Education and experience as a lawyer is a good foundation for becoming a mediator, but having the right background is just the beginning. A lawyer who wants to become a mediator must go through special training to learn how to facilitate disputes. Within more specialized areas of the law, such as family law, more training is necessary to ensure that the mediator knows how to handle the issues that come up most frequently.
Although law school teaches lawyers how to analyze conflicts and apply laws to complicated facts, the emphasis is on advocacy and litigation rather than conciliation. As mediation grows in popularity, more law schools are offering training and clinical opportunities in mediation. A lawyer who has not completed a basic mediation skills course during law school will need to complete one after law school to become competent to begin practicing as a mediator.
While a law degree is very beneficial for a mediator, it is not strictly necessary. Private mediators in New Jersey are not required to have any specific degree, license or certification. There are various requirements, however, that New Jersey courts impose on mediators wishing to be appointed to various court rosters. Regardless of licensing or court requirements, mastering certain areas of skill and knowledge is essential to the competent professional practice of mediation.
In general, a mediator needs to have:
A strong knowledge base in the law relating to the area of practice
The ability to be impartial and see all sides of an issue, and
An understanding of the rules regarding privilege, confidentiality, and ethics as they apply to mediation and mediators
Specific skills gained in basic mediation training.
Many mediator skills develop with experience. For this reason, mediators who have successfully facilitated many disputes are generally more effective.
Basic Mediation Training
Basic mediation training generally consists of 32 to 40 hours of coursework. Some programs require supervised clinical practice as well. In basic training, the participants learn how to structure mediation sessions and how to bring parties together to work productively on mutual solutions. The trainees also work hands-on with experienced coaches while engaging in role-play sessions to practice putting new skills into use.
Family Law Mediation Training
Divorce is very different from the usual civil case. Divorces generally include multiple issues revolving around predictable areas, including property division, spousal support, and sometimes child custody and support. Divorces are also different from other cases because they tend to involve higher levels of emotion. While resolving any conflict can require navigating through difficult feelings, the emotional challenges may be magnified when the parties have an intimate family history. When children are involved, anxiety and tensions tend to multiply still further. While most legal conflicts revolve around a single issue, divorce mediation involves restructuring the entire lives of two or more people.
For all of these reasons, mediators who wish to specialize in divorce mediation, even if they are already practicing attorneys, and even if they already specialize in family law, require advanced training designed specifically to address these unique and complex factors. A good divorce mediation training program consists of at least 40 hours of coursework covering not only different approaches to mediation styles and skills, but also aspects of family and child development, family law, domestic violence, substance abuse, and divorce court procedures. Participants also learn how to review and prepare important documents. Because resolving issues in divorce requires a broad knowledge of a range of issues, divorce mediation courses are generally taught by a multi-disciplinary faculty, including attorneys, mental health professionals, CPA’ s and others. Training is usually carried out in small groups, to ensure a high student-faculty ratio and plenty of opportunity for individualized instruction.
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