RSM - Don't overthink it. I said, "Don't ask, just do." This is exactly what I meant. You do not need permission to do this. The reason you don't know where to ask is because there is no one to ask. You just start.
I would suggest the best time to tell you firm about you mediation "practice" is when you get paid for the first time. I would offer to give the firm the money earned from your new specialty. You know the old saying: show me the money. Are they really going to look at you and say: "stop bringing in unexpected legal fees." Don't overthink it. Move one step at a time. First credentials. Second, shadowing or introductions to mediators. Second prospecting. Third???? You might notice, there are lots of steps before you get your first client and you need tell your firm anything.
Also, don't go thinking you will be the first person to bring money to the firm. Other people do bring in actual cash (rather than just collect a check). They are usually called partners/rainmakers.
You'll be a respected mediator immediately, btw. The question is who will respect you. Big law attorneys on this board, are not going to hire you for your first case because they don't respect you. But there are people who are not lawyers (surprise) and don't know anything except that you ARE a lawyer. They will respect you when you mediate their small claims issue, divorce or whatever starter case you get. Fake it until you make it. You will become respected by people with bigger and better cases over time once you gain experience. You've heard it before: Rome wasn't built in a day.
I also agree it is a good idea to work with other mediators. Watch trials to witness outcomes for cases that you might want to mediate in the future. Just become very familiar with whatever area you aspire to be involved in.
This is an awesome post. Thank you for your encouragement.
RSM - Another way to prepare for your mediation practice is to do it on a volunteer basis. I mediated small cases for my local Better Business Bureau during law school. The service was free, so the consumers and businesses did not mind that I was not an attorney yet. My BBB does not require any particular experience to be a mediator. Now, I can truthfully say that I've successfully mediated dozens of cases. I also completed arbitrator training, and I plan to start acting as an arbitrator soon.
I would not formally ask permission. Rather, I would go through the normal conflict checking process for my firm. (If you act as a third party neutral, you would likely be conflicted out of representing either party in the future without a waiver. You also need to make sure no one is a current client of your firm, or someone your firm is targeting). If someone has a problem with it, they can tell you then.
You should also research requirements for mediator rosters in industries you are familiar with.
This is a great idea as well. I actually work in the same building as the BBB and can't see why it would hurt to go down there and ask if they need any volunteers to conduct mediations.
Based on the advice in this thread, I scheduled a lunch with one of my corporate clients today. He also happens to be a very good family friend who was my little league baseball coach--we go back a long ways.
Anyway, I wanted to get a non-lawyer's perspective on the matter. And he said he would definitely follow me wherever I go, and that the mediation idea was a good one; however, he noted that it might be a little too soon to go out on my own. He said a lot of the things you guys have said when I initially found that internal corporate memo--start putting together a business plan, start getting a client base together, etc.
This meeting confirmed a lot of what you guys said, and the fact that it came from someone who I have known for more than half my life was reassuring.
My overall plan is this:
(1) Continue to do as good a job as possible here. This is a small town and even if I intend on going out on my own, I don't want to burn any bridges. My firm is well respected and I can't let any future hypotheticals get me distracted from doing a good job here.
(2) Start getting more aggressive with recruiting and developing relationships with clients.
(3) Attend mediation CLEs (which my current firm would pay for).
(4) Volunteer to be a mediator at the BBB. Also perhaps volunteer at small claims courts and give my information to the local bar association.
(5) Work towards my future on the weekends. Create a business plan for both solo firm and mediation firm.
Thanks again for all the feedback.