It is important we define mentorship. This is a process of guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company or educational institution or in our case an alternative dispute resolution practitioner.

Choosing a Mentor: In most cases in Kenya when a person has decided to study any of the forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes he or she is normally qualified in another area of specialization. For example law, Engineering, Architecture, Medicine and so on. When selecting a mentor in my view it would be important to be careful who your mentor is and get a background when in the process of looking for a mentorship. The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (K) branch is an obvious choice for those who have graduated from this institution.  I have trained with the Mediation Training Institute (I) East Africa as a Certified Professional Mediator and looking for mentorship in both fields has proved to be challenging due to lack of mentors who can offer mentorships.

However, as with any profession ADR practice also has its own challenges. There are fundamental things I have learnt one must do and take the initiative and take control of your career early on and continue at that pace in order to establish in becoming successful as a neutral.  It is critical to understand your own field of specialization and the diverse cultural makeup of the market. Diversity would include cultural, racial, geographical, language and gender differences to name a few.

Mentorship: There are several aspects in this area. When one has just graduated we are all in a hurry and excited to get a feel of the ADR process and feel like work will come instantly. This will definitely not happen and for many reasons. There is a packed field of equally established ADR professionals practicing and already in the system and they are not about to let go. One must therefore be able to work within the system and get a mentorship which is extremely important in order to be a successful practitioner. There are important practical lessons to be learnt in terms of how to conduct oneself, personal grooming, legal knowledge, and industry knowledge e.g construction, insurance and so on. This can only come with experience in terms of working in the field. When working with a mentor it is useful to establish from the start goals and guidelines for how the relationship will work. Is the purpose of the mentorship to gain contacts, shadow the mentor in ADR hearings, and obtain advice or a combination of these goals? A new arbitrator or mediator should consider how often the mentor can reasonably be expected to be available and whether that fits the mentees needs. All this should be communicated in advance so that the training starts well.

Mentoring in arbitration and mediation should begin when you are serious in considering ADR practice as a professional. This cannot work as a side job. Successful mentoring relationships can lead to a huge stepping stone in establishing and building a successful ADR practice. Mentorship is a tradition and in many areas of alternative dispute resolution for example as lawyers, arbitrators or mediators the code of professional responsibility must be an obligation that an experienced arbitrator or mediator has to the profession is to cooperate in training new arbitrators and mediators.

There is no rule that arbitrators can have only one mentor. Using different mentors in different areas of expertise can provide increased exposure for the new arbitrator or mediator. Using only one mediator who may have specialized in one field only will have the negative identification of being competent in one sector or industry only.

Is there anything else a new graduate can do after mentorship or during to be relevant?

  1. Writing articles: This is a time when you are full of knowledge and are fresh with your reading. Write relevant articles look out for magazines that will suit your interest and this is one of the good ways to get attention to your existence. Although there is a popular saying that if you want to hide anything from a Kenyan hide it in a book. That apart there are a lot of people also reading and this a sure way to get the right attention on what you can offer.
  2. Social Media: There are always active groups on whatsapp application but the idea is to have one where people can respond and have the experience, knowledge and passion in this field. Like I said above associate with people who are far more experienced than you and only than, they can add value and learning which can be a mutual experience.
  3. Pro Bono or reduced fee work: getting the first arbitration can be a real challenge and can make or break arbitrators or mediators. Look for organizations for example churches, social organizations etc. for an opportunity to get some work and market space for yourself.
  4. Court Accredited ADR programs: Normally one has to have a minimum of three Pro Bono cases in terms of experience for the court to accredit a new arbitrator and an opportunity to conduct a matter. It’s an opportunity to begin working in the field. Recent statistics in Kenya show the court having disposed a large chunk of cases through the ADR process.
  5. Join Committees and Sub Committees: This is a good way to keep updated with your knowledge because of the ever evolving nature of ADR and there is always legislation to consider, case law to review and best practices to create and evaluate. This is an excellent opportunity to shape the thinking on these topics as well as learn from colleagues.
  6. Stand up for a position within the organization: This is an excellent opportunity to lead, learn and grow as a neutral. These offices are considered as high profile and the committees do substantial work and analysis that impacts the profession.
  7. Attend AGM’s, Seminars, Meetings, Luncheons and other Networking Events: Take this opportunity to talk to people, speak at the event and get an opportunity to be a guest speaker on a note-worthy topic. This is a golden chance to get noticed.

Conclusion: There will be a lots of hits and misses in this journey for the novice arbitrator and mediator to achieve success in the field. This is true for even practicing ADR professionals. The main advantage one has as an arbitrator and mediator is that one is allowed to market and advertise one self and it’s not restrictive as in other professions. And ADR practitioner’s commitment to the highest ideals of fairness and access to justice is reflected in the path to success. They enhance and advance and arbitrators and mediators career and lay down the foundation for the future of the entire profession.