We’ve provided short bios of each of ten individuals we contacted for this post since their career paths offer interesting insights into opportunities to enter the field early.[1] 

In seeking out 10 people who started their careers as dispute resolution professionals, we were optimistic that we could find that many, but didn’t expect to be quite so encouraged by how many more we found! It would have been easy to have grown this list to 20 or even more.  Clearly the disheartening advice that so many new DR professionals continue to hear (“There’s no room in the field”, “No one will take you seriously until you’re older,” etc.) do not reflect the changing landscape of dispute resolution practice.  There are, in fact, a growing number of opportunities for young professionals to enter the dispute resolution field.

Let’s find ways support first career dispute resolution professionals through mentorship, pointing out new niche markets that might be ripe for new ideas and energetic development, and sharing ideas about the many, many ways in which one can make use of conflict resolution training to build a career!  In doing so, we will be building a more robust and sustainable dispute resolution landscape for all of us.[2]

Click the images below to learn more about these 10 First-Career Dispute Resolution Professionals.

[1] Identifying a list of First Career DR Professionals was decidedly a collective effort. Many thanks to C.D. Saint, Robin Phillips, and Kent Highnam for ensuring such broad representation of different career paths. 

[2]Join Sterling Nelson, Carrie Gallant, Laura Matthews and Janko Predovic at “Share the Land”: CLEBC’s Dispute Resolution Conference on November 10th to hear more about their experiences and to discuss barriers and opportunities to developing a first career in dispute resolution.

Our guest curator for this series on First Careers in Dispute Resolution is Sharon Sutherland. Sharon is a Mediate BC Civil Roster Mediator.  She began her dispute resolution practice in 1994 immediately following her call to the bar in Ontario. She is co-chair of the November 10th CLE Conference on Dispute Resolution Share the Land.

Matt Chritchley

Matt ChritchleyMatt studied Jazz music before getting a BA in Political Science (1998) from University of Calgary, and starting his career in dispute resolution at the Residential Tenancy Branch.
The Residential Tenancy Branch was a great place to learn about conflict resolution, and Matt enjoyed assisting landlords, tenants and community groups to resolve their disputes.  Matt found it “very rewarding to provide information to people, and possibly bring them reassurance, when they were dealing with high anxiety and complex disputes.”  In addition, Matt learned the challenges associated with public sector management and organizational change, before he took a position with the Vancouver Justice Access Centre (VJAC).
Matt’s role at the VJAC was to assist self-representing litigants to resolve their disputes in various courts and tribunals.  This role gave Matt the opportunity to work in a broader legal context, and more closely with mediators, while adding to his mediation and negotiation credentials.  Matt’s latest role is as Alternate Resolution Manager at the Teacher Regulation Branch, where he is applying his dispute resolution experience.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be?

I was fortunate to find a great job, and to work with great people.   I believe there are dispute resolution opportunities in most work environments, but there are few as interesting as the Tribunals or Courts.  In addition, I have had mentors that challenged me to give presentations, manage staff, and deal with difficult clients, helping me build the skills to be an effective mediator.

Mentors or Influences?

There are many people who have encouraged me to pursue a career in dispute resolution but three stand out.
  • Susan Greig: Past Director of Operations for the RTB
  • Michael Rittinger: Local Manager and FJC at the VJAC
  • Nancy Baker: Mediator and coach at the Justice Institute
Susan encouraged me to listen, observe, and work outside my comfort zone, while Michael and Nancy modeled dispute resolution and mediation skills in all of their interactions.  I owe them all a debt of gratitude.

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution?

I enjoy working directly with people in dispute, and feel challenged and energized when I have an opportunity to help people. Also, as a mediator, you need to find comfort working with incomplete information.
My advice is to make sure that you enjoy dealing with dispute and the mediation process, and then learn as much as you can about an area of your interest and build your skills.  It definitely helps to learn from other mediators, lawyers, paralegals, or legal administrators, along the way.

Sarah Daitch

Sarah DaitchA former member of Canada’s national cross-country ski team, Sarah developed an independent practice as a mediator, facilitator and public policy consultant. Her clients included territorial governments, and US conflict resolution organizations RESOLVE and the Consensus Building Institute. She facilitated multi-stakeholder collaborative processes in health, education and natural resources. Sarah’s mediation experience includes property, strata and small business.

Raised in Inuit, Dene and Métis communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Sarah currently works as the Program Manager for the ACCESS Facility in The Hague, Netherlands. In this role, Sarah supports collaboration through dialogue to address conflict between companies, communities and governments. With a BA in International Relations, and an MA in Dispute Resolution, Sarah is a certified civil dispute mediator with Mediate BC and volunteers with Mediators Beyond Borders’ Sierra Leone project. Sarah was a 2013-2014 Action Canada Fellow, in 2013 was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and was a member of the 2015 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be?

I had to spend the time developing clarity on what I wanted my practice to be about and who my ideal clients were. Then I relentlessly sought mentors and colleagues whose experience I could learn from to guide me in the right direction. This helped me to gain experience in multi stakeholder collaboration, particularly in the public policy arena. Persistence was key.

Mentors or Influences?

Kate Kopischke – I met Kate working on a project for US conflict resolution organization RESOLVE. Kate was instrumental in encouraging me to persist, be patient, focused and introducing me to other colleagues and organizations in my area of interest – addressing public policy and natural resource conflict. Kate is an accomplished, dedicated mediator who has a generous spirit and is committed to procedural fairness. She has helped countless community organizations and companies navigate complex natural resource conflicts all over the world.

Ben Ziegler was one of my mentors and co-mediators in the Mediate BC Small Claims Court Mediation Program. I learned many foundational mediation skills from Ben. I also learned about the importance of being creative and entrepreneurial from observing how Ben had developed a niche in online mediation. Following my acceptance to the Mediate BC roster, Ben encouraged me to pursue the mediation and facilitation work I was passionate about in international development. Ben introduced me to Gillian Saxby, Mediate BC member and Program Manager for Mediators Beyond Borders. As a volunteer with Mediators Beyond Borders, I am really proud of the work our team has done to train facilitators in Sierra Leone, supporting them in reintegrating their communities following the trauma caused by Ebola. I might never have become involved without Ben’s advice to connect with Gillian.

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution?

To pursue a first career in dispute resolution, it helps to be flexible and willing to do a variety of work to gain experience – tolerance for risk and uncertainty is required. For me, career and business development coaching was instrumental as I built my practice.  Learning to pitch your ideas and interests to colleagues and potential clients in a compelling way helps you to focus and find collaborators. Researching what areas of dispute resolution or mediation you are interested in and want to practice is important, as these can vary widely from family mediation, to human rights or ombudsman investigations, to multi party disputes in the international development arena. Learning everything you can about your desired area of practice positions you to find mentors to work with who are crucial. Dispute Resolution professionals are playing an important role in many human development challenges to work for procedural fairness and outcomes that are inclusive and legitimate – when we work to understand each other, we have the unique opportunity to build more peaceful and flourishing communities.

Robert Finlay

Robert FinlayRobert works alongside Bob Finlay as a Mediator at Finlay Counselling & Mediation Services. Since 2010, Robert has mediated legal disputes involving a variety of complex family, employment, and civil law issues including separation and divorce, parenting time and responsibilities, guardianship, child and spousal support, property division, employment discrimination, and defamation.

Earlier in his career, Robert worked as a Manager at Mediate BC where he co-developed the Family Mediation Program, an innovative program that provides improved provincial access to mediation services for families and mediation training for mediators.

Robert earned a Law Degree from Seattle University School of Law and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Simon Fraser University. Robert is a licensed attorney and is qualified to mediate under the Family Law Act.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be?

I learned early in my career that I prefer helping clients find collaborative and creative solutions to resolve their disputes. Prior to law school, I completed mediation courses at the Justice Institute of British Columbia which shaped my educational focus and career path. As a result, I completed dispute resolution classes at law school, became a member of my law school’s dispute resolution board, and gained valuable experience at my law school’s mediation clinic.

Mentors or Influences?   

Bob Finlay

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution?

In order to bridge the gap between mediation training and practice, it is important to find a variety of ways to obtain the experience and knowledge necessary to mediate complex legal disputes. For example, I have found that co-mediating with a senior mediator is a valuable way to practice mediation skills and to learn about all aspects of the mediation process and business.

Carrie Gallant

Carrie GallantAfter her call the Ontario Bar in 1991, Carrie began her career with the Ontario Pay Equity Commission where she mediated and adjudicated pay equity disputes and delivered staff training in mediation.  In 1999, Carrie was appointed Director of the University of Windsor Mediation Service.

Carrie moved to BC in 2001 and served as Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute.  In 2003, Carrie worked as co-program manager of the Small Claims Mediation Practicum, before moving to full-time private practice in negotiation consulting, training, mediation and coaching in 2004.

Over the past decade, Carrie has incorporated a wide range of conflict resolution roles into her practice, including Legal Advisor to North America’s first ever legislative theatre production, “Practicing Democracy”; teaching negotiation and mediation advocacy at UBC Faculty of Law; and instructing the Intensive Mediation program for the Notaries Society of BC. Carrie is a Negotiation Consultant for ENS International and provides negotiation and training for clients across North America.  Her special areas of interest include gender issues, emotional intelligence, improvisation and training design.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be?

I’d say it was one part my being in the right place at the right time and one part my seizing the opportunity.

Mentors or Influences?

The team at the Pay Equity Commission who hired me, and whom I worked with for four years as a mediator, including Murray Lapp and the mediators I trained with and later co-developed custom in-house mediation training programs. Leslie MacLeod, who was Legal Counsel then, a terrific first boss and encouraged my growth into DR.

Dr. Julie Macfarlane, who hired me to run the University of Windsor Mediation Service, and challenged my development as a teacher, mediator and leader.

Sharon Sutherland, who opened many doors to me after I arrived in BC – including my teaching at UBC Law as adjunct professor, the vast network of DR professionals; CLE DR conferences – and with whom I have had the great pleasure and most fun working on DR projects, conference presentations, training programs, CoRe Challenges and Speaker Series, and soon-to-be Advanced Mediation Retreats!

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution?

Look for and be open to opportunities to use your skill set. Don’t let yourself be restricted to your core field (i.e. if you are a lawyer, look beyond the legal field). Look to regulatory agencies.  Expand to other opportunities for conflict resolution (not just DR). Try your hand in the non-profit sector. Restorative justice programs are wonderful ways to really test your own capacity, as well as offer a valuable service to the community.

Kyra Hudson

Kyra HudsonKyra is a Mediator, Lawyer, Investigator, Facilitator and Trainer.  She works in private practice with a focus on workplace dispute resolution.  She also works as a BC Provincial Court Civil Mediator and is a member of Mediate BC’s Civil Roster.  Kyra has been involved in the resolution of 100s of civil disputes focusing specifically in the areas of workplace and employment, commercial, community, strata, and insurance matters.  Kyra graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Human Kinetics from the University of British Columbia.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be? 

The opportunities I had to be involved in the mediation community via the mediation clinic at UBC were key.  The other piece was structuring my legal practice (from the beginning) in a way that allowed me to create the space to focus on mediation work and the mediation community was essential. 

Mentors or Influences? 

Sharon Sutherland, Alan Schapiro, Kari Boyle.

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution?

Find a way to continue to do what pays you while making the space to do mediations and be around people who mediate.

Laura Matthews

Laura MatthewsFollowing graduation from UBC Law (2007) with a degree concentration in dispute resolution and First Nation’s Legal Studies, Laura began her career as a mediator on the Child Protection roster.  Her experience/interest in delivering mediation services to First Nations communities, in particular in the remote regions of BC, led her to expand her career in 2009 to include delivery of legal outreach throughout BC for the Legal Services Society of BC.  Laura delivered information to communities on the use of mediation/dispute resolution in Child Protection as well as <em>Gladue </em>rights awareness for First Nations criminal offenders.  Called to the Bar of BC in 2011, Laura has since developed a parents’ counsel Child Protection practice in the Peace River. Laura combines her legal and mediation practices with writing Gladue reports and training Gladue report writers in BC and Saskatchewan.  A recent highlight in Laura’s career was an invitation to the Legal Board of Nunavut’s annual conference to deliver information on mediation and Gladue rights to the lawyers in that territory.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be? 

Undoubtedly, the factor I would point to would be the hands-on training I received at UBC Law through the Small Claims Court practicum.  I was given the opportunity to have hands-on experience in mediation in a range of real circumstances, and as a result my career focus has been, and continues to be, informing, encouraging and providing alternate dispute resolution services to those in conflict.

Mentors or Influences?

I was inspired by my ADR instructors at UBC Law: Colleen Cattell, QC and Sharon Sutherland both assisted in the development of my career.  Joyce Bradley, QC was influential as a mentor in the Child Protection Practicum program sparking, my interest in delivering ADR to remote, underserviced areas.

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution?

Familiarize yourself with the bodies that govern alternative dispute resolution practice in BC.  Keep up with what is new in the field through the various websites of the organizations who offer ADR services.  Do what you can to get some hands-on experience.  Volunteer.  You will gain essential practical experience in real life situations with real people and their conflicts and be creating contacts in the field you are pursuing.

Emily Pos

Emily PosEmily has been a practicing mediator since 2006, having studied mediation at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, where she obtained certificates in Family Mediation and Third Party Intervention.  Between 2006 and 2008 Emily completed both the Small Claims Mediation Practicum and the Child Protection Mediation Practicum.  Prior to her mediation-focused education, Emily graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Speech Communication from the University of Waterloo.  Emily also holds an Associate of Arts in Biblical Studies from Briercrest College.  Emily was born and raised in Fort St. John, though she lived away from the region for almost a decade while attending school.  In 2007, she moved back to Fort St. John and lives there with her husband Michael their two young sons.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be? 

My practice has taken a while to build, in the early days I worked full time for a very flexible employer who supported me by letting me fit mediation files into my “day job,” once I had my children I began to work from home and was able to continue practicing mediation because of my husband’s support.

Mentors or Influences?

I’ve had the good fortune to live geographically close to Wayne Plenert who is boundlessly enthusiastic about mediation generally and has been a great encouragement to me specifically.  I also had the privilege to work with wonderful mediators during my two practicums, and Wendy Lakusta specifically was such an encouragement and example to me starting out, and continues to be.

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution?

Perseverance, it can take a long time to build a sustainable practice so don’t be discouraged if mediation is only one part of your working life for a while.  Also make sure you have a clear vision of why you want to be a mediator and what being “successful” will look like, because that might not be simply an economic achievement.  I am personally compelled that “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”(Matt 5:9) and I am successful when I am engaging with people to help them build peaceful resolutions and set the groundwork for healthier interactions.

Janko Predovic

Janko PredovicJanko attended Trinity College at the University of Toronto for his B.A. (Criminology, 2003), then University of Sydney Law School for his Master’s (Criminology, 2004) and Bachelor of Laws (2010) degrees. Janko has never considered himself a spectacular advocate, but describes himself as a quick and efficient problem solver. While articling he spent quite a bit of time in family court watching a system that just did not seem to make any sense for most of the people who were stuck in it, and this led him to undertake Mediation and Collaborative Law training before he was called to the Bar. Thinking that working in a firm would limit the opportunities to use his skillset, he founded his own practice and began mediating and practicing collaboratively right away.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be?

I had the courage to say to very experienced, senior litigation counsel: “Litigation and ADR involve very different skillsets. Excellence in one does not equate to excellence in the other, and in fact, the reverse is often true.”

Mentors or Influences?

Professor Patrick Parkinson (University of Sydney Law School), eminent Australian family lawyer and scholar, whose family law course involved a comprehensive moot settlement negotiation, and where I learned that family law is not a game. Also: Lisa Alexander (for teaching Mediation), Nancy Cameron, QC (for teaching Collaborative Law), and Carol Hickman, QC & Arlene Henry, QC (for teaching Med/Arb and Arbitration).

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution?

Starting out as a lawyer practicing only ADR is tough because of the established “litigation machine.” There are no TV dramas about mediations or settlement agreements; and no law firm I know of will pay $120K a year to a new lawyer who just wants to mediate. But it is possible to succeed, and I think the key lies in finding ways to sell ADR the same way any successful enterprise sells any product. Understand that every person is a potential buyer, and it is imperative to take charge of the conversation. Create your clientele don’t wait for it to walk in the door.

Adam Rollins

Adam RollinsAdam Rollins, M.Ed., RCC, CRC is a registered clinical counsellor who provides therapeutic support to clients for a broad range of issues from personal, to relational, to workplace concerns. He has a Certificate in Conflict Resolution with a focus on mediation from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and works as a consultant and mediator with both familial and organizational matters. He was born and raised in BC and attended the University of British Columbia for both his undergraduate and masters degrees. Adam’s particular areas of interest and experience are supporting and teaching change management, stress in the workplace, and managing conflict within ourselves and with others. Working with individuals, and both small and large groups, Adam enjoys applying the practical skills he’s honed to everyday difficulties and instructing others on how they can bring positive change to their own lives.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be?

My career is where it is today because of the support I nearly forcefully sought out in the early stages from teachers, colleagues, and friends who worked in the same field I did. I made time to shadow as many of their classes, projects, and jobs as I could in order to appreciate the application of the theory I was learning in the classroom in a paid, practical setting. Watching skilled professionals who would sit and discuss their method with me allowed me to adapt and create my own style and learn the facets of the working world of dispute resolution.

Mentors or Influences? 

  1. Roy Johnson
  2. Sue Wazny
  3. Sherri Calder

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution? 

Take risks and try any and all dispute resolution jobs that you get the chance to go for. If you wait forever to be a master at something before you have the confidence to even attempt it, then you’ll never grow. When you get an opportunity to take on a task that you’ve never tried before, go for it and use all the resources at your disposal to learn from it and hopefully succeed at it: even failure is an occasion for growth.

Sharon Sutherland

Sharon SutherlandAfter law school at UBC (1992), Sharon articled in Toronto with a focus on litigation.  Mandatory mediation in civil disputes was introduced just as Sharon was called to the Bar, and her firm was incredibly supportive of her taking a lead in exploring the new practice.  Sharon entered the part time LL.M. in ADR at Osgoode, trained as a mediator with St. Stephen’s Community House, and undertook a practicum developing and delivering mediation training to law students and delivering day-of-trial mediations in Toronto Small Claims Court.

When Sharon moved back to Vancouver in 1997, she took on the role of co-Program Manager of the new Court Mediation Program.  Sharon has stayed involved in Mediate BC initiatives since that time, including working as Manager of Development and Trainer for the Child Mediation Practicum Program, mentoring, and participating in training initiatives.  In 2000, Sharon took on the role of Co-Director of the UBC Program on Dispute Resolution.  She taught mediation and other dispute resolution courses at UBC Law School for 14 years.

Sharon has also maintained an active mediation and mentoring practice.  Sharon is a founding member of CoRe Conflict Resolution Society and co-manages the CoRe Speaker Series.  Since 2014, Sharon has also worked as a Knowledge Engineer on the Civil Resolution Tribunal.

If you had to point to one factor that made a difference in the early development of your career, what would it be? 

I had tremendous support from the senior partners at my law firm when, as an articling student, I indicated that I wanted to develop expertise in mediation and mediation advocacy.  Rather than suggest that I needed grey hair to become involved in mediation, my principal made a point of both including me in mediations he attended, and in telling clients that he wanted my advice on process and strategy choices because I was immersed in the study of mediation and so had special expertise additional to that of the experienced litigators.  This acknowledgement that I was developing a distinct skill set that would benefit the firm generally and clients individually was a tremendous factor in giving me the confidence to approach the Small Claims Court to propose a pilot mediation program.<strong><em> </em></strong>

Mentors or Influences?

Jerry Birenbaum was my articling principal at (then) Birenbaum Koffman Steinberg.  Jerry’s recognition that mediation was not simply the practice of law, and required the development of different skills, was nearly unique at the time.  It led me to throw myself into developing that skillset from the very beginning of my practice.

Lee Turnbull was my co-Project Manager in the early days of the Court Mediation Practicum.  Her vast experience in the BC dispute resolution community was a wonderful resource that she generously shared. The ability to work through challenges in the program’s development, and to brainstorm new ideas, provided an incredibly rich learning experience for me.

Professor Emeritus John Hogarth, then Director of UBC’s Program on Dispute Resolution, hired me to work with him on a Community-University Research Project and gave me immense freedom to explore a wide range of dispute resolution research topics, to develop dispute resolution courses at UBC Law, and to be as intellectually curious as I liked (!) in the examination of all topics related to dispute resolution.

Advice to others seeking a first career in dispute resolution?


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