How to Become a Mediator

So, you think you want to become a mediator—but are you sure? Dispute resolution can be a rewarding career, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for everyone. One step in becoming a mediator is understanding the job requirements so you can decide if mediation is the right career path for you. If you want to learn more about what mediators do and the skills required, feel free to jump to the What Do Mediators Do section.

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Steps to Become a Mediator

If you want to be a mediator, it is important to determine how you’ll get there. Here are some common steps to become a mediator:

Step 1: Decide on an Area of Mediation Practice

As an umbrella term, “mediation” refers to any formal intervention that helps disputants reach a settlement. However, there are different practice areas you can focus on as a mediator. Each area has its own culture, networks and processes you should be aware of as you begin to define your new career path. You may also consider leveraging your professional background and experience to help you get started as a specialty mediator. Some of the different areas of mediation practice include:

  • Adoption
  • Business
  • Civil
  • Commercial
  • Divorce
  • Employment
  • Environment
  • Intellectual property
  • Personal injury
  • Real estate
  • Technology

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people who want to become a mediator will have an educational degree appropriate to their field of expertise, not necessarily the field of arbitration, mediation, or conflict resolution. A bachelor’s degree is often enough. 

Step 3: Consider Graduate or Law School

While a postgraduate degree is not always mandatory to become a mediator, it may help equip you with skills and knowledge in mediation. Here are some degree programs with a concentration in dispute resolution you may consider. Some mediators are lawyers, and to become a lawyer, you may want to consider a Juris Doctor (J.D.), such as an online J.D. program; If you don’t want to commit to a three-year law degree, such as a J.D., a master’s in legal studies (MLS) online program may help provide a foundational understanding of the U.S. legal system and its interaction across several core disciplines. There are also other types of master’s in dispute resolution degrees available to candidates with different education backgrounds. 

Step 4: Complete Mediation Training and Get Certified

The BLS notes some states require a comprehensive mediator training course to develop the requisite skills and abilities to practice formal mediation. Although most states do not have requirements for private mediators, the majority of states do have requirements for mediators who wish to be “court-certified” and listed on official court mediator rosters. States with such rosters usually require 20 to 40 hours of approved mediation training, according to BLS. 

Step 5: Start Your Own Practice or Join a DRC

After you have the skills and confidence to formally mediate disputes, you may start your own private practice or join a dispute resolution center (DRC) or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) firm in your area. Even if you would like to go the independent route someday, joining a firm or organization that provides ADR services may help you gain experience and credibility and provide networking opportunities.

If you want to get into the mediation field, try introducing yourself to mediators in your area and explain you would like to learn more about the profession, what mediators do and how to become a mediator yourself. You may be able to observe a mediation, although this will require confidentiality agreements with the parties involved.

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What Do Mediators Do?

Mediators are problem-solvers. The mediator’s role is to guide parties through a dispute to reach a favorable agreement. Mediators do not judge who is right or wrong in a dispute, nor do they provide legal advice; rather, they facilitate communication between parties that might otherwise have a difficult time resolving the problem themselves.

What does the mediator role entail? According to O*Net OnLine, a career exploration and job analysis tool sponsored by the Department of Labor, mediator job responsibilities include:

  • Conducting meetings with disputants to outline the arbitration process.
  • Using mediation techniques to facilitate communication and agreement between disputants.
  • Clarifying issues between disputants and discovering their respective needs and interests.
  • Interviewing claimants, agents or witnesses to obtain information about disputed issues.
  • Preparing written opinions or decisions about cases.

What’s the difference between mediators and arbitrators?

If you’re interested in becoming a mediator, you may also be interested in becoming an arbitrator. Both of these roles fall under the umbrella of “alternative dispute resolution,” but there are important differences worth exploring so you know which career path you want to follow. The table below outlines some of the key differences between mediation and arbitration:

Comparison Between Arbitration & Mediation

ArbitrationMediation
Arbitrators control the outcome of the dispute proceedings.
Parties control the outcome of the dispute proceedings.
Arbitrators are given the power to make final and binding decisions.
Mediators have no power to decide and a settlement is reached only with the approval of the parties.
Arbitration requires extensive discovery (research and fact-finding).
Parties in mediation exchange information voluntarily that will assist in reaching a resolution.
Arbitrators list facts and evidence and render a verdict (award) based on those findings.
Mediators help the parties define and understand the issues and each side’s interests.

Source: Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

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Mediator Career Outlook

Finally, it may be useful to consider the career outlook before deciding to become a mediator. The BLS projects a strong 10-year job outlook for mediators, with total employment expected to grow 8% from 2019 to 2029 – much faster than the average for all occupations. Median pay for mediators was $66,130 in 2020, the BLS reports. Where mediators earned the most included:

  • District of Columbia – $104,460
  • New Jersey – $104,300
  • California – $103,490
  • Rhode Island – $88,600
  • Alaska – $88,080

FAQs on Becoming a Mediator

How long does it take to become a mediator?

The time it takes to become a mediator depends on the state requirements and your educational background. Mediators typically need at least a bachelor’s degree, which takes four years to complete. View the common steps in becoming a mediator.

What are the requirements to be a mediator?

The requirements normally include a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, mediation experience and training dependent on the state in which you wish to practice.

How can I become a state-certified mediator without a law degree?

A law degree is typically not required to become a mediator. However, some states may require a law degree to be recognized as a court-approved mediator. In other states, anyone can act as a mediator after having completed required training. View our guide on the mediator qualification requirements by state.

Is a mediator a lawyer?

Not necessarily. While some mediators are also lawyers, you don’t have to be a lawyer to become a mediator in most states. A lawyer mainly refers to people who hold a J.D. degree and have passed the bar exam.

Is a mediator a good career?

Any career might be rewarding if it meets your interests, career goals and salary expectations. As mentioned above, mediators may expect a median annual salary of $66,130 in 2020, and up to $104,460 depending on the areas.

Last updated: April 2021

This page includes information from O*NET OnLine by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA.

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