Updated December 2022
If you're considering a career in alternative dispute resolution (ADR), you're probably familiar with practices like mediation and arbitration, which people use to resolve disputes out of court.
Given the time, expense, and sheer stress of litigation, it's no surprise that the field of ADR is growing rapidly. But if you're looking to capitalize on this momentum and start a career in arbitration, where do you begin?
How do you select a reputable program, and what are your career options as an arbitrator?
These are just some of the questions we get from prospective students who are considering arbitration training. And who better to answer them than David Merrigan? He's a highly experienced arbitrator who also developed our arbitration certificate.
So let's get started. Here are David's answers to your most frequently asked questions, along with some valuable advice to start your career.
Q: David, what kinds of disputes do arbitrators typically deal with?
A: Arbitrators can deal with a wide variety of disputes. For instance, arbitration is widely used in labour relations, business and consumer disputes, sports, construction, international trade deals, and torts.
Theoretically, any dispute can be resolved through arbitration, upon consent of the parties involved in the dispute. Arbitrators often specialize in an area in which they have academic credentials or work experience.
Q: What career opportunities are out there for arbitrators?
A: Arbitrators can be employed by federal or provincial governments—for example, as members of adjudicative boards. In recent years, sports has become a growing area in which arbitration is used to settle disputes out of court.
Grievance arbitration between unions and employers is another robust area of practice for arbitrators. You can also specialize in copyright or intellectual property.
In Canada, there are opportunities for arbitrators to practice in “document only” arbitrations regarding disputes over the ownership of Internet domain names.
And then you have business and consumer disputes, which are often subject to a mandatory arbitration clause in purchase agreements. Many credit card companies and other businesses hire arbitrators to rule on disputes with their customers.
The career opportunities really are quite varied, depending on your interests, expertise, and career goals
Q: How might a newly trained arbitrator break into the field and find their first job?
A: The first step is to take an inventory of your own interests, aptitudes, and education. Although many arbitrators have a legal background, there is room in this profession for those who do not, if they can bring value in other areas.
For instance, engineers and other specialists within trades can often find a niche in arbitrating disputes that deal with that type of complex subject matter. The same would apply to labour arbitration or sports arbitration.
Your first priority is to earn an arbitration designation from the ADR Institute—such as the Qualified Arbitrator designation. This tells potential clients you have an intermediate knowledge of arbitration and related law.
A newly trained arbitrator might also consider applying to “governor in council” appointment opportunities for the federal or provincial government. This can be really helpful to get your foot in the door before setting up a private practice.
These opportunities are regularly posted on government websites. It's a great way for new arbitrators to gain experience on an adjudicative board, where they can oversee a hearing, evaluate evidence, and write a decision or award.
Q: Many arbitrators are also lawyers: do you need a background in law to be successful as an arbitrator?
A: The reality is that the majority of arbitrators have a legal background. But that doesn't mean there isn't room in the field for those who do not. I always encourage students in the arbitration program to think about a specific niche or area where they can bring value.
For example, several of the top labour arbitrators in Canada are not lawyers—but have extensive experience in the labour relations field.
They may have been employment or union representatives during their professional careers, and have transferred those skills into successful careers as labour arbitrators.
Another good example is an organization in Canada called CAMVAP, which hires arbitrators to resolve disputes between consumers of automobiles and the dealerships who sell them.
These arbitrators don't have to be lawyers. They use their general or advanced knowledge of automobiles to effectively settle disputes.
Q: What unique qualities do arbitrators need to be successful?
A: Arbitrators need to be curious about people and the nature of their disputes. They need to have an aptitude for filtering out extraneous information and uncovering the true issues at the heart of the conflict.
Other key characteristics include communication, persuasiveness, diplomacy, and the ability to use both tact and assertiveness when appropriate.
This profession demands above-average writing skills, as the "rewards" (decisions) will constitute legally binding documents. And of course, arbitrators should be able to understand pertinent legislation and case law to both make and defend a written decision.
Q: Is there strong demand for arbitrators? How do you see this field evolving in the future?
A: I believe that there are, and will continue to be, opportunities for arbitrators who are not lawyers to find areas of practice to which they can bring value.
Particularly with the progress of technology, online arbitration or "documents only" arbitration appears to be growing. It is now possible to arbitrate a dispute without the parties (or the arbitrator) leaving their homes or offices.
Personally, I believe the labour field needs more non-lawyer arbitrators. And there seems to be a trend towards this. People who have worked as a union or an employee representative, manager, or workplace investigator do tend to make good labour arbitrators.
Also, as the world becomes more complex technologically, with various apps and social media sites harnessing personal information for profit, I believe we'll see a growing need for tech-savvy people who can arbitrate disputes between companies and end-users.
Overall, I think that if you are good at getting to the matter at hand, can communicate well both verbally and in writing, and have an intellectual curiosity about a particular area of practice, you'll find opportunities as an arbitrator.
A big thank you to David Merrigan for answering our FAQs on training, career paths, and areas of practice in the field of arbitration.
Learn more about arbitration training
Kompass offers an online Arbitration Certificate that is accredited by the ADR Institute of Canada (ADRIC).
Graduates of this certificate meet educational requirements to pursue the Qualified Arbitrator (Q. Arb) designation with ADRIC.
Click below for full details and to chat live with an advisor.