Hello, here is a quick answer to your questions...
1. What would the general process be when you use their services to
resolve a dispute?
While definitions of mediation vary, in general mediation is a process
whereby an outside, neutral party helps facilitate constructive
conversations and negotiations between parties in conflict. Often the
mediator has gone through specialized training in the mediation
process and role.
2. How do they differ from using a Lawyer or Small Claims court?
You can use lawyer or advocate in both the court setting *and* in
mediation. Mediation vs. attorney isn't an either/or proposition.
Small claims court is an example of arbitration. Parties go to an
individual--in this case, a judge--who hears arguments and passes a
binding decision. In contrast, a mediator has no formal authority to
impose any decision or judgments on parties in a conflict. A mediator
will simply work with parties to see if they can reach a mutual
agreement on an agreement that will resolve the dispute.
At least in the US, many small claims courts have instituted mediation
programs where litigants are asked to first try mediation before they
resort to having their dispute resolved by a judge.
3. How much do they charge for their services?
It entirely depends on the mediator and the sorts of disputes being
resolved. Often it's an hourly rate that's similar to what an
attorney would charge. While this can vary with every case, it's not
uncommon for the cost of mediation to be split evenly among parties in
a conflict. You won't find mediators charging on the basis of
settlement or not, because that would constitute a conflict of
interests and (by most ethical guidelines for mediators) an ethics
For small-claims type matters, there might be a community mediation
center in your area that offers free or extremely low-cost mediation
If you search through the literature on mediation, you'll find that
individuals often report higher degrees of satisfaction with their
experience in mediation than they do with their experiences going to
court or having their case arbitrated. Moreover, the agreements
mutually reached between parties (often written out as contracts) have
a higher rate of compliance than many judge-imposed verdicts.