What Makes a Great Arbitrator?

Posted on: Wed, 01/15/2020

By:Neil Carmichael, M.A., Vice President, Education, Educational Services, AAA

Simply hanging out the proverbial shingle is not sufficient to qualify one as an arbitrator. Arbitrators must possess the qualities, knowledge, and skills to deliver the benefits of arbitration—speed, economy, and justice—and to instill in parties the confidence that they can capably do so.

In other words, a great arbitrator is schooled in both the “science” and the “art” of arbitration.

Great arbitrators are educated to handle the more straightforward parts of the case.

  • The arbitrator’s role, authority and responsibilities
  • Preparing for and conducting the Preliminary Hearing 
  • Dealing with self-represented (pro se) parties
  • eDiscovery
  • Managing evidentiary hearing issues
  • Conducting research & investigations
  • Handling post-hearing issues 
  • The extent and limits of arbitrator authority
  • Preparing for and writing the award

And yet arbitrators also should be skilled in nuance in order to

  • Be able to be truly impartial and ethical;
  • Know why, when, and how to make disclosures;
  • Conduct a Preliminary Hearing using management techniques appropriate to the case at hand to ensure an efficient Evidentiary Hearing;
  • Deal with delay tactics during the arbitration;
  • Manage panel dynamics;
  • Deal with difficult attorneys during the arbitration; and
  • Write final, binding awards that effectively dispose of all issues submitted and are able to pass judicial review.

Training as well as experience in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is invaluable in the development of these requisites. Along with their case experience, the training in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that arbitrators have undergone usually is available on their resumes. Arbitral organizations generally require their arbitrators to participate in training, though not all, and the degree of training and commitment vary. Parties would be wise to consider the amount and quality of training when selecting an arbitrator.

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