At a time when the legal aid cuts are beginning to bite and the Government is trying to free up Court time by requiring Applicants to consider alternative dispute resolution as an alternative to proceedings (e.g. Mediation Information Assessment Meetings or “MIAMs”), some Family lawyers are branching out into Family Mediation to compensate for the drop in fee income resulting from the cutbacks.
In this Article, Family solicitor Austin Chessell explains how he has done exactly that by using mediation in a way which allows him to continue practicing Family Law and provides some tips on how to go about it and progress to being a PPC (Professional Practice Consultant).
My Family Mediation journey so far has been very interesting because in addition to my Family Law practice working as a mediator has allowed me to build up a caseload for couples who have decided they want to separate out of court in a cost effective, timely and non-adversarial way. I still represent clients who want to go to court using the traditional route, but this is only part of my caseload. Five years ago I was working solely as a Family Solicitor, but now Family Mediation accounts for roughly 45% of my work.
The entry point to practicing as a mediator is to complete training that is run or approved by one of the member organisations of the Family Mediation Council (‘FMC’). The member organisations are:
- National Family Mediation;
- Family Mediators Association;
- ADR Group;
- College of Mediators;
- The Law Society.
As explained below, there are several layers of qualification consisting of:
- Family Mediator – this is the entry level which allows you to practice as a mediator but only on private cases, not legally aided ones. It does not enable you to do MIAMs.
- MIAM training – this enables you to do MIAMs.
- Accredited Family Mediator – this allows you to do legal aid family mediations.
- PPC – this enables you to supervise trainee and qualified mediators.
How to get started
You need to become a member of a Mediation body and choose one of their supervisors (called a Professional Practice Consultants (a ‘PPC’)) who guides you through the process below.
The relationship with your PPC is an ongoing one (even if you become a PPC) and membership of your Mediation organisation needs to be renewed yourself annually and backed up by professional indemnity insurance once you are qualified.
You then need to complete a Foundation Mediation course which takes about two months. Not all mediation organisations provide their own training but there are several third party training bodies. I did mine with Hertfordshire Family Mediation Service. Check with the trainer that the foundation course will be recognised when you write up your portfolio for accreditation purposes.
Having completed the Foundation Mediation training, you need to find mediators who will let you observe their mediation sessions and co-mediate with them before you can start practicing as a qualified Mediator.
You will need 10 hours of co-mediation experience and observe several mediation sessions. You also need to meet with your PPC for four one hour meetings each year. You therefore need to be highly motivated to find a mediation service provider for experience, and network with their mediators to observe their cases and find people to co-mediate with. Only then can you start mediating on privately funded mediation cases.
You will also need to meet continuous professional development requirements.
Legal aid mediation cases require you to be ‘accredited’ as mentioned above. I am based in London and found I got more observations by traveling outside of London to places like Kent and Milton Keynes as the London mediation services seemed to have lots of requests from trainee mediators for observations and I did not want to wait a long time to continue my mediation development.
Choosing your PPC
Choosing your PPC is an important decision. Take your time to have an introductory meeting with them. Each PPC will have their own style whether it is administrative, educative or supportive or a combination of all three. You are going to need to meet your PPC several times each year and work with them for several months to years if you also plan to prepare a portfolio to become accredited.
Over the past 5 years I have been supervised by 2 different PPCs. Both are from counselling backgrounds. I have found it useful for me to develop by having a supervisor from a non-legal background, although I would not rule out having a PPC from a legal background in future.
When I first started mediating, it was hard to stop thinking like a Solicitor and play the role of Mediator, but it now feels more natural after discussing techniques on how to do this with my PPC. It is important not to give legal advice in mediation sessions as this is not the role of the mediator, but obviously an understanding of the legal background is an advantage.
You will find you get more out of a supervision session if you plan in advance the points that you would like to discuss with your PPC, as the one hour sessions can go very quickly. You also need to make sure the supervision sessions are boundaried to maintain a professional relationship.
PPC’s are also useful as sounding boards to explore if you are ready to do the next stage of mediation training.
After the 10 hours of co-mediation and several observations (in my case I did 5), your organization should recognize that you are qualified to practice as a mediator and be able to work with privately funded cases. In my case my PPC provided me with a readiness to practice document.
If you want to progress to doing MIAMs you need to do a one day MIAM training course. In my case the course was run by my mediation organisation and approved by the trainer and my PPC. Also, you will need your PPC’s written support and be working towards accreditation if you are not already accredited.
The MIAM is a meeting between the client and the mediator to see if there are alternative ways to reach proposals with the former partner rather than going through the Courts. The mediator will explain to the client what the options might be, how mediation works and what it is, the benefits of mediation and other ways of resolving disputes, the likely costs and considering elegibility for legal aid.
As readers will know, MIAMs are a pre-requisite to commencing proceedings for children and financial matters at Court, so it is an obvious work stream for Mediators.
From my experience a lot of clients who come to a MIAM still decide to go to court for their financial or children matters but do come back to mediation after court when the realise that the court does not always have the outcome they want!
If you would like to be able to mediate with children further training is needed (in my case a two day course and a written assignment).
The next level is ‘accreditation’ which allows you to deal with legal aid funded mediations. This is a complex and time consuming process as it requires writing up a portfolio of three cases and satisfying the following checklist to be submitted to the accrediting organisation:
- Personal training and development plan
- Foundation training certificate
- Witness testimony from your PPC with his/her recommendations on competency to do solo work
- Readiness to practice – assessment from your PPC
- Personal reflective account
- Case commentaries on three cases.
You will need to write about two completed cases relating to children and financial matters and a third case which can be about children or financial matters.
However, the above will be replaced by a new scheme in 2016. Details can be found at the Family Mediation Council website.
Becoming a PPC
Having become accredited, qualifying as a PPC requires a two-day training course followed by a written assignment to be approved by the course trainer.
It is very rewarding and refreshing to help mediation clients reach agreement out of court. Mediation is also a useful additional income stream for your Family Department.
Once qualified , if you are looking to develop as a Mediator and are not part of a networking mediation group, see if there is a local one, and if not, consider starting one yourself. Ask your PPC who may know if there is a group near to you. I set up the London Family Mediation Group in 2011 and it has been very educational for me to hear stories from a range of different Family Mediators and it is also a good way to keep up to date with developments in the mediation profession.
Good luck with your mediation journey!
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 11th August 2015 and is reproduced by kind permission.
Austin Chessell is a Professional Practice Consultant (PPC) at FAMIA across Inner and Greater London.
Austin is also a Collaborative Family Solicitor at Feltons Solicitors and is a member of the Collaborative Pod group Essex Family Solutions.