How to Become an Arbitrator in California

The use of arbitration and mediation has become a significant part of the justice system, and each state, including California, has a set of requirements for anyone who wants to become an arbitrator. Arbitration has become a popular way for parties to resolve disputes in California. The arbitration process allows the parties to resolve their legal issues in a relaxed setting without litigation or court proceedings. With the rise of alternative dispute resolution, including mediation and negotiation, the need for more arbitrators has continued to climb. Arbitrators can serve their clients and the public by clearing up a backlogged court system and resolving disputes effectively.

Arbitration’s Place in California Alternative Dispute Resolution

California does not have a universal set of qualifications for arbitrators. The only statewide system for regulation is for the attorney fee arbitration program where attorneys and their clients are disputing the fees charged and agreed to for the case. Additionally, each of the industries that arbitration serves, which will be discussed in further detail below, will have its own standards for arbitrators within the specific set of laws. For example, the California Public Employment Relations Board has a set of requirements that are necessary for arbitrators to be approved to resolve labor relations disputes.

Arbitration can often happen after a mediation or conciliation service, and it allows the parties to resolve the conflict that they cannot move past. A person may participate in several dispute resolution processes before they choose arbitration for their case.

Learn the Arbitration Process

If you are hoping to pursue a career in arbitration, the first step may be singing up for an arbitration training course. This type of training will help budding arbitrators understand the arbitration process and begin to develop and practice their dispute-resolution skills. Arbitrators will learn communication skills and understand what to do when dealing with a dispute. Many arbitrators will also arbitrate a dispute or two under a professional arbitrator to gain experience within their niche or a related field. Professionals serve these new arbitrators to develop their arbitration practice and meet the minimum requirements to become an arbitrator.

The arbitration process is a streamlined process that is similar to litigation in some ways but is confidential and less formal. The parties present their case to the arbitrator, who will then determine the outcome of the case and issue a decision called an award. Additionally, arbitration can be binding or non-binding, meaning that the award issued by the arbitrator will be enforceable if it is binding arbitration or advisory if it is non-binding. The parties may have a lawyer from a law firm that represents them in an arbitration. These lawyers will be responsible for presenting the case to the arbitrator.

The process is typically voluntary, meaning that the parties need to sign an arbitration agreement to arbitrate their dispute; however, the presence of mandatory arbitration agreements in contracts has resulted in parties being required to participate in arbitration without necessarily understanding what was agreed to. These cases are often challenged based on the jurisdiction of the arbitrator, but most courts will uphold mandatory arbitration clauses. Importantly, California has tried to ban mandatory arbitration in employment disputes, but the Ninth Circuit Court blocked this attempt.

Identify a Niche

When considering how to become an arbitrator, it can also be helpful to identify a niche that you would like to work in. This can help a person determine what regulations or requirements they need to become an arbitrator. Most organizations will require a minimum of five to ten years of experience in a similar field or as a practicing attorney to become a registered arbitrator.

International Arbitration

International arbitration is any arbitration that takes place between people or businesses where one person is from one county and the other person or people are from another. These issues will often involve a variety of conflicts from all over the world. International organizations will often hold lists of approved arbitrators to serve the international community.

Business and Commercial Arbitration

Another common area of law that arbitrators in California is the business and commercial field. Commercial arbitrators will handle issues with contracts, sales, insurance, and other commercial issues. Commercial and bar organizations will often certify arbitrators for commercial issues.

Labor Arbitration

Labor relations and other employment issues are other areas that arbitrators can go into. These conflicts revolve around issues between employees and employers. Labor statistics often show that many employers in California require employees to arbitrate any conflicts that arise under their contract. Different organizations will certify or recommend particular labor arbitrators.

Other areas may be ripe for arbitrators as well, and depending on experience and training, an arbitrator may be able to arbitrate a variety of conflicts.

Meet the Arbitration Certification Qualifications

Because each kind of arbitration will have its own standards for training and experience, an arbitrator should identify the possible requirements they would need to meet. For fee arbitrators, an attorney arbitrator will need to have five years of experience and not have any disciplinary action. For arbitrators who are not attorneys, they will need to prove their experience qualifies them.

Generally, the arbitrator will need to have a bachelor’s degree and some experience in the field that they would like to practice in. Getting a law degree and attending law school to become an attorney can be a more straightforward approach to becoming an arbitrator in California.

Professional Organizations

Once an arbitrator has met their requirements, they can join a professional organization and network and market with other arbitrators. Some attorneys may be able to join the alternative dispute resolution section of the local bar association, while others may become a member of the American Arbitration Association and run their arbitrations through there.

If you are looking to take the first step in your arbitration career, or learning how to become one in California, check out ADR’s arsenal of resources to help you get started.


Emily Holland
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