Arbitrators Group Launches Program to Increase Diversity in Field

The College of Commercial Arbitrators has opened registration for a new mentorship program focused on diversity.

The CCA is searching for three candidates who are from diverse backgrounds and active in the alternative dispute resolution field. They also want people with less than five years of experience working as a commercial arbitrator and who are committed to building their skills. A fellow will be assigned to work as a mentor for each selection.

The deadline to apply is Aug. 5 and selections will be announced Aug. 22 for the two-year program. Those selected will be invited to participate in CCA programs and attend the CCA’s annual meeting at no cost. 

Tyrone Holt, managing principal at The Holt Group LLC in Denver and a member of the CCA, said the goal is to create more highly experienced and sophisticated commercial arbitrators who have diverse backgrounds. He also wants the group to share resources through education, networking and experience, while teaching program participants how to build a practice.

“Most commercial arbitrators, just by happenstance and history, are older white men,” Holt said. “People look for people who have accomplished things in the industry, who have developed a great deal of expertise generally by being advocates and then arbitrators, and then many of them move from their law practice into being arbitrators alone and people select them because of their background, experience and training. That necessarily, typically means, white males.”

“So, there has been a big push in the industry for the last 20 years to enhance the number of people of color and women, people of national origin, into the profession because there’s a real need now from the user groups,” said Holt. “The people who pick us to decide their disputes want to see more diversity.”

Gene Commander, who has practiced law in larger firms for decades in Colorado, said this program is needed a great deal.

“The other real powerful benefit that will come from this is that as arbitrators, when we serve on panels were dealing with large commercial disputes [and] we are serving as the trier of fact,” Commander said, who is a member of the CCA and executive business counselor of Gene Commander, Inc. 

We listen to the testimony from live witnesses, we weigh all the evidence and then we use our background and experience to try to reach a fair and proper decision,” said Commander. “When you are serving on a panel and you have diverse viewpoints, whether it’s diversity from subject matter expertise … or whether it’s diversity from perspective — human perspective — that’s all very helpful and very positive in terms of trying to come to a fair and just result.”      

Holt said there have been improvements when it comes to diversity since the CCA began about 20 years ago, when only 19 of their 121 fellows were women. Now more than half are women. He added there were only four people of color in the CCA when it started, but now the organization is 19% people of color.

“In the College, we’ve concluded that one of our goals is our public service commitment to the industry is to take the long-term to increase the number of highly qualified commercial arbitrators who fit these other qualifications that our user groups are demanding and it is a long game and you have to be patient,” Holt said.

This new associates program is in its infancy, with the goal of growing it even more in the future including adding three more candidates next year.

“At the end of next year, we’ll look at the results, look at what we’ve done [and] how we’ve done it … and decide whether to continue the program and how to enhance it and it’s my expectation and hope that we will expand it because it’s unique in the industry,” Holt said.

As for arbitration generally, more colleges are taking on its fine points and teaching it in the classroom. 

Colleges like Pepperdine and Harvard have developed their own ADR programs where commercial arbitration and mediation are taught as part of the curriculum both in the law school and in separate specialized schools. This leads to more people coming out of school with the intent of becoming arbitrators and mediators.

“When you look at the people coming out of law schools, it’s only been within the last decade or so … that law schools have shifted a focus to concentrate on alternative dispute resolution, namely arbitration and mediation,” Commander said. “So it’s a sliver of the curriculum in law schools, it’s a sliver of the profession in the private law practice.”

Holt continued saying there’s still a great deal of demand for commercial arbitration and you can develop a very personally and professionally rewarding career in commercial arbitration.

The CCA is an invitation-only collegial organization founded in 2001 providing a platform for experienced commercial arbitrators both domestically and internationally with a focus on having a professional and social interchange which includes educational opportunities.

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