“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
― Barack Obama
Many times, after budding arbitrators have certified as arbitrators, they appear somewhat dissatisfied as they sometimes lack opportunities of actual practice which should enable them strengthen capacity. I will discuss how budding arbitrators can be proactive in developing their Arbitration and ADR careers. Further, how budding arbitrators can carve a niche for themselves in this very vast field.
Proactivity refers to anticipatory, change-oriented and self-initiated behaviour in situations. To be proactive speaks of controlling a situation by making things happen rather than waiting for things to happen and then reacting to them. A niche on the other hand is a comfortable or suitable role or job; a distinct segment of a market.
Proactive behaviours in the context of building a career in Arbitration and ADR.
i. Taking Prime Responsibility for Your Career
I will illustrate with my story. I have been involved in actual arbitration proceedings in different capacities. I am also at the moment privileged to serve in the following capacities: Chair, Young Members Group (40 and under) Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) Nigeria Branch; Member, Executive Committee, CIArb Nigeria Branch; Member, Steering Committee, Global YMG CIArb; Regional Representative for Africa Middle East and Turkey, International Chamber of Commerce Young Arbitrators Forum (ICC YAF). It would appear that I have it all together as a ‘young’ practitioner myself but it was not always so. I recall that after my certifications, I did not have opportunity of actual practice because at that time I worked in a firm that did not do much arbitration work, but I would not miss opportunities for continuous improvement: mock arbitration, arbitration seminars, conferences and the likes. I would ask questions and read up anything I found in the field. It would appear then that my efforts were of no use as they had no direct impact on my job. I kept at it nonetheless, I was being proactive. I have had to pay my way through many trainings and conferences and now I am invited to speak at these conferences, some overseas.
The point really is that because you are the one who needs to develop a career in arbitration, you should do the things you need to do to get to where you want to be. It is too crucial to be left in the hand of your employer or any professional membership organisation.
ii. Seeking Mentoring.
Mentoring gives budding practitioners a greater chance of succeeding. It helps to fast track careers. With the benefit of the counsel and guidance of mentors, mentees can avoid career mistakes. Budding practitioners can benefit from the emotional comfort of knowing that they have trusted advisors and guide and thus have the impetus to excel. Mentors can help mentees set and achieve goals, make smart career decisions, overcome career challenges or offer perspectives when the mentee is facing frustration with career. Benefits of the experience of persons who have gone ahead of you are immeasurable. You should find mentors for yourself
iii. Making Yourself Attractive to Potential Mentors
It is more likely that if you are driven and not laidback, if you are realistically ambitious, willing to challenge and be challenged, if you show respect and are open-minded, you are more likely to get an acceptance to a request for mentoring made to that practitioner whose arbitration career you admire and want to emulate. The reason you must make yourself attractive to be mentored is that nobody wants to mentor a failure. Potential mentors must be able to see that time invested in you will not be a wasted effort. Mentoring is not paid for so your success is a mentor’s only reward. They want to be able to feel that they were part of your success story
iv. Joining the International Arbitration Community and Networking
Arbitration is an international practice and one must not be confined to domestic arbitration. Young arbitration groups exist globally, some of which provide free memberships. Being actively involved in these young arbitrator groups can provide opportunities to budding arbitrators in the area of scholarships, grants, mentorship across borders, job listings, internships and exchange programmes which are available only to members. It also enhances networking opportunities. I personally have forged tremendous bonds with colleagues in various parts of the world and from whom I have benefited by exchange of information, ideas and client referral.
Carving Your Own Niche
Carving a niche for one’s self is proactivity. Areas abound within the ADR value chain where young practitioners are more adept. These can easily be an advantage if properly harnessed. I find from experience that even the most dedicated arbitrators may not get their first appointment as arbitrator until about the age of 40 years. Instead of competing in saturated markets, it is wise to focus on distinct segments of the market where thriving will likely be easier. I dare say that you must rethink your arbitration practice.
The ADR industry is huge. If you are unable to get appointments as Arbitrator as a budding practitioner, you would be able to benefit from the enormous value chain. Apart from acting as Registrar/Tribunal Secretary one can provide support services that will enable him further gain expertise whilst being positioned as an expert in the field. Experiences gained here will become useful when one eventually begins to act as arbitrators. I will consider some of these niche areas below:
Hosting an Arbitration and ADR blog can be an absolute niche for a budding practitioner. The budding arbitration practitioner can have an arbitration blog that will discuss and post contents that are all things arbitration, ranging from arbitration articles, reported arbitration cases, arbitration seminars, conferences and other events; a one stop shop for all things arbitration. Blogging can help a practitioner gain visibility and recognition. If properly done, it can generate income as well. This can be done during spare time whilst generating income and fulfilment.
ii. Provision of Technology Services
Technical aid or information and communication technology services that are useful in the conduct of arbitration are niche areas that ‘techy savvy’ budding arbitrators can explore. Such services may include video-conferencing facilities used for arbitral hearings when all the actors in proceedings are not in one location. This could be used for instance, to take live testimony from witnesses or expert witnesses in various parts of the world. Also an Arbitrator can seat from a faraway location using video conferencing without the attendant travel costs. E-Discovery and E-Brief solutions are already being used in some jurisdictions. The provision of these and other software in aid of arbitration and ADR are potential niches. Recall that proactivity involves acting in advance of future situations rather than reacting to them. The use of technology is a new frontier in arbitration and budding arbitrators should position themselves to take advantage of the opportunities it portends.
iii. Entertainment Arbitration and ADR
The Entertainment industry is a huge part of the Nigerian economy. It includes performing arts, comedy, film and music. It contributes significantly to the Nigerian GDP. Entertainment disputes arise from agreements on production, copyright, financing, distribution, licenses, merchandising, etc. hence, a huge opportunity for arbitration and ADR practitioners.
The industry is full of eccentric personalities and unconventional ideas and is arguably the industry with the highest proportion of young people playing in very high levels. Unlike most other sectors where penetrating the market is difficult for young people, young practitioners can indeed render services as counsel, mediators and arbitrators in this industry. Many of the big players in entertainment are young people with whom young arbitration and ADR practitioners can easily interact due to proximity in age and ideology. Also disputes in this sector are very amenable to Arbitration and ADR.
iv. Third Party Funding
Third Party Funding (TPF) is legal in many jurisdictions but has remained illegal in others. There are arguments for and against TPF which cannot be fully considered here. Arbitration practitioners with finance background or those who work in the financial services sector, may very well carve a niche for themselves or for the financial institutions they work for by acting as arbitration funders, basically funding impecunious claimants’ case and sharing sums recovered afterwards. A combination of finance background with arbitration proficiency places a practitioner in a vantage position for developing a career as arbitration funder. The crux here is not whether TPF is ripe for our jurisdiction. Again proactivity demands that we prepare for it as jurisdictions that hitherto prohibited TPF are beginning to open their doors to its practice, e.g. Singapore and Hong Kong. Further, arbitration is a global practice, hence a funder may fund arbitration in any part of the world.
v. Your Primary Profession
As an arbitration and ADR practitioner, you must have and maintain a primary profession. The practice of arbitration and ADR alone is very unlikely to sustain the most modest lifestyle for the budding practitioner. Pragmatism suggests that you maintain a primary profession that will provide regular income.
Having identified what proactivity means in the context of arbitration and ADR practice and having identified some niche areas that budding arbitrators can carve for themselves, which is by no means an exhaustive list, it is pertinent to clarify that the above does not advance the narrative that young or budding arbitrators should not act or aspire to act as counsel, tribunal secretaries or arbitrators in arbitral proceeding. Rather it advances the narrative that in addition to the traditional roles, budding arbitrators should explore niche areas so that in the event that they do not have frequent opportunities to act as neutrals or tribunal secretaries, they can remain busy and actively within the arbitration industry by playing in niche areas. This will further increase their capacity, visibility and reputation in the field of arbitration. The capacity, visibility and reputation garnered this way will enable budding arbitrators attract their preferred roles in the arbitration process in due time.
I conclude with a quote by Alex Trebek which says that “We are all experts in our own little niches.”