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Do Mediators Sell Themselves Short?

Why do mediators so often work for free? Shouldn't they be paid fairly for their services?

Los Angeles mediator Charles B. Parselle, founding partner of Centres for Excellence in Dispute Resolution, raised these questions in a May Los Angeles Daily Journal article recently republised on He observes:

"Los Angeles mediators personally pay for 97% of court mediations, giving away thousands of hours and millions in fees each year, yet overwhelmingly mediators would rather be paid for their professional services."

Lack of fair compensation among mediators is a nationwide problem, as illustrated by the reactions to Parselle's article by two Massachusetts blogger/mediators, Dina Beach Lynch at Mediation Mensch and Diane Levin at Online Guide to Mediation. Lynch, who has written about this topic before, says in her most recent post:

"Paying mediators fairly threatens the status quo for key stakeholders like the courts and the organized bar. There seems to be very little incentive for either group to change a system that works for them from a financial and productivity standpoint."

The question, she says, is what to do about it. If mediators consider themselves invaluable, she asks, why do they continue to accept being treated otherwise?

Diane Levin encountered this issue when she embarked on a career in mediation and was told, "If you do it for money, then you're cheapening something special." Yet, she says, mediators' value is undeniable:

"Mediators boldly go where angels fear to tread -- right into the very heart of conflict. And, like intrepid guides, we are able to lead disputants to level ground. We help people achieve resolution and overcome their differences, even in the face of seemingly intractable conflict."

In my own career, I have long worked as an arbitrator and mediator in labor relations, where there is no question that I will be paid for my services. More recently, as I've ventured into civil mediation, I find precisely the problem Parselle, Lynch and Levin describe. Court mediation programs are often pro bono, even in cases where litigants' pockets are deep. Parselle is correct in suggesting that the solution is simple: Mediators should not be required to work pro bono except to help the needy and indigent, and courts should adopt fair programs that allow mediators to charge for their services as the market dicates.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on August 2, 2006 at 12:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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