chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

International Law News

International Law News, Winter 2024

The Lawyer As... Mediator and Arbitrator

Karin Marie Paparelli


  • The Lawyer As... is an editorial series created to illuminate, explore, and applaud the diverse roles lawyers hold.
  • The Winter 2024 edition of the ILN is proud to shine the spotlight on Ryan Abbott, our Lawyer as Mediator and Arbitrator.
  • We asked Mr. Abbott to kindly provide our readership with answers to the following questions with the hope that his responses will illuminate the life of an international mediator and arbitrator.
The Lawyer As... Mediator and Arbitrator
Darrin Klimek via Getty Images

Jump to:

The Lawyer As . . . an editorial series created to illuminate, explore and applaud the diverse roles lawyers hold from litigator to legislator, from advocate to agent. It is our goal here at the International Law News to introduce to you, our readers, legal professionals from varying backgrounds, educations, and career paths from all around the world in an effort to better understand and appreciate the vibrant mosaic of opportunities a career in law has to offer.

The Winter 2024 edition of ILN is proud to shine the spotlight on Ryan Abbott, our Lawyer as Mediator and Arbitrator.

We asked Mr. Abbott to kindly provide our readership with answers to the following questions with the hope that his responses will illuminate the life of an international mediator and arbitrator. While this role is usually more suitable for an attorney with prior experience in dispute resolution, acquired from work in litigation or from the judicial bench, attorneys are encouraged to explore the possibility of a career as a mediator and /or arbitrator. The editorial team here at the International Law News joins with our esteemed colleagues around the globe in applauding you, Ryan, as you passionately pursue your career goals as a neutral.

Q: Mr. Abbott, would you please provide a definition/explanation of your role as a Neutral:

Basically, my role is to help resolve disputes. This involves my acting as “a neutral,” i.e., a third-party with no direct involvement in an underlying dispute or interest in the dispute’s outcome, in, most commonly, a mediation or an arbitration. As a mediator, I work to help parties agree to a voluntary resolution. As an arbitrator, I generally render a final and binding decision to resolve a dispute. Mediation and arbitration tend to have significant advantages for parties to a dispute compared to traditional litigation. They tend to be more simple, fast, cheap, private, flexible, and less destructive of relationships and reputations.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) includes more than mediation and arbitration, such as processes including neutral evaluation, facilitation, conciliation, minitrials, settlement conferences, and so forth. The definitions and boundaries between these different forms of dispute resolution are not standardized but can involve important differences with respect to timing, whether participation is voluntary, the degree of confidentiality associated with proceedings, and whether and under what circumstance outcomes are binding.

Q: Would you please provide a brief history of Mediation and Arbitration as an alternate forum for dispute resolution?

The answer to this question could easily take up the entire column, but in brief, mediation and arbitration are ancient practices dating back to at least King Solomon’s resolution of the world’s most famous child custody dispute. Modernly, the use of mediation and arbitration has become so common that they are now familiar practices to pretty much all dispute resolution professionals, although it is difficult to get comprehensive statistics on how many mediations and arbitrations occur in a year because such proceedings are not reported or publicly available in the same way as court filings. But as a point of reference, in 2022, JAMS reported that it had over 23,000 active cases.

Q: Would you please provide your personal history achieving this role? Ryan, what is your story?

I have an unusual professional background in that I have an unusually large number of degrees and a diverse work history. Among other things, I trained as a physician scientist prior to practicing law. However, I have found that even work that might not seem immediately applicable to dispute resolution has ended up being helpful. For instance, many of my cases have some nexus to technology or life sciences. Even when I’m dealing with a founder dispute, or an employment matter, or a breach of contract, having a background in the field in which a dispute occurs is often valuable. Of course, sometimes technical substance is at the heart of a dispute, for example in a case involving patent infringement or misappropriation of trade secrets, and then my background is even more helpful.

In my case, I became interested in becoming a mediator and arbitrator from seeing neutrals in action during my work as an advocate in contentious matters. My background was what prompted JAMS to invite me on its panel, because JAMS was looking for a neutral with subject matter expertise in technology and life science-based disputes. Being qualified as a lawyer in the U.S., England and Wales, as well as a patent attorney, has also been particularly useful for international cases and for patent cases.

Q: Where are you based, what is your geographic location?

If I’m not traveling or on Zoom, I mainly split my time between Los Angeles, New York, and London.

Q: What would you say is the ease of entry into your current role?

It is relatively easy to become an arbitrator and mediator, it is more difficult to become an in-demand arbitrator and mediator and to join certain panels, like AAA, JAMS, or CPR. Many but not all mediators and arbitrators are attorneys, and many but not all mediators and arbitrators go through formal training. I personally did my initial mediation training with the Center for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) and my arbitration training with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb), as well as through JAMS which does training but only for its own panel of neutrals.

Many retired judges become mediators and arbitrators, and I have heard them describe the transition as doing the same work but for better pay. Former litigators also make up a good percentage of the neutral ranks, although neutrals come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including from having worked for insurance carriers, being in construction practice, or from having been a technical expert. It is less usual for individuals to come directly to neutral work without having first spent significant time as an advocate or working in some other capacity in a dispute resolution field, but going straight into neutral work is increasingly seen as a viable career path.

The bar for entry is low if someone is going into solo practice, and it is not uncommon for mediators and arbitrators to work on developing their neutral practice while continuing to do whatever work they were doing previously.

Q: How long have you served in this role?

I’ve been a mediator and arbitrator at JAMS for a bit more than five years.

Q: What would you say is the difficulty of the workload on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being easiest and 10 being most difficult)?

I would rate it a seven. Neutrals are typically independent, so they may work as much or as little as they choose. In that sense, the workload is what you want it to be. But the work itself can be challenging. Different skillsets can be needed for mediation versus arbitration. Mediation involves getting people in active conflict to come together, and the barriers to this can vary greatly on a case-by-case basis and in ways that are not always apparent from what parties tell you. For instance, even straightforward appearing commercial disputes can have a significant emotional component for the individuals involved that may need to be addressed to help everyone move forward. Arbitration requires a thorough understanding of rules and processes to ensure that cases are dealt with promptly, economically, and fairly. Experience and a willingness to make decisive rulings are critical, as well as a willingness to actively manage a case when counsel cannot agree amongst themselves.

Q: Would you share with us what the pay scale is compared to that of other legal roles? Choose one of the following or add your own: pro-bono, almost pro-bono, modest, robust, exceptional?

Robust, although it very much depends on the work setting and types of cases. There are many pro-bono or low-bono programs for arbitrators and mediators, for example, Court mediation panels. I personally do pro-bono mediation and arbitration through the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA) Attorney-Client Mediation and Arbitration Services (ACMAS) program, which helps parties resolve attorney-clients disputes outside of the court system. I’m also an executive committee member of ACMAS and serve as a Vice-Chair for cases which involves supervision and review of arbitrations and arbitral awards. Most JAMS cases, however, tend to be relatively high value cases, and most of my cases are commercial in nature and often involve parties that are large entitles represented by sophisticated and talented attorneys.

Q: Do you find competitiveness is a factor in this role?

Yes. This field is highly competitive.

Q: How would you describe your overall career satisfaction in this role?


Q: Work/life balance - is there any?

Again, because most neutrals are independent and choose how much they work, it is entirely possible to prioritize work/life balance.

Q: Finally: What advice would you offer for someone interested in this area of law?

I would recommend first participating in a training program, such as those offered by CEDR and CIArb. Even if you decide not to practice as a mediator, just about anyone can benefit from mediation training and improving their dispute resolution skillset. Resolving disputes is also a daily life activity and comes in particularly useful for dealing with teenagers.

Otherwise, it is very helpful to have been a federal judge prior to becoming a mediator and arbitrator. I advise you to make friends with senators!