Arbitrators act as judges in a less formal setting than normal trial courts. The process for becoming an arbitrator differs based on the type of arbitration position sought. However, there are general career steps that will help all aspiring arbitrators.
One type of arbitrator hears arbitration cases after a plaintiff has already filed a lawsuit. Arbitration is one of the major types of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that seeks to reduce the time and expense normally associated with legal proceedings. This also saves the court time, as judges tend to have an enormous backlog of filed cases and need ways to reduce their dockets.
It can be very difficult to become this kind of arbitrator. For example, as the United States District Court for the Northern District of California explains, applicants seeking certification for arbitration of cases filed in that federal District Court must have at least 10 years of experience as a lawyer, be a member of a law-school faculty or member of the bar of the district court, and have devoted at least 50% of the applicant’s time to litigation or alternative dispute resolution for at least 5 years.
These are obviously prohibitive arbitrator qualifications, so those seeking to become an arbitrator of this type have a long road ahead of them. And courts often require some specific kind of arbitration or ADR training course before certifying new arbitration applicants.
However, another kind of arbitrator need not necessarily have that much legal training. In business contracts, there is often an arbitration clause requiring the parties to go to binding arbitration when a contract dispute arises. In this case, the arbitrator is typically some expert who is certified by a non-governmental organization. These arbitrators need only meet the qualifications and requirements of the organization that certifies or approves them for the specific type of arbitration disputes handled or related to that organization.
An example of this kind of arbitration is dispute resolution arranged through the American Arbitration Association. The AAA maintains a roster of approved arbitrators. The parties to the dispute then agree to select from that roster. The AAA requirements allow for business experience instead of work as a lawyer, but there are several other requirements, such as training in arbitration and an educational degree in the applicant’s area of expertise. For example, a labor arbitrator might qualify by having 10 years of business experience plus an LLM in labor law.
Regardless of the roster you intend to join or the court in which you intend to get certified, getting into the arbitration business is very competitive. It is best to go with a more traditional career route first and set yourself up along the way for a second career option as an arbitrator.
United States District Court for the Northern District of California: Applying to be a Neutral: Application Process, Training, and Qualifications
American Arbitration Association Arbitrator Qualifications