The ability to broker peace between two warring clans has been a valued asset for millennia, and those with this skill have held many a prestigious position.
Indeed, lingering arguments are a problem that few of us like to have; a small action, or fleeting remark, can often turn into a bigger ordeal. This is bad enough when it’s a personal conflict, but potentially worse if it involves international organisations.
These disputes tend to require some degree of legal intervention – though in many cases, the idea of going to full trial is an unthinkable burden, or simply isn’t appropriate. Companies rarely want to deal with the associated costs, stresses, or potential controversy. As a result of this, a growing number of cases (as many as 80-90%) are now settled out of court.
What is conflict resolution in law?
As the name suggests, conflict resolution refers to the practice of settling disputes and disagreements of a legal nature in the most amicable way possible. Conflict resolution involves several key Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) techniques:
Arbitration is a legal technique, settling matters outside of court but in a legally binding manner. Awards are made on behalf of the concerned parties, and there is usually an odd number of arbiters to prevent tied decisions.
Mediation similarly involves a neutral third party; matters are only resolved when all sides gathered together agree. Mediators do not make determinations or find fault, and agreements cannot be imposed on the parties.
Conciliation attempts to build a positive relationship between the disputers. Common in countries operating under civil law, the negotiations are driven towards a satisfactory agreement in a private setting by an impartial third party, a conciliator.
Whilst mediation and conciliation are similar, the primary difference concerns payment: conciliation is free for the involved parties; mediation is a paid service.
Negotiation, meanwhile, happens when the invested parties settle the dispute between themselves, coming to a settlement they can agree upon. Negotiation may involve representatives, but will not involve a neutral third party.
How to resolve legal conflicts
There are certain traits, such as strength of character, which will help to quell arguments. But to effectively resolve any conflict - legal or otherwise – you will benefit from approaching disputes with sensitivity and awareness.
In the professional sphere, you will discover a need to develop in-depth knowledge of conflict management concepts and techniques:
Information is important, as you will need to discover the source of the argument. The more you know about the conflict, the more you will be readily prepared to tackle it. Come equipped with some key questions which will help you move forwards.
Investigate root causes, as the answer may not be as simple as what is on the surface. Each party may be using disruptive methods to address the conflict, so some deeper digging may be necessary.
Involve opposing parties to hear their perspectives. Coming to a suitable resolution will be much less difficult if the participants are willing to co-operate, so finding a way to bridge the divide will be essential. But ensure you are listening closely to their views and intentions.
Identify those solutions which will have the best overall outcome, and be sure to relay their merits to the disputants. Disputants may start at polar opposites, but you can help them meet in the middle.
Agreement on a commonly beneficial solution can be reached in many cases, but the goal is to find the most suitable outcome. From time to time, this may not meet the exact wishes of disputants, and compromises will need to be made.
Conflict resolution skills
Conflicts are commonplace; from arguing over breakfast cereal, to international commercial disputes to the tune of millions. Although many of us try to avoid getting involved in major arguments on a regular basis, there are some silver linings to the odd heated discussion.
Exposure to these types of environments – such as growing up with siblings – can enhance our ability to hold our ground in a dispute. Arguments instil in us an array of personal communication skills, such as negotiation techniques, and knowing when and how to employ calming measures to diffuse those debates which get out of hand.
In fact, in the long term it is more detrimental to avoid conflict; failure to adequately handle disputes can damage both your personal and professional lives. Giving yourself the skills to confidently confront issues develops your emotional intelligence and creative problem solving, amongst others. Language skills, and consideration towards cultural differences can also prove useful here.
The ability to listen closely and understand both a subject, and a perspective, is of paramount importance in this role. Rather than bullishly push a client’s agenda forward, competency in this role depends on managing to blend these skills together, to arrive at accommodating resolutions that consider individual grievances and find balance.
Career opportunities with Conflict Resolution
Whilst ADR positions will not deal with criminal or high-value proceedings, professionals specialised in conflict resolution will have a powerful position in the legal system. Arbitrators effectively function as both judge and jury during arbitration tribunals, and Mediators and Conciliators will also have a major role to play in shaping their cases.
Average salaries for all Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators feature around the £35k mark, whilst top International Arbitration Lawyers often qualify for salary bands in excess of £125,000.
If you look forward to negotiating a top-class salary, and think you’d excel at brokering peace in a high-stakes legal environment, then take a look at LLM in Legal Practice (Conflict Resolution) for the skills to embark on this path.