Updated: May 23
Lisanne Iriks always knew she was meant to do big things. Since landing in Australia from The Netherlands 14 years ago, and unable to find a job, she has worked her way to becoming a highly successful, award-winning family mediator and Director of her own practice, Life Mediation, being awarded Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner of the Year at the Australian ADR Awards 2020.
She also innately understands the importance of being business-savvy when running her own practice, and is committed to passing on this knowledge to other mediators and FDRPs through her specialised training program The Mediation Practice Program.
We recently spoke with Lisanne about what drives her career in mediation, how she overcomes challenges in her practice, and how she believes FamilyProperty can help mediators accelerate their business.
Tell us a little bit about your “why”? our career in mediation. What is your “why”? What is the most rewarding aspect of being a mediator?
I started in law in The Netherlands doing internships at different law firms though I knew from the outset it was not for me. While I enjoyed the contact with people, I didn’t enjoy contracts, but I definitely got a real sense that good communication can resolve anything. . When I came to Australia, I couldn’t find a job, even with a Masters in Law. So I took a job as a Personal Assistant and then I just started knocking on doors because I really wanted to get back into the field I had been working in. In the meantime, I did my mediation accreditation because I had studied counselling and law, and that helped me figure out that I loved working with people, talking with people, finding out more about who they are, and making a difference. I also started working in the Department of Correctional Services doing victim-offender mediation which was a really great experience. And then I had children, and that’s when things really changed for me personally. Being able to make a difference to families and children is really a big part of my ‘why’. I see so many people struggle with conflict, and being able to help people connect with the actual impact of their conflict as so many become numb to it over time. Helping them to see what life could be like with so much more freedom, happiness, money, and time is so satisfying. And working so closely with my clients, people come to really trust you over time, and I see it as a real privilege to be able to guide people through an often really traumatic time in their lives.
What would you say is the most challenging or testing aspect?
The most challenging part about what I do is when I get the sense people don’t want to work with me. And that’s something I find that I don’t enjoy about the job. I want to be able to move forward and not ‘play games’ - let’s just work together to get things sorted out. There are of course people who just do it (mediation) to tick a box, and my job is definitely to try and engage these clients but you also can’t make people coachable. And this is where it becomes more of a problem-solving exercise which can be very useful, but of course I don’t find it as satisfying as when people want to work with me, or take my coaching as that’s where the situation can really transform. Other clients can be reluctantly engaged for other reasons - their lawyer told them to for example. And that’s when it can be a struggle. I do think it is part of my skill set as a mediator to engage people, and I have a real opportunity to do so.
What has been your most memorable mediation to date? Can you give us a snapshot into your experience?
I have two memorable mediations that stand out - one is funny, and the other is emotional. In the first mediation I found myself in a room with a child consultant, the clients, and their lawyers - it was a big table of people. And it was a great mediation, however what was really funny and something I’ll never forget, is that at one point I found myself also mediating between the two translators in the room. They both spoke the same language, and one of the translators told me the other translator was saying different things than what the client was saying. And obviously, I couldn’t understand a word, so it was a very unusual situation to find myself in mediating between two translators, the number of people in the room, and the complexities that came with that.
The other mediation impacted me emotionally. It was a mediation regarding time spent with the (client’s) children, and one of their children was terminally ill and only had a few months to live. That was a very different kind of conversation, but also quite a beautiful and heartbreaking session. I felt so privileged to be allowed to assist my clients in this process. I definitely needed some supervision myself afterwards to go “Oh, wow” and process my thoughts - I will never forget that session.
What do you think the most common challenge is for family law clients at the moment? What is the underlying theme?
Availability of professionals is a really big problem at the moment. Mental health professionals in particular are needed for family therapy. People want these types of services. I don’t know if it’s the same on the East Coast, but the waiting lists here (on the West Coast) are long, as well as whether they are public or private services, the costs, and the wait times for clients in general. When my clients want to get help, or their agreement hinges on this help, or they want to get therapy together as a family, if they have to wait three or four months before they can start, it makes it very challenging for people to move forward. Also, court timelines are much higher - in property, for example, it is three years at the moment. I think COVID may have had something to do with that as well.
Speaking of COVID, did COVID-19 present any challenges to your practice? And if so, how did you overcome them?
Like everyone else I didn’t really know what to expect in the beginning. If I’m really honest, my practice thrived under COVID - it was really about making necessary changes. One of the things I did is start my podcast, Conversations to Cut the Conflict, because I felt that people really needed some extra free resources. One of the other challenges was definitely that clients had a more heightened sense of stress than they normally would have so being gentle with people was important.
Also adapting my policies and procedures, because while using Zoom was one thing (I used Zoom already), using Zoom with children at home was just a whole different way of doing the sessions. So we adjusted to what was needed. If there were children at home, we made sure clients didn’t have their children in the room, that they had breaks if the children needed to eat, and other simple things like making sure people didn’t have a photo of themselves with their new partner in the background with their ex-partner on the call. I made sure we adjusted our emails and communications with instructions for clients and talked about these things with them. Part of managing this was figuring out what their circumstances were, to make sure everyone was ok during sessions, and just being really mindful about the vulnerable state of mind some people might have been in and anxiety, making contingency plans to support them. One of the challenges I still experience is being able to just sit with someone who is anxious or upset and taking a moment to be with them - over Zoom it is more difficult in making sure that people don’t just disappear off-screen, or log-off. There is a lot of management around that, but I think it worked well in the end.
So what do you think everyone involved in mediation can do better?
One thing that I think is good to be mindful of is to always go back to the ‘why’ of the work you do, especially knowing that the people you work with are real people with real problems. You can have a mediator in the room, and lawyers, and all the advice in the world, but these people need to really be doing this themselves, because we, the professionals, are going to step away at some point. I’m a really big advocate for having the clients work things out themselves, with my support of course. It is important to be mindful when you work with people that you do this every day and will hear many stories. As a professional it can be very easy to get saturated with the work you do and there can be a risk of treating the client's situation as ‘another job to do’ .UUnderstand within yourself that you can get really busy and under the grind, but that it is important for example to the time to have a quick conversation with your client to ensure they are ok and settle their concerns. These small gestures can really help them. Because the (family law) system is not easy to understand, there is a lot going on for your clients. It’s second nature for us because we do it every day, but it helps to remind ourselves why we do what we do so we can better help our clients.
We can imagine that you also need your own downtime as a mediator.
One of the ways I get downtime is I teach a lot. And I do workshops - I train mediators, I mentor. I am not always mediating. So that’s one way I keep myself really fresh. I’m really mindful that if I mediate five days a week, it can get quite ‘heavy’. I don’t think people burn out necessarily, it’s just that mediators deal with a lot of hard stories, we really take a lot on. One of the things we could possibly do better as mediators is look after ourselves so we are able to hold space for others to resolve their conflict.
You've just come on board with FamilyProperty in your practice? How do you think that FamilyProperty can help mediators accelerate their business?
Because I have people working for me, and plan to expand I think it will provide consistency to my business. Every mediator has different strengths and weaknesses, but you also need to be mindful that not every mediator will be legally trained. This might mean not having drafting skills for example, which is completely fine, but FamilyProperty can help make these things a bit easier - you put in all the details you need and you automatically generate a draft. You can still edit it, you don’t have to start from scratch, and you have the added consistency throughout the business. I also really like the idea of having a questionnaire for clients to fill in prior. So in the actual mediation session, there is a lot more time. There is a lot of pressure on the process, but now you have made time for coaching and connecting with your client, and not just questions that could be collected with the intake questionnaire - this is very useful. Having a platform where everything is in the same spot, and everyone has access to it as much as possible. As a mediator, you also save time as the drafting will be a lot quicker than when you have to type up agreements from scratch.
What other technology do you use in your business?
We use Calendly for appointments; Buzzsprout for my podcast; Xero for accounting, and Monday.com to keep track of all the things I do, my projects, my programs, and tracking what my clients' needs are. We also use Zoom obviously, and Kartra which is where all my courses are embedded, and our marketing - our newsletters and lead tracking is done in Kartra too.
Are you able to tell us a little bit about your course, and how it helps anybody who is either an FDRP or mediator who is looking to start their own business?
The reason I developed my course, Mediation Practice Program, is to help mediators start their own successful business or help existing business owners improve their current mediation practice. I teach a vocational family dispute resolution course australia wide, and have realised over time there are limitations to these types of courses (as great as they are!). As a practitioner myself I could see a big gap between the mediation skills you need as a mediator to work in private practice plus being a business owner is a completely different skill set from being a mediator as well. Most people do not know where to start or what to do. The way my course is structured is as a six month program. In the first three months, I do a lot of teaching, but it’s not just about how to run your own business - I also cover topics like property settlement, how to run lawyer assisted mediations, how to do CRP, and how to work with difficult clients for example. There is also a lot of advanced mediation training, so you can work at getting better at being a mediator. As a qualified NLP and timeline therapy coach I do a lot of coaching throughout the program around mindset and confidence, how to believe in yourself and how to rise above all the things that get in the way of you taking action and doing the things you love.
The course also includes everything you need to set up a business, how you can set up a practice that not only works for your clients but also for you, how to market your business, and how to bring in new clients. I give you weekly video and workbook resources, plus a live session with me every week. After the first three months, we go into the implementation period of the program where we put into practice everything that you have learned so far while you are being supported by me and the group of mediators that is in the program. Being a mediator, a lot of people are a one-man band so it can be really lonely. To have a meeting every Monday morning where we have a focus for the week, and a group of people holding you to account and support you really helps. It’s the type of course I wish I had when I started 14 years ago.
What are you most looking forward to in the next year, personally and professionally?
Personally, this year has been all about travel, as I haven’t done that so much in the past few years for obvious reasons. I’m spending lots of time with my family because my children are growing up fast, so I’m excited to spend time with them. Professionally, there is a lot I am doing at the moment that I can’t talk about yet! There are some exciting projects in the making, plus I’m growing my business. I have one mediator, Karen, with me currently but would like to bring on more mediators. I get a lot of satisfaction from mentoring and training mediators - the more mediators we have out there the better! And how to do it better than in my own mediation practice. I feel I can make a big difference training others, so expanding my mediation practice program and the mediators I work with in my business, and for them to learn and grow is an area of focus this year.
Lisanne Iriks is an accredited family mediator, conflict resolution specialist, and Director of Life Mediation. Learn more about The Mediation Practice Program - applications are now open for the next program start date on 9th June 2023. Contact Lisanne for more information.
Connect with Lisanne on LinkedIn.