Most ADR professionals across the USA fall into one of 3 market categories…
Many in-demand neutrals around the US have not yet “made the leap” to fulltime ADR practice, and continuing to provide a mixture of litigation and mediation services, staying with the firm at which they still practice law.
In the case of retired partners and former jurists, often these neutrals become ‘Of Counsel’ to the firm, emphasizing to outside firms a degree of independence. Neutrals in this category often retain the secretaries and support staff that they have long worked with, and continue to pay sizable overheads to their firm.
It should be noted that a major disadvantage for mediators and arbitrators remaining with a law firm is rejection by counsel due to case conflicts. Also, due to high firm overheads, these neutrals’ hourly rates are sometimes less market competitive than those offered by independent, full-time ADR professionals.
Attorneys and retired judges often opt to join one of many well-respected ADR panel firms to offer their neutral services. Many of these panel firms have excellent reputations, built over many years of service to the local litigation community, offering counsel a curated roster of mediators and arbitrators for a wide variety of cases. ADR panel firms often have multiple regional office locations and a team of scheduling and accounting staff to take care of all case administration.
And, because ADR firms are entirely focused on providing neutral services, case conflicts are never an issue. Most ADR panels also employ full-time IT and marketing professionals, to help ensure that the firm’s brand is always front and center, pulling in clients to keep newer panelists busy.
Given these considerable overheads, firms often pay a slight premium when hiring senior panelists and the neutrals themselves pay a significant percentage of billings back to the panel.
The most popular choice for mediators and arbitrators in many states is to set up their own full-time ADR practice, often after establishing a reputation providing these services part-time to local firms over a number of years.
Although there are obvious benefits to “being your own boss” - not least, keeping all the profits - neutrals often find the idea of leaving the security of a larger firm or ADR panel quite daunting. The thought of hiring staff, organizing healthcare and/or finding an office, plus creating a website, marketing and networking with potential clients - all this sounds like a VERY steep a hill to climb for many, especially if nearer to retirement years than not!
Regardless of age, according to research, only 53% of attorneys are "confident in their business development skills", while many solo practitioners report having underestimated the amount of time they would spending completing administrative work.
Clearly, a way for you to keep more of your earnings is by setting up your own ADR practice.
But that means making some tough choices plus honestly analysing your core skill set…
Obviously one way to maximize profits is to slash overheads - which means going it alone: no support staff, managing everything yourself. But this means that you’ll spend a disproportionate amount of time on administrative tasks, including: scheduling/re-scheduling, court filings, client notices, generating invoices, chasing payments, bookkeeping, bank runs, etc.. All of that, instead of maximizing revenue (billable hours) and focusing on the expansion of your client base.
First, you have to find good staff (easier said that done!). Once competent secretarial or finance staff are added to the business along with healthcare costs, most neutrals are looking at between 25-30% of their annual revenue on staffing. If additional expenses are added such as leasing/renting office space, this can easily approach 40% of your practice revenue.
With or without administration staff, there’s the small matter of ensuring that your practice grows. According to the Clio Legal Trends Report (2019), just 53% of attorneys are confident in their business development skills, and many underestimate the amount of time spent on such tasks. Marketing; networking; seeking client feedback; customer retention ‘best practices’; improving your skills as a neutral with advanced training. All of these factors - and more! - play a role in guaranteeing that a solo ADR practice builds over the years.
ADR Support is built “by mediators for mediators”. Overseen by experienced veterans of the ADR sector, our team has handled over 20,000 mediations over the last decade. We know the industry intimately and have recruited experienced case managers, bookkeepers, IT & marketing staff to act as the ultimate “back office” team for solo and small firm ADR practitioners across the U.S.
As the pandemic has proved, it’s not only possible to mediate or arbitrate disputes from home, via Zoom. In some ways, it’s preferable, at least for your attorney clients. If you’re considering leaving your law firm to start a full-time ADR practice, or if you’re now reviewing your existing overheads as a busy solo mediator, we can offer major efficiencies to your business.
As great as our team is, we’re going to keep it a secret between us. Each time a client deals with your case manager or bookkeeper, our staff will identify themselves as working for YOUR practice. As far as the client is concerned, you’ve added these great staff to your own office, complete with local phone numbers and company emails. And, if we’re taking care of your billings, your clients will still make out checks to your company.
Are you moving away from a traditional office-based practice to exclusively mediating from home, via Zoom? Or will you offer a combination of video meetings and in-person mediations, using temporary office space rentable by the day? We’ll tailor our services to your needs. Our Operations Team will learn how your business currently works and tailor our workflow to serve you and your clients, making the transition quick and easy.