client Fees

This post was originally written for and published as part of  Mediate BC’s seven part blog series on co-mediation with a special focus on the role of co-mediation in practice development.  This post was originally published on June 23rd and is re-posted here with permission of Mediate BC.   See the entire series on co-mediation here.

On Co-Mediation Part VI: Money Talks – Co-Mediation and Billing by Sharon Sutherland

Today’s guest blogger is Sharon Sutherlanda Mediate BC Civil Roster mediator and a committed and experienced mediation mentor.  Sharon has designed and managed practicum programs for Mediate BC, and has mentored mediators in the Court Mediation Practicum, the Child Protection Mediation Practicum, UBC Law’s clinical mediation program, CoRe Conflict Resolution Society mediations, Toronto Small Claims Court, New Brunswick and Northwest Territories’ child protection mediations, and by private agreement in civil and strata disputes.

This is the sixth post in our “On Co-Mediation” series. Read the other posts here:

Introduction | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

In my last blog post on this topic, I wrote about the various ways in which co-mediators might share fees between each other, taking into consideration the interests each brings to the negotiation.  This post is a continuation of that post with a focus instead on the discussion of fees for co-mediation with clients.  

Negotiating with the clients?

Most senior mediators will have both a repeat client base and a clearly stated fee for their services.  Since clients know in advance what that mediator charges, it may well be unrealistic to ask a repeat client to pay more than usual for a co-mediation arrangement – even where there is a clear advantage to the client to have a second mediator participate.  (I want to emphasize that there will be instances where it truly makes considerable sense from even a repeat client’s perspective to have a co-mediation team – and thus to keep in mind that negotiation of a new fee that includes additional payment for the co-mediator might be entirely realistic.[1])  With new clients and new referral sources, however, the mediator can negotiate a fee that considers the need to share fees with the co-mediator.  That might mean a variation on the hourly rate the mediator would normally charge that might reflect efficiencies that can develop with repeat co-mediation practice, or it might mean charging higher fees to reflect a combination of knowledge and experience that is especially useful and likely to result in faster or more durable agreements.  I will not attempt to enumerate all the interests that might factor into a fee agreement in any given case: I simply want to emphasize that the potential to negotiate a fee that makes sense to everyone in a mentoring arrangement simply requires the application of our usual interest-based negotiation practices.

Alternative billing for mediators

No doubt because of the influence lawyers have had on developing mediation business practices (both as highly influential participants in the selection of mediators and as mediators themselves), mediation has typically mimicked the legal profession’s billing practices and relied upon an hourly fee structure.  The prevalence of the hourly rate in legal practice is shifting these days, and that shift offers an opportunity for mediators to examine their own billing practices to determine the most rational approaches – which might vary from practice area to practice area.  Taking the time to examine one’s own assumptions about billing approaches creates the secondary opportunity to consider alternative billing when co-mediating.  Examining the many approaches to alternative fee structures that are becoming more and more common, and contemplating variations and further alternatives is beyond the scope of this post. Mediators who would like a starting point for identifying possibilities that clients and their counsel already are becoming familiar with might start with the recent article on this topic in The National.  This article emphasizes the importance of working with a client to come up with an approach that makes sense for both client and lawyer.  There is no reason that mediators cannot also enter this same form of discussion, including in the mix of interests the benefits to client and mediator that might flow from co-mediation in some circumstances.  A fee-structure that specifically recognizes co-mediation is a logical step in the evolution of both mediator fees and mentoring arrangements.

Differential billing for division of services – the “firm” model

Despite the degree to which mediator billing has tended to follow lawyers’ billing practices, one aspect of the traditional legal billing model that has seen little use in the mediation world is the use of differently skilled and more or less experienced mediators for different aspects of client work. In other words, mediators tend not to develop firms made up of a range of junior through senior practitioners in order to make effective use of the differences in their billing rates to provide appropriate and cost-effective service to clients.  In a mediation firm model, cases might be divided amongst mediators individually based upon rational billing criteria.  For example, clients with a Small Claims matter might engage the firm knowing that a junior mediator would take primary responsibility for the work, and comfortable that a senior mediator would be mentoring all aspects of the junior’s practice as part of the firm’s internal organization. This just might increase the use of mediation for smaller dollar value claims as “frequent users” call upon the same firms to resolve both large and small claims and are not told that mediation is simply not cost effective in matter with lower monetary value. Any such practice change increases the likelihood that clients will turn to mediation more broadly and to seek mediated solutions for a wider and wider range of their issues.

Co-mediation in this scenario would be a straightforward process benefitting clients, mediators and the firm.  Such a structure would also allow for an exploration of the division of work in ways that we, as solo-practitioners, simply never contemplate, and which might even lead to changes in the way that members of the mediation community frequently assert that mediation is really a second (third/fourth) career rather than something one might aspire to become while completing grade 12 Grad Transitions career planning.  One measure we might look to in judging just how thoroughly mediation has become a part of our conflict resolution thinking is the number of first career mediators that we see successfully enter the practice.[2]  A mediation firm model is one way to ensure that we do create a pathway for first career mediators.

[1] Some of the most common reasons for two mediators to be better than one in a specific case are: gender balance (most often discussed in the divorce mediation context, but equally applicable in many contexts in which one or more parties might find it stressful to work with a solo mediator who shares a gender with the “other side”, e.g. workplace harassment, personal injury where the nature and consequences of the injuries can be difficult to discuss with a room full of persons of another gender, some human rights topics); process-expert paired with content-expert where there is no content expert with enough mediation expertise; and very large multi-party mediations where some aspects of the mediation can be divided between mediators (though this is unlikely to occur in most mentoring situations).

[2] [Mediate BC Blog Editor’s Note: An upcoming series on this blog will be an exploration of first careers in ADR: opportunities, challenges, and examples. Keep an eye out for this new series late summer 2015!]

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Co-Mediation and Sharing Fees

This post was originally written for and published as part of  Mediate BC’s seven part blog series on co-mediation with a special focus on the role of co-mediation in practice development though mentoring.  This post was originally published on June 9th and is re-posted here with permission of Mediate BC.   See the entire series on co-mediation here.

On Co-Mediation Part V: Money Talks – Co-Mediation and Fees by Sharon Sutherland

This is the sixth post in our “On Co-Mediation” series. Read the other posts here:

Introduction | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

Something about discussing money causes many professionals embarrassment.  A sense of awkwardness can arise even in mediators who have mastered the art of the difficult conversation (so long as it’s someone else’s difficult conversation).  It’s not surprising that one of the most common concerns expressed by mediators regarding the possibility of co-mediation is the difficulty in addressing fees for two mediators with clients.  I want to start with a simple reminder that negotiation and management of difficult topics is precisely the skillset we are offering to clients: if fee discussions make you squirm, it can help considerably to give conscious consideration to the application of the mediation skills you would utilize if you were assisting two other parties to negotiate a deal.  (Just as many of us catch ourselves being far less skillful in personal conflict with family and friends than we ever are when professionally engaged, we can also lose sight of the fact that negotiating fees is something we have all the skills to do well – as long as we’re wearing our mediator hats instead of any awkward, private life hats we might switch into from time to time.)

Sharing fees?

One of the primary reasons that fee sharing between co-mediators or a mentor and mentee is important to address is that most mentees will seek experience in order to join one of the Mediate BC rosters.  For their participation in a mentored mediation to count towards the Civil Roster’s 10 mediation requirement, the mediation must be fee-paid or part of an approved mentoring program.  Private arrangements between two mediators will not fall within an approved mentoring program, so the mentee must receive some portion of the mediation fee (at least 1/3) for the mediation to count. For this reason, I’m only discussing arrangements for co-mediations (not observations) and presuming that fees will be split.

Each mentoring/co-mediation situation is different, and while most learning mediators will have an interest in roster certification, it is helpful to treat each mentoring arrangement (and even each individual mediation within an arrangement) as an opportunity to explore interests and come up with a plan that benefits all participants.

Negotiating with the student mediator

There is a wide array of possible arrangements that one can make with a learning mediator, just as there will be a wide range of interests on the parts of both mentor and learning mediator in entering into co-mediation. A few of the most common arrangements include:

An arrangement for a set number of co-mediations to meet Roster qualifications combined with a set number of co-mediations or referrals following

Many new mediators are seeking a specific number of fee-paid mediations to meet Roster qualifications (usually up to 10).  As a consequence, they may well have an interest in a longer arrangement, rather than a one-off co-mediation opportunity.  In these circumstances, the mentor may provide the initial co-mediations and may bill their client the usual fee.  Payment of a negotiated portion of that fee to the learning mediator might be viewed by the mentor as “giving back to the community” or “paying it forward” following mentoring opportunities someone offered them in the past.  In that case, the mentor will likely be open to a few such mediations in a year, treating them much like pro bono mediations which they might similarly (or otherwise) take on.

Alternatively, the arrangement might be conceived of as an exchange: a portion of the mentor’s usual fee for X mediations for any of the following (and more):

  • A set number of referrals for co-mediations with the mentee once the mentee is on the Roster. (This typically presumes that the new mediator has a distinct referral base or area of expertise that the mentor would normally not receive referrals from);
  • Referrals to the mediator from the mentee’s own continuing practice as a lawyer, psychologist, etc. (There are potential issues of conflicts of interest, but an agreement would address the ability of the mentee to make referrals or to encourage colleagues to make referrals);
  • Other forms of work exchange (e.g. I have traded co-mediations for administrative help in scheduling mediations and billing. One might also exchange other services of value that a mentee can provide such as website design expertise, social media support, or any of a wide range of tasks.  And the trade need not be for professional services: I have seen parties to mediations settle the last few dollars of a dispute with an exchange of services such as hairdressing, cooking for each other, sharing of “comp” tickets for theatre, etc.  In mediations I will ask parties to consider whether there is anything else of value they might want to bring into a “stuck” discussion.  We can certainly do the same in exploring our own interests.  Think creatively!)

An arrangement for a single co-mediation based on a referral from the mentee

This is likely the most straightforward arrangement for fee sharing.  The mentor would not have the case (which includes the opportunity to build his own practice in a different area) were the mentee not to bring the case to him, so the financial considerations are limited.  It’s still relevant to consider lost time from other business opportunities, the number of such mediations one can afford to do, etc., but it is typically easy to weigh these kinds of considerations against a simple, shared fee – even if that fee is for less than the mentor might have billed on his own.

These kinds of one-off arrangements turn on fairly straightforward questions:

  • Do I want to help out this particular mediator?
  • Am I interested in the case, or case type, or the business opportunity of gaining experience in this area, or anything else?
  • Will it prevent me from doing something else?

If one takes on the co-mediation, then the fee split should be a straightforward negotiation. 

An arrangement for a single co-mediation of a case referred to the mentor 

Clearly there is more involved from the mentor’s perspective in a negotiation regarding splitting their own fee for a mediation with a co-mediator seeking experience or mentorship.  For many in the BC mediation community, the existence since 1998 of the Court Mediation Practicum Program and other Mediate BC practicum initiatives has normalized the idea that a learning mediator might pay to participate in a mediation to gain valuable training and experience.  Within that context, sharing fees with someone asking to learn is not entirely intuitive.

It may be helpful for a mentor to keep in mind the benefits (professional, personal, and possibly long term financial) that can result from a co-mediation so the notion of giving up a portion of fees is consciously weighed against the real, if less immediately “countable”, benefits. (These benefits have been discussed throughout this series.)  With that in mind, it is also worth contemplating whether any additional benefits to the clients arise from the co-mediation that might justify charging a higher fee for the two mediators. (The negotiation with the client is discussed further in my next post, but consider whether there might be an advantage gained by the clients that should be recognized.) Essentially, as with any negotiation, carefully thinking through the risks and potential benefits to each party, and contemplating the potential for “expanding the pie” by including the possible interests of the clients in the discussion means that the best agreements are available when one has genuinely prepared to problem solve rather than simply responded in the moment to suggestions.

An arrangement for sharing pro bono mediations

I wrote in last week’s post about the potential to co-mediate pro bono and fee-waived or reduced fee mediations.  In that post, I was focused on the potential to provide a learning opportunity for peers, but, one might choose to co-mediate with a mentee in pro bonomediations you would take on in any event.  In such cases, fee sharing is, for the most part, eliminated from the negotiation between co-mediators.  However, learning mediators may well wish to have these mediations counted as part of their requirements to join a roster.  In principle, there should be no difference between a mediation in which the mentor and mediator share fees of $1500 via a ⅔:⅓ formula and a mediation where a fee of $0 is split on the same basis.  If the learning and participation of the mediator is the same, I would argue that the experience should be considered in the same way by the Roster Committee.  However, I would strongly suggest that mediators considering such an arrangement, and hoping to count a mediation for Roster credit, seek confirmation from Mediate BC before relying on an assumption that any such mediation will count.

[Editor’s note: The Roster Committee wants to ensure each mediation counted toward the experience component of a Roster application is a “true” mediation and not a less formal problem solving exercise; fees and the use of an agreement to mediate provide a good differentiation between the two types.]

An arrangement between a mentor and a “cohort” of learning mediators 

I don’t know anyone who is doing this explicitly, but I think a symbiotic relationship could be developed by a mentor working with a group of learning mediators sharing subject interest.  Writing this blog has inspired me to consider developing just such a cohort!  What I am imagining here is that a single mentor might well work with a group of individuals training to be mediators who all share a community with common issues to mediate.  For example, many minor sports associations are developing volunteer board members’ expertise in conflict resolution so they can play the role of mediator in disputes between parents and coaches, parents and parents, junior athletes, etc.  At the provincial level, sports associations are at highly varied levels of development of dispute resolution expertise despite requirements to have dispute resolution processes in place to receive some forms of funding.  Even greater diversity exists at the community sports level.  A mentor with an interest in sports mediation might very well work with a group of, say, five board designates to train them in conflict resolution and/or to co-mediate the first disputes that go to mediation within the organization.  I use sports organizations as an example because of my own experience in many capacities with such organizations, but the same model is feasible for other groups such as clubs for any hobby or interest, any residential community (from school residences, through strata corporations, and seniors’ centres), not-for profits (where disputes with volunteers can be common), special interest groups, etc.  Think about your own areas of interest and connections: is there an opportunity to help develop a better community culture of conflict resolution through co-mediation with existing leaders?

In Part VI of the “On Co-Mediation” series, Sharon continues her thoughts on co-mediation fees but as they relate to the mediation clients.

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Posts on Mentoring and Co-Mediation

Mediate BC has launched a seven part blog series on co-mediation with a special focus on the role of co-mediation in practice development though mentoring.  As so much of my professional work has involved co-mediation, mentoring and practicum design and management, this topic is of particular interest to me, and I have written three posts in this series.  The first of my posts, 5 Ways Co-Mediating Benefits Your Own Mediation Business, was posted on the Mediate BC Blog site on June 2nd and is re-posted here with permission.  See the entire series here.

On Co-Mediation Part IV: 5 Ways Co-Mediating Benefits Your Own Mediation Business by Sharon Sutherland

Today’s guest blogger is Sharon Sutherlanda Mediate BC Civil Roster mediator and a committed and experienced mediation mentor.  Sharon has designed and managed practicum programs for Mediate BC, and has mentored mediators in the Court Mediation Practicum, the Child Protection Mediation Practicum, UBC Law’s clinical mediation program, CoRe Conflict Resolution Society mediations, Toronto Small Claims Court, New Brunswick and Northwest Territories’ child protection mediations, and by private agreement in civil and strata disputes.

This is the fifth post in our “On Co-Mediation” series. Read the other posts here: Introduction | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII Sharon Sutherland Mentoring and co-mediating have been fundamental aspects of my mediation work since my first experiences in Toronto some 19 years ago.  My own first mediations were mentored as part of two community mediation programs, and I was fortunate to become a mentor in a Toronto Small Claims pilot project soon after.  As such, I had the very unusual experience of completing nearly 100 mediations as either a mentee or mentor before mediating solo for the first time! My unusual career path no doubt influences my belief that mentored mediations are incredibly valuable learning experiences for both learning mediator and mentor.[1] Yet, while I would enthusiastically welcome the chance to discuss the many ways in which mentoring has improved my own skills, and added fun and challenge to my practice, others in this series have discussed this.  Instead, I have been asked to comment on the business case for co-mediating, and so I will limit my remarks on the skills and enjoyment benefits of mentoring to its direct application to the business case in #4 below.  That said, I encourage discussion of all benefits of co-mediating in the comments.

5 Ways Co-Mediating Benefits Your Own Mediation Business

Increasing your own referral pool 

  1. Your co-mediator/mentee may well be a direct source of referrals. In Nick de Domenico’s second post of this series, he noted that his arrangement for mentorship included referrals for additional co-mediations back to him after his mentee was on the roster. Even where such an explicit arrangement is not in place, my experience is that referrals increase as a direct result of mentoring.  I think of this as the karmic benefits of mentoring, but the results are not just spiritual – they arefinanciallymeasureable. Positive engagements with a mentee or co-mediator mean that one more person in the business has you on their referral list.
    • Perhaps they are trying to build their own practice (and so don’t want to send away business), but know they are not quite ready to conduct a complex mediation on their own. They therefore invite you to co-mediate because they already know you can work together;
    • Or, because they have their name out as mediators, their network generates queries about mediation in an area they have no interest in practicing, and you are their first choice for a referral;
    • Or they have a conflict of interest in a case that comes their way;
    • Or they continue to practice as a lawyer, psychologist, etc. as they build their mediation practice and have their own clients (or colleague’s clients) to refer to mediation.

    The ways in which the development of a good mentorship arrangement results in referrals from the mentee are countless. 

  2. A significant number of potential mentees will come from another professional background and already have a network for possible referrals. In these instances, a co-mediation model that pairs a subject area expert (typically the mentee) with a process expert (the mentor) results in an excellent co-mediation team that benefits both mediators (and the clients).  The mentee gains valuable experience in the process of mediation, but the mentor also has the opportunity to develop experience in a new subject area.  While mediators emphasize the importance of process skill over content knowledge, clients often see content knowledge as an important cost consideration: it seems as though it will inevitably take longer to mediate if the mediator must familiarize themselves with the subject matter.  This perception may or may not be accurate (and many arguments can be made against the subject expert model of mediation), but client perception certainly impacts hiring decisions.  
  1. Even young mediation trainees coming straight from school have networks that give rise to conflict. We each tend to develop networks within our own generation with the consequence that our referral networks age with us.  By working with many young professionals, I see opportunities to connect with new generations of possible clients, to capitalize on my interests in online mediation (with clients who find technological solutions natural rather than intimidating), to work in potential market areas I might not otherwise even be aware of (student residence disputes, conflicts at schools, community sports disputes, etc.), and to build connections with people who will one day be making the referrals when my peers have retired!

Inviting others to co-mediate by sharing your own mediations 

  1. I have made a point of actively seeking co-mediators for my own CPD when taking on pro bono or fee-reduced mediations. In these instances, there is little, if any, financialdiscussionto be had with a co-mediator; instead, the focus is on what value we might bring to each other in terms of practice reflection. In this regard, I have sought opportunities to co-mediate with:
    • colleagues I admire but never get to see in mediations;
    • colleagues I know from reputation have very different styles than I do (and that I might not plan to adopt, but could conceivably learn from);
    • and colleagues who seem to have styles very similar to my own.

    All of these colleagues might introduce me to some new approach I haven’t thought of or have felt awkward trying, but they are even more likely to cause me to think closely about my own style choices – many of which have become automatic responses to specific situations.  The benefit of such reflection is immediate, and improves my skills.  There can be no question but that there is a strong business case for taking such “free” opportunities for learning and improving. (And yes, there is always learning – even after thousands of mediations!)  

  2. In addition to inviting peers to join me in pro bono or fee-reduced mediations, I have also invited student mediators to co-mediate. The learning for me is still significant, if typically different than when I choose a specific peer to work with, but this is also a chance for me to contribute to the development of mediation in BC. While I occasionally hear a senior practitioner query why they would train “the competition”, most mediators understand that we all gain more work as we expand the pool of mediators because this increases the discourse on mediation: the more people hear about someone training to be a mediator, or starting a mediation practice, the greater the possibility that a member of the public thinks of mediation as a possibility to explore when conflict arises.  Our profession is still not as broadly known to the public as we would like, and “walking the talk” in ways that expand knowledge of collaborative practices is an important means of growing everyone’s referrals.[2]

One important note that I would make regarding both 4 and 5: I am absolutely confident that the quality of mediation service for these lower fee mediations does not suffer by virtue of any of these co-mediation options, but rather increases, even where the co-mediator is a student.  With adequate pre-mediation planning, co-mediations offer a wide variety of advantages to the parties (which is a much longer topic).  The only times I have concerns about quality of service to parties is where co-mediators have not adequately prepared between themselves, which frankly raises questions of the competence of the senior mediator to act as a mentor, rather than the skill of the less experienced mediator.

The Business of Mentoring

Having discussed a variety of ways in which co-mediation makes business sense for the senior mediator, it seems natural to point out that mentoring can itself be a form of mediation practice that one explicitly seeks.  I have, in the past, had a short paragraph on my website that indicates that I enjoy working with learning mediators and encouraging people to contact me for mentoring or co-mediation when it might help to bring in a more experienced mediator.  In preparing this post, I realize that one might very well wish to be even more proactive in inviting newer mediators to make contact with respect to co-mediation opportunities.  For mediators who enjoy the challenge of co-mediation and the rewards of teaching, it might be both realistic and rewarding to make mentoring a significant part of a private mediation practice. [1] I have never co-mediated without learning something myself (especially perhaps enhancing those skills needed to support a learning mediator to succeed without highlighting experience differences – something that is directly transferable to facilitating workplace conversations, business disputes, and raising self-confident children! [2] In this regard, I want to highlight the exciting opportunities to capitalize on collaborative marketing of the profession, as opposed to the individual, that Mediate BC’s efforts with Conflict Resolution Week offer.  If you haven’t mentored and are thinking of it, why not make a plan to offer a mentored mediation during Conflict Resolution Week 2015 October 17-24?! Sharon addresses the sometimes awkward-feeling issue of fee sharing for co-mediations in Part V of the “On Co-Mediation” series.

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Mediation Works – Video releases

Last October, Mediate BC launched the first ever province-wide Conflict Resolution Week in BC.  Modelled on a number of Mediation Week initiatives in the United States and in other provinces, #ConResWeek2014 was a wonderful opportunity for BC’s conflict resolution professionals to work together to increase public awareness of collaborative decision-making processes.  It was exciting to see the large number of initiatives across the province, and inspiring to note just how many mediators managed to collaborate within their own home communities to promote the practice, as opposed to the individual practitioner.  (While the catchphrase for the week was #Let’sTalkItOut, in many ways the collaborative process of shared public outreach might have fit even more with the phrase #WalktheTalk).

In thinking about how we could contribute to ConResWeek most effectively, Wendy Lakusta and I chose to try something relatively new for us – the development of a series of short videos (released daily during the week) that brought in experts in a variety of practice areas in order to explore the ways in which mediation can be adapted to varied contexts and problems.  We chose to look at the following subject areas in an effort to show a range of contexts in which mediation can be effective:

  • Family
  • Collaborative Family Practice
  • Strata Disputes
  • Wills and Estates
  • Small Business
  • Workplace

This series, Mediation Works, is hosted by CoRe Conflict Resolution Society and videos are available on their website or through the CoRe Youtube channel.

The very positive reception of these videos, and the particular interest shown in topics related to families, led Wendy and I to develop a second series of 6 videos with a focus on narrower topics related to Family Conflict Resolution.  This series, Family Matters, is being released once a month this spring and summer.  You can be sure to see each new video as it comes out by subscribing to CoRe’s Youtube channel.

Here’s the most recent release in the series: Lawyer Matt Ostrow joins Wendy and me in discussing LGBT Family Conflict Resolution.



Are you interested in specific topics in mediation or collaborative decision-making?  Wendy and I will be planning a third series of videos for release during Conflict Resolution Week 2015.  What topics would you like to hear about?  Let us know at tndmmediation@gmail.com.

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