An arbitrator or mediator is the person in the middle who helps people or organizations resolve a dispute. Arbitration is typically a formal, binding process you enter into to avoid a lawsuit, and both parties must agree to abide by the arbitrator’s decision. Mediation is another form of dispute resolution, but it is non-binding; the purpose of mediation is to help both parties find middle ground and explore settlement options. Many arbitrators become certified to indicate their competence, and some employers require certification.
Arbitration is a secondary career, which means that an arbitrator must first gain experience in her specialty to have the necessary professional expertise and reputation for arbitration work. Although many arbitrators are lawyers, a law degree is not necessarily required for this profession. Each state sets requirements for arbitrators. The American Arbitration Association notes that applicants for membership must have at least 10 years of senior-level business, professional or legal experience. An educational degree and professional licensure relevant to the field are also required. A financial arbitrator, for example, might need a bachelor’s degree and CPA license. A lawyer would need a Juris Doctor degree and be required to pass the bar examination in her state.
Training and a Mentor
Most organizations will not hire someone who has not been formally trained in the arbitration process. Training varies according to the specialty, but in all cases it should cover dispute resolution. Financial arbitrators, for example, must complete the online basic arbitrator and expungement courses offered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. They must also view a video in person or attend an onsite training session. The training covers all of the legal and operational procedures required to conduct a financial arbitration case. A mentor can further help a candidate acquire the skills necessary to become successful. The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators recommends that a newly trained arbitrator begin by finding a mentor and joining professional arbitration associations.
Experience in arbitration -- not just in the arbitrator's original profession -- is key to obtaining a job in the field, according to CIArb. Volunteer work in dispute cases is one way to gain experience. Some arbitrators gain experience and ultimately find jobs by volunteering as community mediators, according to the New York State Unified Court System. Some states and municipalities also offer training that includes practice sessions. CIArb suggests that the aspiring arbitrator seek permission from an experienced arbitrator and the involved parties to observe cases under arbitration.
An arbitrator’s certification can be general or specialized. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, for example, offers specialized training in matrimonial dispute resolution and certification in the field. The arbitrator must be a fellow of the AAML to become certified. The National Association of Certified Mediators offers a general certification. Fees vary according to the organization and type of certification. NACM, for example, charged $888 in 2014 for a combined training and certification package. Examinations are required for each type of certification. Although certification is not necessarily required to practice, it is an indication of competence and professionalism. The NACM notes, however, that certification might be required to obtain liability insurance.