What to Look For in a Good Mediator

Empathy, experience, and being a good listener are essential

By Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on July 10, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Richard C. Kraege

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“There are several ways to resolve disputes,” says Richard C. Kraege, an alternative dispute resolution attorney in Indianapolis—”jousting, firing guns, fist fights, agreeing between yourselves, taking a case to trial. But mediation is the preferred way to resolve disputes.”

What is Mediation, and Why is it Preferred?

Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party called a mediator helps the opposing parties negotiate an agreement that both will accept.

The mediator doesn’t make decisions for the parties. Instead, a mediator helps the parties make their own decisions.

There are many types of mediation. It can be used in everything from family law matters such as child custody and divorce cases to employment law issues like contract disputes and employment discrimination.

In a successful mediation, neither party will likely feel that they totally won. But they won’t feel like they totally lost, either. The mediation experience involves compromise. The purpose of mediation is for the parties to settle their legal issues and move on without the need for litigation.

I think a good mediator is someone who’s a good listener. Also, someone who’s affable, who’s not a difficult person, and generally someone who is empathetic and sympathetic, and respectful to the people who are in the meeting.

Richard C. Kraege

There are three main benefits to mediation:

  • You drive the decision-making process. “The mediation process is unlike arbitration, where someone else makes the decisions for you. In mediation, the people who are there make the decision for themselves with the mediator facilitating their discussion. So, it’s a more satisfying process for most people,” says Kraege.
  • Mediation saves time. Mediation sessions typically last a few hours and are completed in a single day (though very complex cases may require multiple days). Mediation may be in-person, though online mediation has become much more common in recent years, making it more convenient. “Instead of taking a case through court, which takes 3-5 years sometimes, cases can be resolved before the lawsuit is filed, or at any time up to the trial,” Kraege adds.
  • Mediation tends to save money. Along with saving time and effort, mediation tends to be less expensive than litigation. This means that you get to keep more of your settlement money at the end of the process.

“For these reasons, I think mediation is a far preferable way to resolve disputes,” concludes Kraege. “Of course, I’m a mediator. But there was a survey in Indiana, where I practice, asking judges and trial lawyers what the best way to resolve disputes is—litigation, arbitration, or mediation? And the judges and even trial lawyers said mediation was the preferable way.”

If mediation sounds like an attractive way to resolve your dispute, your next question might be: How do I find a qualified mediator? Kraege draws on his many years of experience as a mediator to give insights into what to look for in an effective mediator.

What Characteristics Make a Good Mediator?

A mediator is going to help you and the other party engage in problem-solving and conflict resolution. Resolving disputes often starts with paying attention to what each side is saying and trying to understand their perspective.

“I think a good mediator is someone who’s a good listener,” says Kraege. “Also, someone who’s affable, who’s not a difficult person, and generally someone who is empathetic and sympathetic, and respectful to the people who are in the meeting.”

When contacting potential mediators, keep these qualities in mind:

  • Do you feel like the mediator is someone who listens to what you have to say?
  • Do you think they will be easy to work and communicate with?
  • Do they demonstrate an understanding of the issues involved?

It’s important to find someone whose expertise you can trust. It’s also important to feel comfortable with the mediator from a personality standpoint.

Are There Education or Mediation Training Requirements for Mediators?

States have different requirements for court-approved mediators. Law degrees are generally not required, but states often do require some level of mediation training and experience.

The role of a mediator is fundamentally different from the role of a lawyer representing their client in civil litigation. A lawyer is an advocate for their client. Lawyers give their clients legal advice and strategize how to win the case against the other side. By contrast, a mediator is focused on being a facilitator between the two sides in a dispute. Instead of advocating for one side over the other or trying to help one side win, a mediator helps both sides come to a mutual agreement.

The type of mediator you need depends on your particular case. In many disputes, it may be advantageous to have an attorney-mediator—someone with knowledge of the legal issues involved. In other cases, you may not need a mediator with legal experience; you just need someone with good negotiation skills and prior experience mediating.

“As far as the subject matter that a mediator needs to know—in some states, due to relatively little litigation, mediators are generalists and we do all kinds of civil matters,” says Kraege.

“In other states—for example, Florida, Texas, or California—mediators are a lot more specialized,” he adds. These states are not only highly populated, but they also have large industries where it makes sense for mediators to specialize. “There may be mediators who are construction mediators or real estate mediators or divorce mediators or personal injury mediators.”

Find The Right Mediator for Your Case

There are many ways to locate and research mediation services in your area. For example, you can contact lawyers in your area or the local court for referrals to qualified mediators based on your type of dispute. Kraege recommends looking at your state’s bar association’s website and, more generally, using the internet to research.

To begin your search, consider using the Super Lawyers directory. Use the search bar to find alternative dispute resolution attorneys in your vicinity. To learn more about mediation and other forms of ADR, read our overview of alternative dispute resolution.

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