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Alternative Dispute Resolution: Job Description and Careers in the UK

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 5 minutes


Reading Time: 5 min

What is Alternative Dispute Resolution?

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to all forms of dispute resolution mechanisms that are not litigation-based – where parties resort to the courts. In some quarters in the UK, what ADR is, is a tad bit different. In the UK, some consider ADR to describe all dispute resolution methods other than court proceedings and arbitration, or just non-adjudicative dispute resolution methods such as mediation and executive tribunal. 

Regardless, with the UK court system facing a backlog crisis, the importance of ADR is more pronounced as ADR is being resorted to because of its cost-effective and time-efficient benefits. Also, when cases are brought before the courts, the courts will want to see that the parties have at least attempted to apply ADR. 

In the UK, there are four main types of ADR, which are negotiation, mediation, conciliation and arbitration. The first three forms aren’t legally binding. If an agreement isn’t legally binding, there is no legal enforcement on the agreement if one party decides to later change their mind. In this instance, the case will have to be brought back to court for a judge to make a legally binding decision.

The Leading Law Firms in this area

Top firms include Norton Rose Fulbright, Dentons, Skadden, Three Crowns, White & Case, Herbert Smith Freehills, Debevoise & Plimpton, Hogan Lovells, Latham & Watkins, Ashurst, Clyde & Co, CMS, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Kirkland & Ellis, Mayer Brown and Pinsent Masons. All these firms – and there are more – are regarded by Legal 500 as firms with top-notch expertise in this practice area.

Type of Cases ADR is used for

In the simplest of forms, ADR can be used for all kinds of civil disputes except criminal cases. Civil disputes are disputes between private individuals and/or organisations concerning differences relating to the parties’ respective legal rights and interests that are either implied or expressly stated in an agreement. 

Type of Clients 

As a lawyer specializing in ADR, you can expect that the clients that seek your service will be diverse and varied. You work with individuals involved in family break-ups, large multinational companies seeking a resolution to disputes arising from contracts with fellow companies insurance employers, and construction and maritime industries.  

What does the Work Involve?

Lawyers working in ADR processes will work closely with their clients to determine the best dispute resolution process to meet their clients’ needs. Some lawyers do tend to work as mediators or arbitrators charged with settling clients’ disputes. An ADR lawyer will be selling to the client, the benefits and logic of going for ADR – privacy, flexibility and relative speed of ADR. The work will involve settling business disputes of all kinds, including those featuring complex financial issues. These disputes may arise from both domestic and international transactions. 

The work of an ADR lawyer is to help their client negotiate satisfactory agreements and settlements. Instead of going to court and waiting for a judge’s decision which may take forever, an ADR lawyer negotiates on his client’s behalf and works to facilitate an agreement between his client and the other party. 

Average Earnings 

The pay of an ADR lawyer will depend on a host of things like the firm he or she is working for and the specialism of ADR – arbitrators tend to get more money. Regardless, the average Dispute resolution lawyer salary is £52,500 or £26.92 per hour. Entry-level positions start at £38,400 per year while most experienced workers make more than £100,000 per year. 

Skills Necessary to Be Successful

To succeed as a lawyer in this sector, you must:

  • Have excellent persuasion skills as he or she will need to be able to explain to his clients that using this process does not always mean that the client will get exactly what he desires out of the dispute resolution process.
  • Have great interpersonal skills to be able to build rapport or relationships with a wide range of different people such as clients and opposing parties.   
  • Be a great negotiator.
  • Also, have the knack for preventing disputes or at least preventing disputes from escalating to the courts.
  • Be empathetic to the client’s objectives and perspectives (and anger).
  • Have the ability to think quickly on your feet

Work-Life Balance in ADR 

Although working hours will vary depending on cases, relatively speaking, an ADR lawyer can achieve a good work-life balance. To maintain continuity with their clients by providing the best service, these lawyers need to be prepared to be flexible. 

If there are ongoing negotiations or settlements, lawyers may have to be prepared to pull an all-nighter. Once busy deadlines are over, working from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm is normal provided you are organised with your time. This time applies to both trainees and senior lawyers. Technology gives lawyers extra flexibility: working late doesn’t mean working late at the office. The more you grow in your experience and responsibility you may be required to travel often.

The Daily life of an ADR Trainee 

As a trainee, you should not expect to be solely on a seat dedicated to ADR as law firms will most likely ensure that you get a taste of the litigation aspect of their firm. As a trainee your work might include:

  • Drafting emails, witness statements, and other documents and notes
  • Undertaking research tasks, which might be points of law or specific companies
  • Working with clients directly
  • Project management such as keeping track of where documents are and what certain processes are.
  • Drafting articles or blogs

Things to Keep an Eye out For

Last year, 2021, the Civil Justice Council (CJC) published its long-awaited report; concluding that it would be lawful and may be desirable for compulsory alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to be introduced into the English civil justice system, provided certain principles and conditions are developed.

While ADR is not yet compulsory in the UK, this report opens the door to a significant shift towards the earlier resolution of disputes and recognition of the importance of alternative systems of dispute resolution. It appears that the conclusion of the CJC was reached as a result of the possibility that litigation is an expensive venture, the courts have become congested with a backlog of cases and a quicker route to justice needs to be encouraged. 

Perhaps very soon there will be a requirement that before cases are instituted the lawyers should have tried to engineer the use of ADR. 

How Do I Become One?

The route of becoming an ADR lawyer is the same as other areas of law. If you have a law degree, for now, you can take the LPC – by 2032, the LPC will be completely phased out. Once you have completed your LPC, you then need to get a training contract with law firms dealing in this sector. After your contract, you can then become a newly qualified lawyer.

If, however, you have no law degree, do not be afraid as many students with degrees in other areas have become dispute resolution lawyers. For those with different degrees, you need to take an additional course before the LPC, known as a conversion course (that is, the SQE). This will eventually replace the LPC too.

What Might be a Good Fit?

If you have the skills mentioned earlier then you should consider a role as a dispute resolution lawyer. Furthermore, you need to be a team player because you’ll work as part of a large team; all pulling together to make sure that the clients’ disputes are resolved.

If you’re resilient trying to settle disputes is no walk in the park. Sometimes settlement of disputes may take months or even more before a settlement is reached. Sometimes you may have invested months into settling a matter for negotiations to collapse and the matter to resort to the courts. 

As a trainee, you should develop great attention to detail, flexibility and proactivity to pick up work.

Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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