7 Careers in Dispute Resolution

If you’re interested in helping parties negotiate and manage conflict, you might want to pursue a master’s in dispute resolution or a related legal studies degree. Those who study this field learn about problem-solving, listening, relationship building and communication. Dispute resolution professionals work with diverse clients in a variety of settings, including corporate offices, nursing homes and schools.

The demand for dispute resolution professionals such as arbitrators, mediators and conciliators is high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of arbitrators, mediators and conciliators will grow a faster-than-average 8% from 2019 to 2029.

Getting a master’s degree in dispute resolution can help you move into the field if you currently work in a different industry.

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Here are seven dispute resolution careers you might want to consider.

1. Arbitrator

Arbitrators hear and decide disputes based on evidence parties present at a hearing. They often have legal backgrounds but prefer to work in casual spaces, like boardrooms. Like attorneys, arbitrators prepare statements and make arguments for their clients. In some cases, arbitrators can work on a panel with other dispute resolution professionals.

According to a BLS report, there were over 7,000 arbitrator, mediator and conciliator jobs in the United States in 2019. More than 600 new positions are expected to be added in these fields by 2029. Median pay for arbitrators, mediators and conciliators was $66,130 per year in 2020, the BLS reported.

2. Mediator

Mediators use interpersonal and negotiating skills to help conflicting parties decide on an agreement. If mediation does not lead to a deal, the parties may go to court.

Unlike arbitrators, mediators cannot make binding decisions. Their job is to facilitate discussion between the opposing parties by guiding them to make their own decision.

Pay for mediators can vary by industry. For example: For those working in state government (excluding education and hospitals), the median annual salary was $67,070.

3. Conciliator

Conciliators are similar to mediators. But, while mediators meet in the middle with both parties, conciliators meet with conflicting parties separately, then recommend solutions. Before each party meets with the conciliator, they will usually decide if they will be bound by their recommendations.

4. Contract Negotiation Manager

A contract negotiation manager communicates, bargains and decides on concessions to move toward a written agreement.

Before any arrangement is put in place, contract negotiation managers can research bids and contract drafts to identify risks and areas that will benefit their clients. And, they may also review and revise existing contracts.

According to the BLS, there were 526,200 purchasing managers, buyers and agents in the United States in 2019. Companies that deal with large-scale contracts can use these dispute professionals to deal solely with the contract side of purchasing.

5. Ombudsmen

When complaints are brought against a company or organization, the ombudsman impartially investigates the dispute and recommends how to resolve the conflict. Ombudsmen work in various settings, including government agencies, corporations and nonprofits.

6. Appraisers, Examiners, Claims Adjusters and Investigators

When an insurance claim is filed, it’s up to appraisers, examiners, claims adjusters and investigators to evaluate them. People in this field decide whether an insurance company must pay a claim and, if so, how much. They examine insurance terms to determine whether a policy covers the loss claimed and decide on the appropriate amount the company should pay.

Appraisers, examiners, claims adjusters and investigators can negotiate settlements. They also investigate questionable claims to help protect companies from fraud.

According to the BLS report on claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners, and investigators:

  • The 2020 median pay was $68,270 per year, with the highest paid 10% earning more than $103,610.
  • There were 348,800 claims adjuster, appraiser, examiner and investigator jobs in 2019.

7. Policy Analyst

Policy analysts examine public policies, laws and regulations and determine if they should be adjusted. They also help introduce and implement new public policies based on emerging issues and trends. Because policies are often contested and may cause conflicts between opposing parties, a dispute resolution background is beneficial for policy analysts.

Policy analysts typically work for government or non-government organizations that lobby for policy adjustments. They may also work for businesses to drive policies to benefit the companies.

8. Fact-finders

Fact-finders are impartial parties who determine the facts of a conflict. They use evidence to investigate conflict details and may provide professionals like arbitrators and mediators with their findings to help resolve disputes. 

Dispute Resolution Practice Areas

Family: Family mediation careers include working with divorcing couples; engaged couples or newlyweds who want a prenuptial agreement; divorced parents that need help learning to coparent; parents and their teenage or adult children; probate issues; and family property and family business conflicts. 

Environmental/Public Policy: Dispute resolution experts in environmental/public policy work on resolving conflicts related to transportation, land use, resource management, housing and health care.

Education: Dispute resolution issues in educational settings include those related to special needs education and working with families and educators. Dispute resolution experts may also be hired by schools to design and manage violence prevention, anti-bullying and peer mediation programs.

Organizational/Workplace: Dispute resolution roles in organizations and businesses include human resources and management. Internal and/or external experts may be called upon to resolve employee and management issues, as well as to design a conflict management system.

Labor/Management: In labor/management, dispute resolution experts may negotiate and mediate labor relations and employment-related disputes, as well as provide negotiation coaching and training.

Community: There are community mediation careers related to community organizing and activism, nonprofit management, case management and police-community relations.

International: Governmental and non-governmental dispute resolution roles exist to address international development, human rights, security and relief work.

Academic: In the academic world, dispute resolution experts write research papers and share strategies, teach those who are interested in dispute resolution and work as experts for policy centers.

Conflict is common in businesses, organizations and relationships. Whether you enjoy the academic side of conflict resolution, aim to make a difference in policy, or want to work with families and couples, there are a number of options within the field of dispute resolution.

Skills, Qualifications and Requirements to Enter the Dispute Resolution Field

Those who work in arbitration and mediation careers help everyone from couples who are divorcing to professionals who work at a business. According to the BLS, professionals in the conflict resolution industry perform duties like:

  • facilitate communication between conflicting parties.
  • act as a mediator to make sure all concerns and issues are clear among all parties involved.
  • evaluate documents and apply relevant laws to conflict resolution proceedings.
  • prepare settlement agreements.

If you want to enter the dispute resolution field, knowledge of laws, court procedures, legal codes and other law and government regulations can help you to prepare. Being able to work successfully with people is equally important. Having mastery of communication, human psychology and customer and personal services is also essential because you’re helping conflicting parties achieve resolution.

Effective arbitrators, conciliators and mediators must be able to lead discussions and conduct interviews with multiple parties. They need to use laws and/or judicial precedents to inform decisions. Document evaluation is crucial for careers in dispute resolution.

Some of the skills and abilities required for a career in dispute resolution include:

  • negotiation, persuasion, problem-solving, reasoning and decision-making.
  • active listening and communication.
  • critical thinking, logic and reasoning.
  • service orientation and social perceptiveness.
  • Comfort with technology, like scheduling software, email and word processing.

Since dispute resolution occurs outside the courtroom, it opens the door for those interested in working with people and solving conflicts to enter the profession. People from different educational or professional backgrounds may work in the field of dispute resolution. Get information on how to become a mediator. You may also be interested in a court-certified mediator position. This is a meditator who meets court-mandated standards and requirements. Generally, court-certified mediators must complete 20 to 40 hours of mediation training. Extensive legal training may also be required. You can learn more about state-by-state requirements to work as a court-certified mediator in our online guide.

Grow a Career in Dispute Resolution

The career paths you can take in dispute management with a master’s or higher degree are diverse. Dispute resolution careers are found in every type of organization and industry, from government and the corporate world, to education and nonprofits.

If you enjoy critical thinking, reasoning, decision-making, persuasion, communication and relationships, you might be interested in a career in dispute resolution.  A Master of Legal Studies (MLS) program with dispute resolution concentration or a master’s in dispute resolution can help you grow your career.

Last updated: April 2021

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