How to Become a Mediator in California

Interested in becoming a professional peacemaker, or learning how to become a mediator in California? You don’t have to be a lawyer to become a mediator, anyone interested in alternative dispute resolution and has sharp problem-solving abilities can excel in this fulfilling career.

It is no secret that the legal system in California is overwhelmed. The superior court system is often backlogged and new cases are being added to the dockets of judges with no room for years. This means that cases will sit in limbo for quite some time, leading to parties changing their mind or suffering consequences for years without relief. The lack of available judges and local courts has severely impacted the system and caused distrust in the process in some places.

Because the system is so overused, the courts have worked to partner with the local alternative dispute resolution experts to create a mediation diversion system that helps resolve cases timely and fairly for the parties. These cases can be mediating early in the process of the case, and experienced mediators and their students will often work together to help the case move toward conflict resolution.

The mediation programs in California have been increasingly popular and successful since they were implemented. This means that there is an overwhelming need for more mediators to continue to provide their guidance and expertise to court mediation. The requirements to become a mediator in California vary from court to court, but all courts require that mediators complete certain education and training requirements to qualify to take cases.

This article will outline the basic steps to becoming a mediator in California and help professionals access the court mediation programs they would like to be a part of.

California’s System for Mediation and the Courts

As stated above, California does not have a centralized system that certifies mediators as some other states do. Each of the local courts sets the qualifications to participate in their program. Professionals interested in a particular court mediation program should work with the court that they hope to partner with to ensure that they meet the requirements. The Supreme Court of California provides a directory of each superior court’s ADR programs.

However, because there is no centralized system, there are varying degrees of mediation oversight and guidance. This has allowed novice mediators to gain hands-on experience, but it has not always provided the best outcomes for dispute resolution. Because of the varying rules and lack of oversight on some programs, the Administrative Office of the Courts created the Model Standards for Mediator Qualifications, which are intended to serve as a guide for the superior courts that are working on setting up their own program.

To identify how to become a mediator, this section will outline the basic qualifications under the model standards and then explore the ways that these programs are implemented in two example counties, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which also happen to be two of the busiest superior court systems in the state.

Model Standards

The requirements outlined by the Administrative Office of the Courts are not binding, and completion of these requirements will not automatically qualify a mediator within the California courts. However, they serve as a guide for how each court should organize their requirements for court-qualified mediators in their jurisdiction, so they can serve as a guide on how to approach the process and provide an overview of the basic requirements.

The requirements in the model include basic mediation training, experience requirements, and an educational element.

Basic Mediation Training

Basic mediation training is training that outlines mediation theory and explores the skills necessary to effectively mediate a conflict. The focus of this training will be to ensure that you understand the process and have the necessary technique to approach a host of disputes. Anyone interested in mediating in California should enroll in a course on mediation and ensure that they completed the requirements necessary to earn a certificate in the class. A course that is at least forty hours is recommended to qualify for most programs and under the standards.

During training, opportunities for role play will often present themselves. Role-playing allows the students to take on the roles of the parties and practice mediation with each other. This continues to teach the student the skills they will need to become mediators in California.

Experience Requirements

In addition to successful completion of basic mediation training, the standards also suggest requiring that a potential mediator participates in at least two mediations of at least two hours that are co-mediated with a mentor mediator who provides guidance and oversight throughout the mediation process. Most mediators will need to complete a minimum number of mediations with mentor mediators before they can run a mediation on their own.

Education on Law

In addition to the experience and training requirements, a budding mediator should also complete a course on the law, the court system, and civil litigation. This education requirement helps the mediator understand what the implications of dispute resolution are on the court and for the case moving forward. The standards recommend waiving this requirement for lawyers.

Los Angeles County

Los Angeles County has several programs that recommend or send cases to mediation. Several pilot programs require that certain subject matter cases go before a mediator before they are heard by a judge.

General Civil Litigation

The Los Angeles County Superior Court does not qualify mediators for general civil litigation. They provide a list of organizations that have agreed to take certain cases at low or no cost. Each organization will have its own requirements to participate in its mediation programs.

Dispute Resolution Program

There is also a Dispute Resolution Program that focuses on providing mediation in small claims, evictions, civil harassment, and limited civil cases. This program is set up the same way as the general civil litigation program, so individual organizations will provide a certificate or qualifications.

Personal Injury and Employment Mandatory Settlement Conference Pilot Programs

LA County Courts have created a pilot program that requires certain personal injury cases to be sent to mandatory settlement conferences through ResolveLA. The same program is used for certain employment cases as well. This organization requires that their settlement officers be attorneys with a law degree and have at least 10 years of litigation experience. They must also be a member of a bar organization.

San Francisco County

San Francisco County also has several programs that have different requirements. However, the most popular program is the Bar Association of San Fransisco’s Bay Area Mediation Services Panel. These mediators provide mediation services for three hours at no cost before charging their hourly rate. This program requires that the mediators have completed at least 40 hours of basic mediation training and participated as the mediator in at least 10 mediations in the last five years.

Through examining these requirements, it is clear that each county and even each program within a county has different mediator qualifications. The education requirements may range from a bachelor’s degree to law school and a law degree. However, it is clear that participants in each program typically have a basic training program and participate in mediation with experienced mediators.

Learn Basic Mediation Skills

If becoming a mediator in California is a goal, there are some basic steps that one can take. One of the most important things that a hopeful mediator can do is begin to learn mediation skills. This is one of the things that will be taught in a basic mediation course or even a meditation program at a local college or university. While most mediators only need to pass a forty-hour mediation course, there are courses and programs at universities and law schools throughout California that could be completed in six months to a few years. If attending a university for their mediation education, participants may earn a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree for their work.

Students that enroll in a program or course will focus on skills that will benefit them both in mediation and other alternative dispute resolution.

Negotiation Skills

In every mediation, the parties will reach a point where they must negotiate to resolve their dispute. To continue to guide the mediation, a mediator will need to understand negotiation and how to lead the parties through this process. Professionals will understand that they cannot participate in negotiations, but they will have the skills to identify and encourage the parties toward resolution and understanding of each point of view.

The skills in this area include value identification and creation, framing the possible outcomes of the conflict, and working with BATNAs.

Communication Skills

Mediation also requires the parties and the mediator to communicate effectively. This will help them identify the value that can be added and help the parties resolve their case without court. Education on communication will help the mediation students know when they need to reign in the parties and when to let them continue to work toward conflict resolution.

The skills in this area include active listening, framing, and communicating difficult information.


Another important skill is understanding neutrality, meaning that mediators are not allowed to act with a preference toward one side or a particular resolution. This can be a skill that needs to be developed, as it can be difficult to keep your feelings and thoughts to yourself when you believe that one option is significantly better than the other. A mediation course will help students understand how to keep their thoughts and ideas from showing when they are mediating a case.

Understand the Mediation Process

Another vital component of becoming a mediator is learning how the mediation process works and what a mediator’s role is within the process. Students will often participate in role-playing to learn how to mediate without it directly affecting the outcome of a conflict.

After completing mediation training, the parties will often observe several mediations with a mentor mediator who demonstrates the practice effectively and helps the students learn. This teaching allows the students to follow the mediator’s example as they begin to work on co-mediated disputes with a mentor assisting them.

Finally, when the mentors are satisfied with the students and their training, they will allow them to run a mediation with supervision. This gives the students the ability to practice their skills with real conflict resolution, but it still provides a safety net if needed. Participating in a full-scale mediation course or training helps hopeful mediators gain the experience that they need to participate in court-adjacent mediation.

Identify a Niche in Conflict Resolution

Another way that hopeful mediators can set themselves apart is to begin to identify a niche within mediation that they are interested in or have real-world knowledge from previous work experience or education. A niche is a specialized type of mediation and typically involves a particular subject area. If a mediator has a background that deals with particular disputes, they will often be able to help the parties through dispute resolution without needing to work hard to learn about the law or practical aspects of the area. Several areas can help professionals with or without legal degrees or practice work directly within their education or professional background.

Commercial Mediation

Commercial mediators are a skilled set of mediators that understand the issues that arise in commerce. This is also the most frequently practiced international mediation as well, with mediators needed to practice dispute resolution around the world. Commercial mediators help businesses big and small resolve their disputes with other businesses. This can include real estate and other transactional issues.

Commercial mediation is probably the most expansive of the mediation niches, and many niches can be found within it. California is a great place to work in commercial mediation because there are booming business opportunities and industries, such as entertainment, that are not as common in many other markets.

Divorce and Family Mediation

Another common mediation niche is the family and divorce mediation practice. Family mediators practice mediation in a wide variety of family matters that can include child custody, adoption, and other family matters. Divorce mediation is a specialized practice within family mediation that works to help families split apart amicably through their financial and familial obligations. Family mediators often have backgrounds in either family law practice or a bachelor’s degree in social work that help inform their practice and provide training that cannot be learned in a classroom.

California is a great place to work as a family or divorce mediator because the courts encourage the parties to mediate their cases before using the court to litigate their divorce. This posture has enabled many families to resolve their disputes without litigation. Some schools in California will even offer a special course or certificate in family mediation.

Landlord-Tenant Law

While this area may be encompassed in the commercial mediation mentioned above, the area of landlord and tenant law has boomed in California and around the country in response to the shortage of affordable housing and the issues of unhoused people in the country. Because these cases often move quickly through the system, mediation training specifically with landlord and tenant concerns can help clear the court system and give people a better chance at finding new housing moving forward. Los Angeles County regularly requires that landlord-tenant cases be referred to a mediator to help resolve the case. This is a specialized area that needs more mediators to address the growing concerns and help resolve these conflicts.

Taking the First Step

If you are looking to take the first step to be a mediator in California, then identifying and enrolling in a mediation training course can help move you closer to your goals. Many programs can help you take the step, either through a full course at a college or university, possibly earning a master’s degree in dispute resolution in five years.

However, because the Supreme Court and other courts in California do not require a specific certificate or course to participate in their programs, it can be beneficial to test the waters as a mediator by enrolling in a comprehensive mediation training course that teaches the basic skills and process to students. For budding mediators, our site offers such a course that you can enroll in on our website. Click here to check them out!

Emily Holland
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