Joanne Law is nationally accredited Mediation and Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner from Australia. With a varied background including working as a General Manager of a training company, Joanne’s focus was on process improvement within industry, mainly in manufacturing. However, it was only when she met her now-husband, a Family Lawyer, that she was exposed to the realities of the family legal system and thought “there’s got to be a better way.” This led Joanne to undertake training in mediation and, so convinced of the benefits of mediation, she once again she found herself questioning if there was a better way to deliver the training, in a way that was ultimately more accessible to a greater number of people.
Joanne now wears a “number of hats,” but foremost she is the Director of the Mediation Institute, a flexible training organisation for mediators, family dispute resolution practitioners (Australian family law mediators), and family group conference facilitators (who support family-led decision-making). Initially, Joanne set up the Mediation Institute in 2013 to serve those people who, for reasons of location or time or other constraints, cannot access the standard training. Joanne explains that “what we found is that a lot of people don’t want to have to take six days out of their life to do a group workshop,” instead advocating for “accessible training over a longer time.”
One of Joanne’s big passions is using technology to improve access to mediation training and services. For Joanne, this model of “not doing things in the traditional way” has been of great benefit to people who are caring for children or elderly relatives, or who can’t afford either to travel or to sacrifice a six-day block of time to complete their training. Joanne explains that the Mediation Institute’s training model is flexible, in that “people start as soon as they’re ready, and they move at their own pace.” Her organisation also provides ongoing membership support, with a helpline to ensure that new mediators are supported as they develop and build confidence in their budding careers. This model has ultimately proven to be greatly successful. So successful, in fact, that the Mediation Institute was a state finalist in the Accelerating Women category at the Telstra Best of Business Awards 2023.
A lifelong mission
Most of Joanne’s mediation work centres around family law mediation and family dispute resolution – work she does co-mediating with an intern. She sees herself as being on a lifelong mission to end violence and abuse, which she recognises to be no small feat. What Joanne sees as fundamental to this process, however, is getting people into mediation and dispute resolution processes. She also supports programmes which educate people around interpersonal skills and how to get their needs met collaboratively rather than by hurting others. She explains how “a lot of people just blunder into conflict and don’t know how to get out.”
While Joanne recognises that her “own personal work as a mediator is not going to change the world,” what she sees as the key to making a lasting difference is training and supporting mediators into the field. One of the courses Joanne delivers is a postgraduate level qualification in family dispute resolution, with a 50-hour work placement. She explains how it’s not always easy to find placements for students, which led her to set up a not-for-profit, Interact Support, which provides online mediation services which allows her students to gain valuable practical experience, regardless of their personal circumstances or location. She also encourages all experienced mediators to take on interns as co-mediators as a practice of generosity to new practitioners and also as a way to continue to develop in their own professional practice.
Joanne also sits on the board for the Australian National Mediation Conference, a biannual conference run for mediators and peacemakers, which this year is being hosted in Aotearoa New Zealand for the first time. Joanne sees this as an exciting development, highlighting the valuable work being done in New Zealand to develop restorative practice and family group conferencing. In addition, she sits on the Mediator Standards Board, which administers the national accreditation system for mediators in Australia, which is currently undergoing review to update the practice standards. Joanne is also in the process of rolling out the Dispute Resolution Agency in collaboration with Will Chalmers, CEO of the Mediator Network in the UK. She hopes this will be like a “mediation megastore” of dispute resolution professionals right across the sector.
Towards early, community-based intervention
Joanne is also currently working on a new programme for community mediation. The approach is to become embedded within existing community organisations in order to provide dispute resolution related services, supporting diverse communities to tackle violence at the root cause. She explains how she initially thought “I’m sure I’m not the first person in the world to have this idea.” After discovering MBBI, Joanne joined in the hope of finding likeminded individuals, who might be able to share their knowledge and experiences of engaging local communities at the grassroots level. She sees the value of community mediation “as being like the ‘soft-and-safe’ legal system, that also can help people to get good advice and understand the importance of engaging the local services when it’s necessary.” Her hope is that, with community organisations as partners, she and her teams of mediators can help people to practice early intervention before it escalates into violence or potentially harmful situations.
Joanne’s advice to aspiring mediators? “Just listen, listen, listen.” She explains that “often when we’re listening, we don’t actually hear what people are saying because we flip the meaning into our own world view.” For Joanne, as mediators we need to really listen closely to what people say, and then ask questions about “the real stuff.” It’s also about establishing unconscious rapport, “when you connect at that deeper level with people that gives them the sense of trust that can help them to see things a little bit differently and get unstuck.” She also stresses the importance of maintaining a growth mindset, always looking at how things can be built upon and made better. She stresses though, that this isn’t about “expecting or needing perfection,” something which “can be really paralysing.”
“When conflict builds to a certain level it becomes its own problem quite apart from the issues in dispute that it grew from. For those in conflict it’s really hard to resolve the conflict from inside it. Having the professional third party perspective and assistance of a mediator can really help people to step back and see the bigger picture again.”
Article by Natalie Dewar, MBBI Writer