Like many judges and lawyers, Mary Joseph entered the field of alternative dispute resolution after retiring from a successful career in law. But she’s not your typical lawyer-turned-mediator.
Mary brings a unique repertoire of skills and scholarship to her mediation practice, including 30 years as an immigration lawyer, a Master’s in Divinity, and expertise in online dispute resolution (ODR).
Two years ago, Mary added mediation instructor to the list. She teaches the accredited Mediation Certificate at Kompass Professional Development.
The course is accredited by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Canada (ADRIC) and Ontario (ADRIO), and meets training requirements for the Qualified Mediator designation.
This week, we interviewed Mary to learn more about her legal background and what the Mediation course has to offer.
Meet the teacher, find out what to expect in class, and see if this training is right for you.
Q: Mary Joseph, can you share a little about your background and practice as a mediator?
Mary: I specialize in a few different areas of mediation. I am primarily a family mediator, but I also do elder mediation and restorative justice circle mediation.
Elder mediation is an emerging field that deals with conflicts arising within families over how to care for aging parents and grandparents.
My work in restorative justice mediation was through an organization called Peace Builders. Peace Builders focuses on helping at-risk youth stay out of the criminal justice system, and building safer schools and communities.
Q: How did you make the transition from immigration lawyer to family mediator?
Mary: I was a lawyer for over 30 years, focusing mainly on immigration law.
In the 1990’s, I decided to get a Master's in Divinity, which inspired me to change direction away from immigration law.
I’d found that the practice of immigration law was becoming less and less personal. Lawyers were conducting much of their business over the phone, with far fewer in-person consultations and meetings with clients.
I really started to miss the interpersonal, relationship-building component of my legal practice. I felt that family law and mediation would be better suited to my goals.
So, I switched gears. I learned family law and became certified as a collaborative family lawyer. I then became certified as a family mediator.
From there, I started teaching and discovered I really love it! I’ve been teaching the online Mediation Certificate at Kompass for 2 years now.
Teaching online was a natural progression for me. I’ve long been interested in online technologies for business, education, and alternative dispute resolution.
I’ve been following the development of online dispute resolution (ODR) since the early days of the internet. This trend has been growing steadily for the past 20 years.
Q: What type of mediation credentials do you have?
Mary: I hold the highest mediation accreditation from the ADR Institute of Canada, the Chartered Mediator designation.
I am also an Accredited Family Mediator with the Ontario Association for Family Mediation. This is actually a more rigorous certification than the Qualified Mediator or Chartered Mediator designations.
Certifying as a family mediator requires 100 hours of internship and 40 hours of fundamental family mediation training. In addition, you need 21 hours of advanced skills training, of which 50 must be role play.
Requirements also include 21 hours of education on domestic violence, 21 hours of family law training, and 21 hours of family relations training.
In total, that’s over 100 hours of training plus another 100 hours of internship.
Q: Are your Mediation students mostly lawyers? What different backgrounds do they come from?
Mary: There is a huge diversity of backgrounds! Yes, we have family lawyers who are looking to certify—but we also have teachers, school principals, union reps, government officials, and business managers.
I recently taught a director/producer of Hollywood films, who was looking to build better conflict resolution skills!
Many of our students are simply interested in improving their ability to manage and resolve conflicts in life and at work.
Q: Your course teaches the “general principles” of mediation. Can you explain what these are?
Mary: Our students learn all the established frameworks and approaches for mediating disputes. They also learn practical conflict resolution tools and techniques.
For example, how to manage conversations to seek common ground, and how to reframe contentious issues in ways that can lead to agreements.
The Mediation certificate consists of 6 courses and 3 of them are dedicated to family mediation skills. Many of our students have gone through, or are going through, family conflicts so this content is particularly relevant.
Q: The course also includes role play. How does that work?
Mary: Students work through a wide variety of mediation role play scenarios. We do role play for workplace conflict, community-based conflict, and for family conflict situations involving spouses and children.
We also do some separation role plays for division of property, support, and parenting plans. We also tackle scenarios that deal with power imbalance, such as domestic violence.
All the role plays take place online using Zoom. Sometimes we do break out role-play groups. I pop into each group to see how students are doing and afterward, everyone shares together.
Other times, I do a mock role play where everyone attends in one “room.” We have one mediator, and the others play the parts of the parties in conflict.
Before any role play begins, everyone is provided with background information on the nature of the conflict.
We do a group discussion before the mock mediation to discuss the situation, relevant points, and back stories. After the role play, we debrief and reflect on how it went.
We meet every week online. Tuesday night is a live lecture, and Wednesday night is for role plays.
Q: Can you describe a few of the Mediation Certificate assignments? What kind of work do students submit?
Mary: In addition to role play exercises, students learn how to write a Memorandum of Understanding, develop a parenting plan, and calculate spousal support.
They are asked to describe the 4 styles of mediation, and explain which approach best suits their temperament and skills. In this way, students begin to define their style as a mediator, and learn how to leverage their natural strengths within that form.
I also bring in very challenging division of property conflicts that one would encounter in the real world. Students learn how to use a legal software called DivorceMate, which only lawyers and professional mediators use.
Q: Virtual mediations are gaining traction, especially in the wake of Covid-19. Do your students learn how to conduct a virtual mediation?
Mary: Yes, in fact we recently added a course on this topic. Students learn how to take their existing mediation or arbitration practice and move it into a virtual world.
We cover many practical aspects, including which software to use. We present several industry-leading videoconferencing options and show students how to select the tool that best aligns with their practice.
Then, we walk students through how to leverage software features, such as break-out rooms, waiting rooms, whiteboards, screen share, and live chat.
We also discuss best practices for conducting virtual mediations, including staggering client arrivals, data security, etc.
Q: What are the biggest misconceptions about the practice of mediation?
Mary: One of the biggest misconceptions about family mediation is that it’s about reconciliation. In fact, we help people separate, not reconcile! That is our job.
If the parties want to try reconciliation, we don’t proceed with the mediation. Instead, they would go see a family counsellor, or perhaps a lawyer to draw up a marriage contract.
There is also an assumption that mediations cannot proceed if there’s a power imbalance, and the mediator must somehow “correct’ the imbalance to restore a level playing field.
The truth is power imbalances are found everywhere in our society. No two people possess the exact same knowledge, skills, experience, or talents.
This only becomes a problem if the imbalance inhibits one party from advocating effectively for themselves. This is what the mediator must determine.
I would also say that people vastly underestimate the challenge of remaining neutral while conducting mediations. Every mediator is influenced by their own values and personal experiences.
We bring all of who we are to the mediation table. We look at each case through many different lenses—and must be very aware of our own biases.
This is a key skillset we teach in the Mediation course at Kompass.
Learn more about the online Accredited Mediation Certificate
Kompass offers a 12-week online Mediation course, taught by certified mediators and accredited by ADRIC and ADRIO.
Training consists of 6 two-week courses and features live lectures and mock mediation role plays. Students learn practical mediation techniques, approaches, documentation, and tools, including how to mediate disputes online.
Chat live with an Admissions Advisor to learn about costs, application requirements, and upcoming start dates.
Or click below to explore the accredited Mediation and Dispute Resolution Certificate in more detail.