It would be entirely uncontroversial to say that lawyers, whilst being professionals, are also business people who need to have an eye to all that is necessary to run a successful business. It would be equally unremarkable to accept that doctors expect to earn a good living from their profession. However there frequently seems to be a frisson of shock at the suggestion that we mediators need to be commercial. It is as if saying that isn’t quite polite, as if, in saying it, we are denying our professional ethos.
It was refreshing therefore to attend the workshop lead by Marion Korn and her partner Eva Sach at the recent FMA conference. It is abundantly clear from everything that Marion says that she is a passionate mediator committed to the principles of mediation. Shock horror though, the two of them have devoted a great deal of thought to and spent a lot of time on their business model, both in terms of what is offered to clients and how they charge for that service.
I’m not saying that their business model is one I follow. What I do want to shout out loud and clear is that mediators need to get on board with the idea that professional mediators need first and foremost to have a sustainable business model, whatever form that takes. After all don’t we all want to get paid properly for what we do? What is more, unless mediation is offered in sustainable businesses, there will be no mediation on offer to the public. The mediators will all have gone bust or retired from the fray.
One thing that can’t be denied is that, despite having been on offer formally for a very long time, family mediation remains the best kept secret of the family justice system. Rather than focus on the failure of government, the courts, whoever, perhaps we should ask ourselves why mediation isn’t more firmly established. It is after all almost 20 years since the legal aid willingness tests gave us all the most enormous opportunity to develop mediation and advance its cause. To do that would have meant individual mediation services marketing themselves to widen their market on the back of the income from legal aid. It isn’t rocket science to see that over reliance on one customer ( in that case the legal aid authorities) is dangerous.
We can’t revisit the past. We don’t have those opportunities any more given the effective demise of legal aid for lawyers’ services in family matters. It does mean however that every mediation service left standing needs, if it is not doing so already, to make its priority ensuring that its business model works, with all the attendant consideration of what is commercially essential. The success in marketing of each mediator helps spread the mediation message.
Most importantly, how can we expect potential clients to value what we have to offer if we don’t seem to value ourselves?