How To Become an Arbitrator in 6 Steps (Plus Skills)

Updated October 16, 2023

When legal disputes occur, the parties involved sometimes use a third party to settle the issue without going to court. Arbitrators are legal professionals who help two or more people resolve a dispute outside of a judiciary court by holding private, confidential meetings. If you possess excellent decision-making and communication skills and you have an interest in a legal career, it may be beneficial for you to learn how to become an arbitrator.

In this article, we explain how to become an arbitrator and list some necessary skills for this profession.

Key takeaways:

  • An arbitrator works with parties in legal cases, such as real estate disputes, to resolve issues fairly outside of court.

  • States have varying requirements for arbitrators, but most require you to have at least a bachelor's degree in law, political science or a similar field.

  • You can gain experience for this role by completing internships and working in entry-level positions under the supervision of an experienced arbitrator.

What is an arbitrator?

An arbitrator, also known as a mediator or conciliator, is a neutral legal professional who works independently from either party in a dispute and helps them resolve the issue fairly and privately. Arbitrators help individuals settle cases, such as real estate disputes or divorces, without going to court, which can be costly. Instead of appearing before a judge and jury, the clients present their cases to the arbitrator, who makes a final decision on both parties' behalf.

Arbitrators hold panels that are similar to court hearings but differ in that they're more private and informal. They might specialize in a legal area that they have prior experience with or knowledge of, such as real estate, construction, labor relations, insurance or accounting. They might work independently or with a group of arbitrators. Many arbitrators are lawyers, business professionals or judges making career changes or working part-time. Some primary responsibilities of an arbitrator may include the following: 

  • Meeting with each party in a dispute to answer questions and explain the arbitration process

  • Reviewing both parties' evidence and documentation

  • Evaluating information from documents like claim applications 

  • Interviewing witnesses to collect relevant information

  • Arranging and overseeing discussions between parties

  • Researching laws and policies to determine outcomes

  • Deciding which party is liable and what they owe the other party

  • Creating settlement agreements for both parties to sign

  • Writing decision statements and compiling evidence in case the case does go to court

Related: 60 Alternative Jobs for Lawyers

How to become an arbitrator

Arbitrators typically need a combination of education and experience in the legal field before they're able to get hired. Here are a few common steps you can take if you want to become an arbitrator:

1. Review your state's requirements

States have different requirements to become an arbitrator, so it's beneficial to research the specific educational or experience requirements to become one in your state. For example, some states require arbitrators to have experience working as attorneys for a certain number of years, while others may only require arbitrators to possess a bachelor's degree. Determining what your state requires can help you become better prepared to practice arbitration. 

Related: Learn About Being an Attorney

2. Earn an undergraduate degree

The minimum education requirement to become an arbitrator is typically a bachelor's degree from a four-year institution. Some arbitrators have a bachelor's degree in law, while others have degrees in another field, such as business, English, history, political science, public policy or social work. While pursuing your bachelor's degree, consider taking courses that can help prepare you for an arbitrator career, such as consumer law, ethics, psychology or public speaking.

In addition, consider participating in extracurricular activities while in college. These can help you gain some of the skills that are necessary to be a successful arbitrator, which you can list on your resume when applying for entry-level arbitration positions. Extracurricular activities relevant to arbitration may include debate clubs or leadership positions in student organizations. You may also want to consider learning another language if you plan to specialize in international arbitration.

Related: The Best Undergraduate Majors To Prepare You for Law School

3. Pursue an advanced degree

Many arbitrators choose to earn a graduate degree to improve their job and earning opportunities, and most states require that you earn a graduate degree in a field that's directly relevant to arbitration, such as dispute or conflict resolution. Alternatively, you could attend law school and earn a law degree, which is likely to provide you with the legal background necessary to work in arbitration. While in law school, consider taking electives in negotiation, resolution, cultural issues and other practical arbitration topics. 

Related: Best College Majors and Degrees for Lawyers To Consider

4. Gain work experience and training

After earning the relevant educational credentials, apply for internships or entry-level jobs that allow you to work under an experienced arbitrator, lawyer or businessperson's supervision. Choose positions that provide you with industry knowledge and experience in the field where you want to specialize, such as construction or finance. Shadowing experienced arbitrators may also help you learn more about different specialties and the requirements for each. 

Arbitrators typically need five to 15 years of experience working in the business or legal field, typically as an attorney, before they can apply for arbitration panels. If it's necessary for you to first practice as a lawyer, study for and pass the bar exam and become licensed in the state where you hope to practice arbitration. While you're gaining your experience, consider enrolling in training through the National Conflict Resolution Center or the Mediation Training Institute to develop your skills further. 

Related: How To Avoid Mistakes as a First-Year Legal Associate

5. Complete licensing and certification

Some states require arbitrators to be licensed attorneys or certified public accountants, both of which involve passing a rigorous series of exams. In addition, it may be necessary for you to become certified in alternate-dispute resolution (ADR). You may also need a real estate license if you want to specialize in a field like real estate. Check with your state licensing board to determine the requirements that apply to you.

While not mandatory, professional certification and membership with industry organizations may improve your employment opportunities. Consider joining associations such as the National Academy of Arbitrators, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service or the American Arbitration Association to gain access to additional training and educational resources, industry events, networking opportunities and job listings. Be sure to review the experience requirements of these professional organizations, as many require you to have a minimum number of years of experience before you can join.

Related: How To Become a Mediator: Certifications and Training

6. Seek employment

After earning your credentials and gaining the necessary experience, you can begin seeking employment as an arbitrator. Many arbitrators choose to work for large law firms, firms specializing in arbitration, governmental agencies or insurance companies. If you want to practice arbitration independently, it may be necessary for you to first register with a court, such as a state civil court. You can then advertise your services in a variety of ways.

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Skills for arbitrators

Arbitrators need both hard and soft skills to negotiate with different parties and make unbiased decisions. Hard skills consist of the technical legal knowledge that informs their decisions, while soft skills may include all the personal characteristics that help them resolve disputes effectively. Common arbitrator skills may include the following:

  • Communication: It's important for arbitrators to explain laws and legal issues clearly and in terms that both parties involved in a dispute can understand. Communication skills also enable them to convey important information in writing in case a dispute ends up going to court.

  • Listening: These legal professionals need strong active listening skills they can apply when meeting with clients so they can understand each side of the case. These skills can help them process all the relevant facts and make informed judgments.

  • Decision-making: Arbitrators use facts, evidence, laws and regulations to make neutral decisions quickly and fairly. Decision-making skills help them in ensuring that both sides are able to agree on a constructive solution.

  • Interpersonal skills: Since arbitrators work with a wide range of clients and professionals, it's important that they be approachable and respectful and get along with people easily. Interpersonal skills also help them in building trust with new clients. 

  • Legal writing: These professionals need strong legal writing abilities so they can create a clear and accurate settlement and decision documents. Legal writing skills include the ability to analyze facts quickly and present written arguments concisely. 

  • Negotiation: Successful arbitrators have the critical thinking skills and patience to negotiate fair settlements between potentially emotional parties. They also use these skills to strategize effective solutions and reduce misunderstandings between parties.

  • Conflict resolution: Arbitrators require exceptional conflict resolution skills to resolve the legal disputes they regularly handle. They use these skills to clarify their clients' arguments and establish mutually beneficial agreements. 

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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