Careers in Dispute Resolution: How to Solve Conflicts for a Living

Careers in Dispute Resolution: How to Solve Conflicts for a Living

Are you interested in helping people find solutions to professional, business or family conflicts? Do you also have an interest in law, but aren’t sure if you want to commit to pursuing a law degree? A career in dispute resolution may be the right choice for you.

Not all legal disputes are settled in the courtroom. Professionals with titles like arbitrator, conciliator and mediator meet with clients in settings like board rooms, offices or homes to help achieve agreed-upon outcomes.


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Professionals within 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

Those who work in arbitration and mediation careers help everyone from couples who are divorcing, to professionals who work at a business. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the number of jobs related to arbitrators, conciliators and mediators is expected to increase 10% between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than average compared to all professions.


If helping individuals and groups solve conflicts sounds appealing to you, use this guide to careers in dispute resolution to learn more.

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Skills, Qualifications and Requirements to Enter the Dispute Resolution Field

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 successfully 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
  • Technology skills, like scheduling software, email and word processing

Though many mediators, arbitrators and conciliators come into their field with a law degree, it isn’t required. People from any educational or professional can work in the field of dispute resolution. 

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. Get information on becoming a mediator without a law degree.

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 around 20 to 40 hours of mediation training. There may also be extensive law training required. You can learn more about state-by-state requirements to work as a court-certified mediator in our online guide.

For arbitrators, conciliators and mediators who wish to work with organizations, there may be conflict management roles available at their own companies. When business professionals have already developed trust and understanding of their company’s culture and structure, they may be a fit for conflict resolution careers.

Working in the Field of Conflict Resolution

An American Bar Association survey of mediators with decades of experience found diverse reasons mediators enjoy their work. One of the reasons why conflict resolution careers are attractive is because the job is so stimulating. Mediators constantly encounter new situations through their clients and must work with diverse personalities to achieve positive outcomes.

For many clients of arbitrators, conciliators and mediators, the conflict they need assistance with is something that is stressful and time-consuming. The conflict resolution process helps to alleviate that burden once the conflict is solved. 

Conflict resolution careers can also be exciting when the mediator identifies a mutually beneficial solution for both parties. This solution may never have been apparent to the conflicting parties, and solving the problem results in an “aha!” moment that is both thrilling and satisfying.

Types of Dispute Resolution Processes

There are many types of dispute resolution processes. All are characterized by informality; application of equity and participation; and communication. Some of the variations include:

  • Arbitration, where two parties present evidence to an arbitrator who can make a legally-binding decision.
  • Case evaluation, where a neutral third party examines evidence and provides an evaluation of the case, either privately to each party or in a joint session.
  • Conflict coaching, where a professional coaches a client about how to improve their role in the dispute resolution process.
  • Mediation, where a mediator guides those in conflict toward a mutually agreeable settlement, but the parties in conflict make the decision to agree.
  • Parenting coordination, where a mediator helps parents resolve disputes and develop functional co-parenting relationships.

Whether you’re interested in working with families or separating couples, or you want to work with businesses and organizations, there are diverse roles in dispute resolution you can pursue.

Dispute Resolution Career Outlook

The job outlook for mediators is growing at a faster pace than the national average, with 800 new arbitrator, conciliator and mediator positions expected to be added in the U.S. workforce between 2016 and 2026.

According to the BLS, the 2018 median pay for arbitrators, mediators and conciliators was $62,270 per year. Typically, at least a bachelor’s degree is required to find work in these types of roles. The BLS reports that many positions within this field require an advanced degree, like a Master’s in Legal Studies.

According to the BLS, the following states have the highest level of employment for arbitrators, conciliators and mediators.

  • California: $97,430 annual mean wage
  • Texas: $62,390 annual mean wage
  • New York: $85,910 annual mean wage
  • Illinois: $90,020 annual mean wage

Florida: $61,790 annual mean wage

The five states/regions with the highest concentration of jobs in these fields are District of Columbia, Montana, Delaware, Utah and Connecticut. 

Conflict Resolution Job Titles

Roles in dispute resolution are represented with a variety of job titles. The most common among them are:


An arbitrator is a neutral third party who has the ability to make a conflict resolution decision that is enforceable in a court of law. In some cases, the arbitrator’s decision will be non-binding and advisory, which means it is only final if the conflicting parties accept it.


Like arbitrators, a mediator presides over a dispute — unlike arbitrators, however, mediators do not have the power to impose a legally-binding resolution. Mediators are neutral third parties who guide those in conflict toward a mutually agreeable resolution, though the parties must agree to accept the resolution. Once there is an agreement between participating parties, the mediator can draft a written contract that may be enforceable in court.


Conciliators do similar work to mediators, but they take a more active role in resolving the conflict by advising parties on specific solutions through a settlement proposal. While a mediator works more collaboratively with the parties to come to conflict resolution, the conciliator proposes a specific solution to avoid escalated conflict.


Ombudsmen are trained to resolve complaints at particular organizations or for certain groups of people. The role of the ombudsman will vary depending on the organization they work for, but typical duties include being an advocate for conflict resolution, investigating complaints in an impartial way and providing recommendations that help to improve the organization and satisfy those in conflict.


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 with their findings to help with dispute resolution. Unlike mediators, they don’t involve the conflicting parties in their recommendations. They are only concerned with the facts of the case.

Conflict Resolution Job Titles Arbitrators - Decisions an be legally-binding - Collaborative with both parties - Neutral third party - Works with individuals and groups Mediators - Decisions not legally-binding - Collaborative with both parties - Neutral third party - Works with individuals and groups Conciliators - Provides settlement agreements - Neutral third party - Works with individuals and groups Ombudsmen - Provides recommendations - Investigates complaints - Neutral third party - Works with individuals and groups Fact-finders - Does not provide recommendations - Gathers and reviews evidence - Neutral third party - Usually work with arbitrators

Starting Your Own Dispute Resolution Practice?

Many professionals in arbitration or mediation careers decide to start their own dispute resolution practices. This enables them to market themselves, work with clients who align with their interests, specialize their services and be their own bosses.

If you want to create your own dispute resolution practice, the American Bar Association has some recommendations.

  • Connect with professional organizations. Become a member of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and a member of the Association for Conflict Resolution, as well as a member of the dispute resolution group of your state or local bar association. This helps you connect with others in the field and gives you an opportunity to find a mentor or coach.
  • Reach out to your network. Let those you’ve worked with know you are branching out into mediation. Frequently let old contacts know what new work you’re up to.
  • Create a business plan. If you are starting your own practice, you are also assuming the role of business owner. Create a strategic business plan, a financial plan and a marketing plan. Market yourself online with a website and social media presence. Attend local networking events, and have business cards ready to hand out.

As you build your practice, continually educate yourself and promote your services. Read books on mediation, offer to speak at lunch-and-learns or for professional groups, and offer thought leadership by writing blog posts and articles.

You must use a business mindset to promote your services and grow your practice so you have the clients to do the work you’re interested in. You might also want to tap into your local Small Business Administration resources to get your practice up and running.

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 working in environmental/public policy work on resolving conflicts related to transportation, land use, resource management, housing and healthcare.


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: Both 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.

Since just about any business, organization or relationship experiences conflict, so dispute resolution is needed in a variety of industries. Whether you enjoy the academic side of conflict resolution, aim to make a difference in policy, or you want to work with families and couples, you have options within the field of dispute resolution.

Current Job Opportunities in Mediation and Conflict Resolution

If a career in dispute resolution is piquing your interest, take a look at some of the current roles available and their requirements. Click on any of the links below to see current job opportunities for individuals with education and experience in conflict resolution and mediation:

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