An arbitrator is a person who has been chosen to preside over an arbitration proceeding, which is a method of alternative dispute resolution. Arbitrators typically play the roles of both judge and jury. In addition to addressing procedural issues, hearing each party’s side of the case, and weighing the evidence, they also apply the law and render a final verdict in the proceeding. In most circumstances, an arbitrator’s decision is binding on the parties.
Arbitrators may govern the proceedings on their own, or they may be members of an arbitration panel, which is comprised of multiple arbitrators. Arbitration panels frequently consist of an odd number of people in order to avoid a deadlock in reaching a decision. If an arbitration panel is chosen, a chairperson may be selected to lead the panel. Typically, the chairperson sets the agenda but otherwise has the same duties as the rest of the panel members.
Sometimes an arbitration panel includes an umpire. The umpire generally does not actively participate in the proceeding unless the other members of the panel are unable to reach a decision in the case. In that situation, the umpire frequently becomes the sole decision maker.
Arbitrators are generally selected by the parties involved in the dispute. In many cases, this determination is made by a contractual clause long before the dispute arises. For instance, an arbitration clause in a contract may specify that a single arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators will govern the proceedings. Clauses may also dictate who will serve as the arbitrator or whether someone will be appointed by a professional arbitration organization. The selected arbitrators must be fair and impartial, and they cannot have a personal interest in the outcome of the case.
Arbitrators are customarily paid for their services. As a general rule, each of the parties involved in the arbitration pays an equal share of the arbitrator's fees. In some cases, however, the losing party may be bear all of the arbitration fees and costs, including the arbitrator’s fees. If the parties fail to pay, the arbitrator may sue them in order to recover his or her fees.
An arbitrator generally has expertise in the area of law at issue. For instance, international arbitrators usually have a solid grasp on international law. Some jurisdictions require arbitrators to be lawyers, judges, or law school graduates. Other jurisdictions are more lenient but may require credentials such as a college degree. In most jurisdictions, arbitrators are required to complete an arbitration training course.