Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/19)
Mediation

How to build a mediation practice

Toronto mediator Bernard Morrow says practitioners making a start in the profession face a tough task to distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace.

Morrow, the principal of the full-service dispute resolution firm Morrow Mediation, tells AdvocateDaily.com that the low barrier of entry to the field — there are currently no restrictions on who can hold themselves out as a mediator of civil disputes — is something of a double-edged sword.

“The market is saturated,” he says. “So the way to distinguish yourself is by gaining experience and substantive knowledge of a particular area.

“The key is building your credibility and gaining trust in relationships with the people you do work with,” adds Morrow, who offered advice on establishing a successful mediation practice at a recent session hosted by the Ontario Bar Association.  

He says the simplest way to get started in jurisdictions such as Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor, where mediation is mandatory before trial for all civil and estates matters, is by joining the Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program rosters. But Morrow says that’s only half the job.

“If the roster is not very active or you’re not getting called, then you’re not getting the experience you need to develop your craft and credibility,” he says. “It may look good on your resume, but it’s not much help beyond that.”

Morrow says dispute resolution processes at public bodies such as the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) provided a good apprenticeship in the early days of his mediation practice.

The recent transfer of disputes under the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule from FSCO — where they were subject to mandatory mediation — to arbitration at the Licence Appeal Tribunal, with its arbitration model and tightly streamlined case conference process, has curtailed that option.

However, Morrow says mediation programs at other public bodies, such the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and more than half of the administrative tribunals that make up Social Justice Tribunals Ontario, still provide some strong options for fledgling mediators in search of hands-on experience.

“Even if the fees are lower, the experience and training are very valuable,” he says.

Morrow says another good way for mediators to make a name for themselves is to focus their practice on disputes in particular areas of the law.  

“If you can develop a reputation in a niche area, that can be very helpful in terms of differentiating yourself,” he says.

“Elder law is one area that I think has a growing potential for mediators, where dispute resolution services are often needed to deal with family members or institutional care facilities. The information technology industry is another one that touches on almost everything we do now.”

According to Morrow, writing articles or starting a blog can also help mediators get their name out in the legal and mediation communities. Joining professional bodies, such as the Ontario Bar Association's ADR section or the ADR Institute of Canada, or pursuing professional designations offered by them, also boosts an individual’s credibility in the mediation field, he adds.

Despite the challenges, Morrow says it's a great time to be entering the mediation field.

"Mediation is now an accepted part of our formalized dispute resolution processes in both the administrative and civil justice spheres," he says. "Opportunities abound in this field."

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