So, you’re interested in working in ADR.
ADR is a small but growing industry and is not a regulated profession. As such, it may seem like there are no rules, or confusing rules, as well as an overwhelming number of choices, pathways, and hidden pitfalls on your road to success as an ADR practitioner. While this may be daunting, there is also a great deal of flexibility in shaping your path, and the profession going forward.
The ADR Institute of Alberta can help those interested navigate the sometimes-confusing routes to a career in ADR. ADRIA’s primary responsibilities include supporting our members along their journey throughout their ADR careers, educating the public, promoting ADR as the preferred choice for dispute resolution, and advocating for strong professional standards in the industry. As such, we have developed the following guide to help you map out your path towards a career in ADR.
Step #1 – Find the Right Fit
Whether you are looking for a new career direction or simply looking to add new skills to your professional portfolio, prospective students need to choose the right process that fits their style and preferences. This decision is essential to personal success in ADR.
There are four main ways of working in ADR:
- enhancing your personal repertoire of conflict skills
- adding a secondary designation to your current practice (e.g., lawyers, social workers, educators, HR professionals, etc.)
- becoming an independent/self-employed contractor
- adding ADR skills to organization through workplace training for teams
The following information applies to all four routes to varying degrees. However, alternative dispute resolution is a diverse field; so, if you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to connect with our Education Coordinator.
Alternative dispute resolution ranges anywhere from informal conversations, negotiation, and mediation, to arbitration, and parenting coordination. ADR processes are an inescapable component of our everyday lives, whether we are aware of them or not. This daily exposure can help give you a better idea about which types of ADR best reflect your style and preferences.
Besides informal conversation, negotiation is the ADR process most frequently used in day-to-day life. Negotiation is used extensively in politics, real estate, construction, business, and law, and it may seem intimidating to people not in these industries. However, Fisher, Ury, and Patton point out that, “like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiation is a fact of life” (1991). People negotiate daily either at home, at school, at work, even at the grocery store or with the doctor to problem solve, to improve relationships, or to get a more fair situation.
Key skills essential for understanding-based negotiation include:
- Ability to separate the people from the problem
- Curiosity about yourself and about others
- Ability to sit with discomfort
- Ability to put yourself in another’s shoes (empathy)
- Assertive expression
- Defusing techniques
- Self-awareness and reflection
Principled or Understanding-based negotiation (versus positional bargaining) is an ADR skill which can stand on its own and add to your professional skills portfolio regardless of a desire to work as an ADR professional. Negotiation skills are also some of the essential building blocks for mediation and consensus decision building.
While the ADR Institute of Alberta does not currently offer a negotiation course, our Communications in ADR course provides several of the understanding-base negotiation fundamentals for those starting out on this path.
Interest-based Mediation is, in its most simple terms, a facilitated dialogue between two or more parties in conflict. The mediator is a “neutral”, “impartial”, or “all partial” party who is the process manager – in charge of helping the parties have a productive conversation or negotiation. A mediator does not give advice or make decisions. The parties are in charge of the content and of the outcome. People who prefer to be the expert, to be in control, and/or to make decisions may find interest-based mediation a challenge. In fact, mediators often need to practice removing themselves from conversations and find ways to put party self-determination front and center in all that they do.
For some, mediation may be a new skill added to a professional toolbox (e.g., human resources professionals, lawyers, managers, social workers, educators, counsellors, coaches, religious leaders, etc.) where mediation will be added to the many other roles and tasks of that professional’s job. For others, mediation may be an attractive new career. For either circumstance, mediation training is strongly encouraged.
In Canada, mediation is an unregulated industry. That means that anyone can call themselves a mediator without any training whatsoever. They may even be able gain clients. To do so, however, would be unethical and potentially harmful to the profession, for clients, and for the practitioners. In order to provide some structure to the industry, to communicate a level of education and training, and better protect the public, we have a designation system in Canada that is administered by the ADR Institute of Canada. There are currently two mediation designations through ADR Canada: Qualified Mediator (Q.Med) and Chartered Mediator (C.Med).
The following two resources are essential reading for those seriously curious about breaking into the field of mediation:
On March 6, 2019, ADRIA held a panel discussion with five Alberta-based mediators to discuss their views on mediation and what the path to mediation success might look like for newcomers to the field. Read the full transcript, skip to your most burning questions, read the panelist bios, and see the resources mentioned in the discussion.
- The Mediation Advocacy Task Force’s White Paper
Starting in 2014 and completed in 2016, the Mediation Advocacy Task Force, established by ADRIA and headed by Joanne Munro and Wendy Hassen, to study how mediators are compensated in Alberta and across Canada with the goal of creating long-term collaborative initiatives to address this issue. Read the full report and appendices, or read the executive summary and key findings.
Key skills essential for interest-based mediation include:
- Ability to remove self from other’s conflicts
- Willingness to put own beliefs, assumptions, and preferred outcomes or solutions aside
- Ability to separate the people from the problem
- Curiosity about yourself and about others
- Ability to sit with discomfort
- Ability to put yourself in another’s shoes (empathy)
- Assertive expression and ability to set boundaries
- Defusing techniques
- Self-awareness and reflection
Restorative processes include restorative justice and restorative practices.
“Restorative Justice is an inclusive, respectful, accountable and voluntary way of addressing harm that occurs from a specific offense.” (Munro, 2019). While what many think of as “justice” is meted out as punishment by the state to address the harms committed against the state, restorative justice is about addressing the harms that have been done to an individual, group, or community. While an offender must accept culpability for their actions to participate in a restorative justice program, the process predominantly focuses on restoring or improving the community in which the harm occurred. Many stakeholders who have been impacted by the harm may participate.
Restorative Practices is used proactively or as a response to harm. Such processes bring “people together to connect and, in a deeply meaningful way, to solve problems and address harms that arise from conflict” (Munro, 2019). Restorative Practices can be applied broadly to the workplace, communities, faith groups, schools and families.
So, what does a restorative process look like? Since it is a process that is largely built on individual, group, and community needs, work in restorative processes varies from case to case, circle to circle. According to practitioner and instructor Joanne Munro:
“As a restorative justice practitioner (in criminal matters) and circle keeper, much of the heavy lifting is done prior to bringing the parties together. Similar to pre-mediation or case development, the facilitator meets separately with all involved to determine the appropriateness of proceeding to dialogue, to hear the parties’ stories and impacts, to build trust and rapport, answer questions about process and determine who needs to be at the dialogue. Once the parties are adequately prepared and an appropriate process that meets parties’ needs is chosen, the facilitator’s job is manage logistics (venue, time, invitations etc.). If a circle process is chosen, the facilitator will design the circle and its various elements and, if appropriate, design questions for the participants. If a facilitated dialogue is chosen, the facilitator will be responsible for ensuring the participants have an opportunity to hear and be heard, to talk about impacts, to ask and answer questions, and to facilitate a discussion on how the harm might be repaired.”
Key skills essential for restorative justice and restorative practices include:
- Strong active listening and conflict management skills
- Understanding that restorative processes are not about absolution, “the easy way out”, a “get out of jail free card”, etc.
- Ability to shift mindset from a punitive to a restorative mindset
- Willingness to set aside assumptions and biases about offenders
- Ability to focus on the impacts of actions, not on the rights or wrongs of the actions or on culpability (responsibility has already been established)
- Recognition of social responsibilities to both victim(s) and perpetrator
- Interest in working with multiple stakeholders with different belief systems, culture, and needs
- Belief that the opportunity to make amends for harms benefits victims, communities, society, and perpetrators of harms in substantive ways
- Belief that bad actions do not have to define a person’s whole identity
- Sensitivity to the diverse needs of victims (be they individuals, families, groups, or communities)
Arbitration is possibly one the most well-known and adversarial forms of ADR. Arbitration has been used over thousands of years around the world to resolve disputes. Perhaps most famously, King Solomon, is known in Jewish, Islamic, and Christian history as a wise king who was granted the wisdom to rule. Arbitration has come a long way from the court of King Solomon and disputes between shepherds and vintners or feuding would-be mothers. What has not changed is the assumption that the arbitrator is a wise and reasonable person who is able to make a decision free of partiality for the parties and free of personal preference over the outcome.
Arbitration is related to a psychological phenomenon called “Solomon’s Paradox”, where an individual is better able to make wise decisions for others than they are for themselves. This is explained by the psychological distance a lack of emotional investment affords. Not to say that arbitrators’ lives are a shamble (like King Solomon’s was), but that a third party who is able to distance themselves from the outcome can make the most wise decision, compared to the parties themselves.
Arbitration may be thought of as one of the most formal and structured forms of ADR. However, it is actually a process that can largely be designed by the parties. According to the Department of Justice (2017):
“Unlike litigation, arbitration generally allows the parties to design most aspects of the resolution process to suit their needs and the nature of the dispute. Further, the parties to an arbitration are able to choose the arbitrator, an option which is not available in the traditional court system. The Code [the federal Commercial Arbitration Code] is drafted in a way that offers a significant level of control to be maintained by the parties, for many of the procedural provisions contained in it are not mandatory, but rather are able to be displaced by agreement of the parties. Further, the Code provides only a framework for arbitration, lacking many of the procedural details that parties to an arbitration would want to clarify in an arbitration agreement.”
Many provincial Acts maintain this level of party control and typical characteristics of arbitration weave party control throughout the process:
- Voluntary – arbitration is a voluntary process, but arbitration clauses may be included into contracts, agreements, or legislation.
- Party controlled – the parties and their counsel have control over the procedural aspect (arbitrator/neutral, timing, location, participants, and even what counts as evidence).
- Private – if they parties so choose.
- Informal – existing procedural or evidentiary rules can be negotiated and adopted but are not standard.
- Adjudicative – this means that this is a process where a decision is made, unless the parties agree that a decision is not necessary.
- Binding/non-binding – most arbitration awards (decisions) are binding, in some instances parties can agree that the process is not binding.
- Confidential – Again, if the parties wish it to be, the arbitration is typically confidential. It is necessary to be aware of relevant exceptions in your jurisdiction, and/or relevant legislation.
- Adversarial – this means that the modern “arbitration process is based on the adversarial style of the litigation model”; parties, counsel, and the arbitrator can choose the tone and acceptable demeanour.
- Flexible – the parties and their counsel have a great deal of leeway in designing and negotiating the right process for the conflict and the parties, including the choice of arbitrator.
So, who can be an arbitrator? According to the Department of Justice, “there are currently no uniform national arbitration qualification standards in Canada.” Regardless of this lack of regulation, it would be highly unethical to engage in an arbitration without training; it could put you, the profession, and your clients at risk. If you hold another professional designation such as a lawyer or social worker, engaging in this type of work without training would be in contravention of your primary profession’s code of conduct/standards of practice.
Further, while training is not legally required, a lack of training could significantly hamper your ability to market your services as an arbitrator. The Department of Justice points out that, “Before choosing an arbitrator, counsel should, along with their clients, personally investigate the expertise and competency of likely candidates before their names are put forward for appointment.”
In addition to training, arbitration is also about character. According to the Department of Justice, an arbitrator should be someone who:
- understands the subject matter of the dispute (although subject matter expertise is not a requirement)
- has thorough knowledge of the arbitration process
- is impartial, fair and free from bias
- is able to put the disputants at ease
- is able to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing.
To these qualities, the ADR Institute of Canada adds the following:
- Follows a code of ethics
- Open minded
- Looks at all the information
- Protector of the process
- Follows the law
- Willing and able to make a decision
- Can act as a role model
- Aware of own traditions, values
- Sensitive to needs and disadvantages stemming from cultural, economic, and physical differences
Step #2 – Get Informed
Once you have found which form of ADR is right for you, you will also want to do your market research.
- What are the opportunities?
- Who is hiring?
- Who/what gets (de)funded? Precariously funded?
- What is the demand in your area for ADR services?
- Is there a gap or a glut?
- To whom do you need to make the business case for your services (employer, government, community association, school, religious leaders, business association, etc.)?
- What can you do while you build your practice?
You may also want to speak to a practitioner in your preferred field to get a sense of what it is like to work in the field. ADRIA’s coaches and instructors are always willing to share their journeys. You may also get insight through joining any of ADRIA’s luncheons or webinars.
Step #3 – Get Trained
Whether you are interested in developing practical conflict management skills, are hoping to add to your professional skills portfolio, need to build conflict skills in your organization, or are working towards a designation in mediation or arbitration, ADRIA has training to meet many of your ADR learning needs.
Depending on your goals there are different training needs and thus different training providers throughout Alberta and Canada. Please note that not all training providers offer approved training required for a designation or for some rosters. Always check with ADR Canada or ADRIA before starting a training program to ensure it is approved as meeting designation educational requirements.
If you have additional questions about training, please contact the ADRIA Education Coordinator.
Once you have your basic training, practitioners may wish to specialize in a particular area of ADR, such as land disputes or divorce mediation. Training in these specialties is strongly recommended and required for some specialized rosters or for work with special populations (e.g., while private work in separation and divorce mediation does not require specialized training, more and more provinces are looking at their family law legislation and their ADR clauses to included mandatory family and domestic violence training for practitioners working in court diversion ADR programs (Koshan et al., 2019).)
Finally, successful practitioners, as well as research, will tell you that continuing education and training are key to professional success. Not only does ongoing education and training stimulate the mind, it:
- ensures that you stay-up-to-date on emerging research, practices, techniques, and legislation
- is part of maintaining your designation
- helps connect you to your peers and potential mentors (which is helpful in maintaining a healthy balance at work)
- is part of your ethical duties to yourself, your practice, your clients, and the profession by doing your due diligence that you are qualified and equipped
Step #4 – Get Connected
While it is increasingly part of the self-care narrative, the importance of balance and connection at work are often overlooked. ADR can be considered a helping profession, and like nursing, social work, medicine, or counselling many ADR practitioners will encounter difficult stories and situations. The stress associated with listening to and empathizing with clients can lead to undue work stress (e.g., burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma), and/or health problems if not managed well. According to Lachman (2016), common signs of undue work stress include:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Negative job attitude
- Negative self-concept
- Loss of feelings of concern for others
- Exhausted store of compassion for others
- Changed perspectives on life (e.g., intimacy, trust, safety, self-esteem, control)
Protective factors against becoming overwhelmed (or even traumatized) by difficult client disclosures include:
- Social and Professional Connection (having some one to talk to about work issues)
- Lifestyle/Balance (taking care of your biopsychosocial and spiritual needs as well as your work responsibilities)
- Professional Development (being qualified and equipped)
- Compassionate Self Talk (being kind to yourself; believing you are good enough)
- Mental Health
Unless you are a professional who is simply adding a new skill to their professional skills or services portfolio and already have a trusted community of practice with whom to debrief, you may want to think about building your community of practice from the very start of your journey. No matter where you are in the province, no matter where you are in your training, ADRIA offers ways for you to connect.
Peers – Students who plan to move forward towards developing a practice should not underestimate the value of the connection between classmates. Not only is this a great way to build a professional peer group for professional development and for practicing new skills, it can also be fun. In most classes, with consent, student emails can be shared for this purpose.
Mediation Role-Play Practice Groups – These are three-session role-play practice packages for those who wish to practice their mediation skills in role-play with coaching and coach feedback.
Learner Sessions – Learner Sessions are an opportunity for students and new mediators to take learning beyond the classroom and build a network of peers.
Bridging the Distance – Bridging the Distance is a Community of Practice that provides ADRIA members that may not be able to make it to our events in Edmonton and Calgary with Professional Development opportunities and a link to ADRIA staff (temporarily combined with the ADRIA & FOAJ luncheons until after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted).
ADR Luncheons – Hosted by ADRIA and FOAJ (the Foundation of Administrative Justice) ADR Luncheons are an opportunity for you to learn and discuss a hot topic in ADR, network with other practitioners and connect with staff from ADRIA (during COVID-19 ADR luncheons are offered as webinars).
ADRIA is not the only organization that offers training, services, webinars, opportunities to connect, or volunteer opportunities for ADR practitioners. You can find many partner events on our events listings page. Partner and allied organizations and programs include, but are not limited to:
- AAMS – Alberta Arbitration and Mediation Society
- ADR Canada
- AFMS – Alberta Family Mediation Society
- ARJA – Alberta Restorative Justice Association
- CMCS – Community Mediation Calgary Society (Calgary)
- DRN – The Dispute Resolution Network (Government of Alberta)
- His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Conciliation and Arbitration Board for Canada (CAB) (Edmonton & Prairie Regions)
- Fairview Community Restorative Justice (Fairview)
- FMC – Family Mediation Canada
- FOAJ – Foundation of Administrative Justice
- MRJC – Mediation & Restorative Justice Centre (Edmonton)
- PMAST – Peer Mediation and Skills Training
- Strathcona County Community Mediation Society (Sherwood Park)
Step #5 – Get Designated
The ADR Institute of Alberta (ADRIA) administers the initial phase of the application process for our members who wish to apply for a professional designation from the ADR Institute of Canada (ADRIC). ADR Canada also set the minimum national standards. Regional Affiliates may set additional local standards. It is best to check the requirements in the province or region from which you are seeking a designation. For more information on designations and their requirements:
Step #6 – Get Hired
While anyone can call themselves a mediator, an arbitrator, or restorative practices facilitator, doing so without appropriate training and practice would be unethical. While we all practice forms of ADR in our lives informally, deciding the outcome of a squabble between your children does not make you an arbitrator. Because there is nothing to stop people from promoting themselves as an ADR professional, one of the ADR Institute of Alberta’s primary responsibilities is to promote ethical ADR in Alberta, including educating the public and professionals on the basic requirements to look for when hiring. ADRIA encourages the following questions when hiring an ADR professional:
- Do you have a professional designation?
- What is your training?
- What is your experience in this area?
- What style of ADR do you use?
- Are you a member of a professional organization?
- Do you follow a code of ethics?
- What recourse do I have if I am unhappy with the service I receive?
- Do you carry professional liability insurance?
Using these guidelines and being able to answer these questions for your own practice will help you market yourself as a qualified and equipped responsible professional.
Rosters & Directories
There are a number of rosters in Alberta and Canada that hire ADR professionals. Many rosters require a designation while others are excellent opportunities for new practitioners. Each roster has different qualifications, so it is best to check with the organization.
- BBB Edmonton and BBB Calgary
- ADRIA’s Select & Appoint program
- ADRIA’s Directory (this is a vetted directory)
- ADRIA’s Job Board (this board is only accessible to ADRIA members)
- ADR Connect (ADR Canada)
- Government of Alberta Resolution and Court Administration Services is there a portal for applications and employment info?
- Civil Mediation Program
- Family Mediation
- Children’s Services Mediation Program
Step #7 – Get Paid
Different fields of ADR and can vary in prospects and income range. While ADR is a small but growing field, there are limited paid positions within government or private organizations for mediators, arbitrators, and other ADR practitioners. There are very few ADR firms to which a new practitioner could apply. So, to get on-the-job experience, some practitioners start by gaining experience through volunteer and “low-bono” community or court dispute resolution programs. Some of these programs match new practitioners with more experienced practitioners and are excellent learning opportunities.
Unless you have a profession into which you can easily dovetail your new ADR skills and services, you will need to consider how you will make this a career on its own. If self-employment is your goal, it could take years to get the training, experience, and reputation you will need to get by on ADR work alone.
This is important information when making choices about your career path.
- According to the Canadian Arbitration Association, arbitrators charge between $250/hour to $800/hour or have half- and full-day rates.
- According to the ADR Institute of Alberta’s Mediation Advocacy Task Force White Paper, mediators can make anywhere between $0 and six-figures per year. This variability may be due to a number of factors:
- how people engage in mediation work
- A lawyer-mediator (or lawyer-arbitrator) may be able to command significantly higher rates than a social worker or educator who provides ADR services that are integrated with other services and techniques.
- A salaried social worker, teacher, or HR professional will still be paid their salary, even if they do not offer a single ADR service, whereas a private contractor would not be.
- level of experience and professional reputation
- funding for mediation programs
- diversification of ADR practice revenue streams (e.g., being on multiple rosters, teaching, coaching, consulting, practicing more than one type of ADR)
- how people engage in mediation work
Step #8 – Get Involved
Deciding that ADR is the career path for you is easier for some than it is for others. Innate skill is helpful, but because training, gaining experience, and starting a new business take significant resources (time, money, connections, energy, etc.), it can take some practitioners a long time to become established. Income and savings, as well as prior professional education, training, connections and reputation can open doors and a lack of these resources can be barriers to a smooth entry into the ADR profession.
Dogged determination, passion for the profession, and a desire to be involved in the ADR community of practice may be the most effective equalizing factors when it comes to success in the profession. When we ask our members who have been successful in carving out a career in ADR how they did it, they do not say “money, and lots of it”. Thankfully, you cannot buy your way into a meaningful career in ADR. Instead, the true markers of success in the field, according to our members, came down to the following behaviours and attitudes:
The ADR professions run and rely on volunteers to advocate for the profession, its use, its usefulness, its standards, the business case, etc.. A great way to get involved in the ADR community is to volunteer on boards, committees, or for organizations. Practitioners can advocate from within an ADR organization (e.g., with ADRIA or one of our partner organizations) or from the outside-in (e.g., recommend a dispute resolution clause to be added to your community league’s bylaws, introduce an ADR program at your child’s school). Because ADR (in its current form) is such a relatively new industry, the sky is the limit when it comes to ways to incorporate alternative dispute resolution into our lives and in how we can get involved in promoting ADR in our society.
If you have further questions about working in ADR, please connect with us. We would be happy to discuss any questions or concerns you might have.
ADR Canada. (2021). Professional Designations. ADR Institute of Canada. https://adric.ca/professional-designations/
ADR Canada. (2017). National Introductory Arbitration [Course Manual]. ADR Institute of Canada.
Canadian Arbitration Association. (2021). Fees. https://canadianarbitrationassociation.ca/?page_id=19
Department of Justice [Government of Canada]. (2017). Arbitration. Dispute Resolution Reference Guide, https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/csj-sjc/dprs-sprd/res/drrg-mrrc/06.html
Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B. (1991). Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (2nd ed.). Penguin Books: New York.
Herbert, W. (2015). The (Paradoxical) Wisdom of Solomon. Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/were-only-human/the-paradoxical-wisdom-of-solomon.html
Koshan, J., Mosher, J., & Wiegers, W. (2019). Mandatory dispute resolution coming back to Alberta, but what about domestic violence cases? ABlawg, http://ablawg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Blog_JK_JM_WW_ADR.pdf
Mediation Advocacy Task Force. (2016). ADRIA Mediation Advocacy Task Force White Paper. ADR Institute of Alberta.
Munro, J. (2019). Restorative Justice & Peacemaking Circles [Course Manual], ADR Institute of Alberta.
Munro, J. (April 20, 2021). Personal communication.