The role of an arbitrator is growing continually as more people look for an alternative to traditional litigation - there are genuine, and often global, opportunities for work in this exciting area of law

Arbitrators work in alternative dispute resolution (or ADR). Arbitration is one of the ways legal disputes are resolved outside the courts and across international boundaries. It's used by many individuals and businesses, on a voluntary basis, meaning both sides must agree to follow any final decision.

An arbitrator plays the role of a neutral person, who makes decisions on a dispute based on evidence presented by the parties. The decision the arbitratormakes is not always legally binding, but if it is, individuals and/or businesses are not able to go to court later if they do not agree with the outcome.

With the lengthy process, expense and publicity often associated with traditional litigation, parties, particularly in the commercial sector, are increasingly using an arbitrator in order to settle their disputes. In addition, parties can choose their arbitrator and so you may be chosen for a particular skill or expertise.

Types of arbitration

Arbitrators are usually used to resolve:

  • family matters, such as child maintenance, property or finance
  • employment disagreement, such as unfair dismissal or claims under flexible working legislation
  • financial or contractual commercial disputes
  • international or cross-border commercial disputes
  • sports disputes, such as appeals against disciplinary sanctions or player eligibility
  • life science matters, in research and development agreements
  • maritime or shipping disputes.

Responsibilities

As an arbitrator, you'll manage cases from referral through to resolution. Your tasks will depend on the type of dispute, but will typically involve:

  • writing a notice of arbitration clarifying what is expected of the parties and specifying all matters of the dispute
  • gathering the evidence from the claimant and the respondent
  • organising and conducting arbitration meetings or hearings where both sides present their evidence
  • summarising each side's position in a written document
  • interpreting and applying the relevant laws
  • making a decision resolving the dispute based on the evidence and arguments submitted by both sides
  • carrying out any appropriate follow-up communications.

For self-employment, you'll also need to:

  • network, develop contacts and build your reputation
  • maintain your professional profile online
  • respond to correspondence from potential clients
  • manage your finances e.g. fees, invoices and tax.

Salary

  • Full-time salaries for accredited arbitrators, with less than five years' experience, are on average £28,000. With time, this can rise to an average of £65,000.
  • Salaries will vary depending on if you are self-employed, working in a commercial law firm or a public body.
  • If you become a self-employed arbitrator, you can choose your caseload and set an appropriate fee. For example, law graduates who also gain arbitration accreditation can charge between £350 and £500 per day for their services and expertise.
  • Some charitable arbitration services may employ you on a part-time or flexible employment contract to help manage their costs.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours will depend on the type of arbitration and whether you're self-employed or work for an organisation or a law firm.

Office-based arbitration services usually operate between 9am to 5pm, although you may have to do some evening work and/or international operating hours. You may also have to travel abroad for cross border disputes.

If you're self-employed, you should expect to work outside normal office hours and travel to different locations for hearings.

Part-time work and job sharing are both possible.

What to expect

  • You'll usually be office-based, for example at a law firm or arbitration service. Travel is also required, sometimes internationally, to attend hearings.
  • The availability of jobs varies across the UK, with London a major hub for services. However you can find opportunities around the country, mainly at international law firms.
  • As with many roles, the gender and ethnic diversity of arbitrators, particularly those who work in international arbitration, is low. Issues include barriers to entry that apply to the professions as a whole and the dominance of London as an arbitral seat. However, there are initiatives to promote diversity, in particular gender. The Arbitration Pledge, among other things, commits to ensuring that lists of potential arbitrators include a fair representation of female candidates. Senior and experienced arbitrators also pledge to support, mentor and encourage women to pursue roles and enhance their profiles. This initiative is supported by large networks of arbitration practitioners, including leading global law firms, who help in providing informal and formal mentoring such as the ArbitralWomen Mentorship Programme.
  • A smart dress code will be required, especially for meetings with clients and hearings.   
  • Providing arbitration services may be your only employment, part of an existing job (for example, as a solicitor or barrister) or part of a portfolio career.

Qualifications

There are no legal requirements to becoming an arbitrator. However, where disputes involve issues of law, having a law degree is usually most advantageous. If the dispute involves issue of fact, then someone who is an expert in that particular sector may be the most suitable arbitrator.

Although not a requirement, you may wish to choose undergraduate or postgraduate degree modules related to arbitration, for example in international dispute resolution or commercial arbitration. 

Brunel University London offers an undergraduate LLB in International Arbitration and Commercial Law but most subject specific programmes are at postgraduate Masters level.

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators also offers a pathways programme which provides progressive educational training from a newcomer in the field through to the advanced levels. The large  range of courses includes:

  • introductions to ADR and arbitration
  • pathway courses in distinct forms of ADR - Domestic Arbitration, International Arbitration, Construction Adjudication and Mediation Courses
  • accelerated assessments open to those with a legal background and/or some experience in particular dispute resolution -  includes the Diploma in International Commercial Arbitration; the Accelerated Routes to Membership (ARM) in Construction Adjudication, International Arbitration or Domestic Arbitration; the Accelerated Routes to Fellowship (ARF) in Construction Adjudication, International Arbitration or Domestic Arbitration.

You can find the full programme at Training at CIArb.

You'll need to show examples of relevant knowledge and experience through degree level study, volunteering or employment to be accepted onto most training.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • an awareness of the sometimes sensitive nature of the disputes
  • problem-solving skills, with self-confidence in your decisions
  • commercial awareness and negotiating skills
  • good interpersonal skills, with the ability to work well with teams and other people
  • communication skills
  • knowledge and experience of the relevant sectors or areas of law e.g. managing cross-border transactions for international arbitration roles
  • the ability to be impartial, evaluate evidence and make effective decisions.

Work experience

It's always useful to gain some type of work experience, to see what kind of arbitration you would like to work in and to make useful career contacts.

The Association for International Arbitration (AIA), International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) all offer internship opportunities. Competition for these positions is high. However, when pursuing a career in arbitration the main thing to demonstrate is an interest in the relevant area.

General dispute resolution experience is also valuable. This can be developed in moot courts and other debate forums. Paid or voluntary work in legal charities, Citizens Advice, Free Representation Unit (FRU) or Law Centres Network can help prepare you for challenging arbitration issues.

If you wish to work in commercial or international arbitration, it's important to know what's going on in the wider commercial and political world. You should review trends affecting the relevant areas of law and read about big arbitration cases hitting the headlines.

You can also develop arbitration skills from working in other roles such as in HR, social welfare, health patient advocacy and trade unions.

Employers

There are various routes into employment and you'll either have to find work within a law firm or barrister's chambers which specialises in arbitration, sector or organisation that uses in-house trained arbitrators or set up your own business.

Most accredited arbitration training providers hold a professional directory of arbitrators where you can find work through promoting your skills and work experience.

Jobs can also be found with:

  • independent or specialist arbitration services
  • charitable organisations - with an in-house mediation service
  • independent advice centres
  • public sector organisations in areas such as education, health and social care
  • regulatory bodies
  • trade unions.

You can also look for arbitrator vacancies advertised through industry or professional bodies that promote career development and employment opportunities. These include:

Professional development

Becoming a chartered arbitrator in the UK is a rigorous process, involving a number of stages. CIArb trains and accredits practitioners - find out more at CIArb - Training.

Once you've completed your training, you'll need to keep your knowledge and skills up-to-date throughout your career. Organisations such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) and The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) offer a range of continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities, including specialist training courses, events, workshops, conferences, member resources and online news.

There are also options to network with other arbitrators. For example, the ICC run the Young Arbitrators Forum (YAF) which provides a variety of opportunities for individuals to gain knowledge, develop their skills and understand ICC's arbitral procedure and other dispute resolution services. There is also the Young ArbitralWomen Practitioners (YAWP) group.

You can also contribute to training future arbitrators, by working for an educational institution or organisation and taking part in CIArb's Partnership programme. This will allow you to teach on customised dispute management and resolution courses, accrediting educational modules or qualifications.

Depending on the area of arbitration you work in, the amount of CPD you need to do will vary.  In the case of some areas, such as employment law, you'll have specific requirements due to the fact that you'll be working within legal processes that may be revised or updated.

You can also develop your professional knowledge, and the knowledge of other professionals and the general public, through research. This research can support the purpose and effectiveness of arbitration and strengthen its future development.

Career prospects

Arbitration is growing continually as an alternative to traditional litigation. This means there are genuine opportunities for dispute resolution professionals with experience and expertise in arbitration proceedings. With globalisation trends, particularly in the legal profession, lawyers are no longer confined to the jurisdiction in which they qualified. Therefore, there's the possibility of working and living in various countries throughout the world. You can also qualify in a second jurisdiction to increase your knowledge, experience and better meet the needs of clients.

Once you have established yourself through arbitration work and received professional accreditations, such as chartership, you'll be in a position to apply for more senior roles. This often involves taking on more high profile and complex cases, where the consequences of not reaching an agreement could have major repercussions. This has significance in all types of arbitration.

There are also some opportunities to move into management or partner roles. Here, you may be responsible for overseeing staff, generating revenue and monitoring and developing the quality of practice.

If self-employment is something you'd like to pursue, you'll have the flexibility to choose the cases you work and develop your business in specialist areas of arbitration.