What Difference Does a Robe Make? Comparing Mediators with and without Prior Judicial Experience


Stephen B. Goldberg is a professor of law at Northwestern University and has been a mediator for more than twenty-five years. His e-mail address is stephengoldberg@law.northwestern.edu.

Margaret L. Shaw is a mediator with JAMS. She has more than twenty-five years of ADR experience and as a teacher. Her e-mail address is mshaw@jamsadr.com.

Jeanne M. Brett is the DeWitt W. Buchanan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Her e-mail address is jmbrett@kellogg.northwestern.edu.


This article reports the results of two studies. The first study, based on the responses of attorneys to questions about the reasons for the success of mediators with and without prior judicial experience, shows that the capacity of the mediator to gain the confidence of the disputants was most important for mediators with and without prior judicial experience. Although certain process skills were viewed as important to the success of both former judges and nonjudges, in general, process skills were significantly more important for nonjudges than for former judges. The capacity to provide useful case evaluations, on the other hand, was significantly more important for former judges than for nonjudges. The second study, based upon attorney responses to questions about unsatisfactory mediators, reinforced the conclusions of the first study regarding the importance of confidence-building attributes. For both judges and nonjudges, the mediator's inability to gain the confidence of the parties was a major reason for his or her lack of success.