Why I Want to be a Mediator (it’s not the money)

OK.  I’ve spent $100,000 (give or take) to spend three years in law school.  Lawyers (when they can get jobs) make decent money, if not quit enough to match the dreams of avarice that seem to bring some students in (there are all kinds of questions on lawyer boards lately about whether a consideration in attending law school X was the average salary on graduation).

So why I am throwing it all away to become e mediator?

Well…it’s complicated.

First, the question is incorrect.  I’m not throwing anything away.  What I have learned of the law will serve me in good stead; mediation is essentially a way to make contracts, and so all of the coursework that informs knowledge of contracts will pay off.  Law school also teaches you about the legal obligations that people have under various circumstances which, although I believe in the facilitative approach to mediation, gives me an evaluative handle, so I know where people are coming from, what their expectations are.

I have had five or six courses that deal with counseling, alternative dispute resolution, negotiation, mediation, that sort of thing.  None of the time in those classes was wasted or will be thrown away.

Learning about civil procedure, either federal or state, teaches you something about the complexities involved when someone says “I wanna sue the bastahd.”  The complexities and, billing out at any significant amount of money, the cost.  And you have no idea how complex family law can be until you’ve taken a course in it.

A quick return to contracts.  Something my wonderful contracts professor said—in some disputes, a party just wants to tell his story.  There may be no remedy.  But just to have the opportunity to make one’s complaint in public can be sufficient.

So.  I’m not throwing it all away.  But why the hell would I want to become a mediator?

It’s an old idea and a new one.

When I was fairly young, I became a pacifist.  I had my reasons (the war in Viet Nam and the looming probability of global nuclear war).  Eventually, these lead me to the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a group I joined in college.  In that group, I met a woman with whom I spent a lot of time.  Two conversations stand out (well, more than that, but two are relevant here.

In the first, we were asking each other what we wanted to do with our lives.  My answer was something like I wanted to become very good in an academic field, and so get into a position to influence people in the direction of peace and pacifism.  Ironically, I do not remember her answer—which just goes to show how much I had yet to learn.  In the second, we were talking about the coming Reagan Revolution (Ronald Reagan, arch-conservative of California and leftist by modern standards, had just been elected).  My friend expressed the view that it was pointless to try to explain pacifism and liberal ideas to conservatives; and that the same was true from the other perspective.  That politically, liberals and conservatives were just ships passing in the night with no possibility of meaningful communication.  That bothered me at the time, and it has remained troubling to me.  That it appears to be true in many cases doesn’t make it any less bothersome.

I sort of forgot about the problem for a long time, though.  I got busy with work and family and so on.  And yet, I never really believed that we were ships in the night.  I thought communication might be possible.

And when I came to law school, that problem was put on the front burner.  A trial is, after all, an adversarial proceeding.  You have in it parties that don’t want to hear each other, let along listen.

And then I discovered mediation.  Mediation isn’t a cure-all.  But it gives an opening, if correctly done, for ships that pass in the night to signal to each other.  And maybe that’s why I want to be a mediator.  Because it’s something that I’ve believed in for as long as I can remember.

More on this later, I suspect.

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