In an age where corporate culture and values have shifted following the worldwide impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has had to adapt to transformative new ways of working by using modern tools, platforms and processes to implement effective dispute resolution; crucially whilst still keeping professional development and career progression at the forefront.
As many look forward to returning to the office more regularly, there's been a shift in energy and increased collaboration amongst employees which is echoed in their training, development and career aspirations.
We asked two Ombudsmen at the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman (DRO), Juliette Fletcher and Anastasia May to find out how instrumental the suite of in-house training, mentoring and day-to-day experience has been in helping to shape their career paths and build their workplace journeys.
How have you found the training at DRO?
Juliette: The initial stages of our training programme included a welcome and general introduction to the company. Following this, we were guided through the different aspects of the ADR process and a range of examples were provided at every stage. Prior to acquiring our own caseload, we were given the opportunity to shadow other Ombudsmen and were provided with case studies to work through, ensuring we were well equipped for casework. The City & Guilds accredited Consumer Law and GDPR course, which is led by our Deputy Chief Ombudsman, Judith Turner also gave us a comprehensive understanding of consumer behaviour and the principles of Consumer Law.
In addition to this, we’ve acquired our CIArb Membership with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, which is the world’s leading qualification and professional body for dispute avoidance and dispute management.
Anastasia: We learnt in greater depth about consumer rights law, an area you do not cover in as much detail during your legal studies. We particularly focused on the application of the law to ensure we were equipped to act as the ‘decision maker’. As a law you student you’re often only representing one-side of the argument and we had to change the way we approach our cases, assessing them from this position. This is the unique aspect of the role, as it’s very rare at this stage of our qualification to sit as the decision maker, an experience you would not usually gain you until much later in your career as an arbitrator or judge. We also learnt about ADR more broadly and the impact our role has on consumers, businesses, and the wider dispute resolution landscape.
Tell us a bit more of your career journeys thus far?
Juliette: After studying for my GCSE’s and A-Levels, I enrolled onto the LLB (Hons) Law with Criminology course at Nottingham Trent University. Whilst studying for my Undergraduate Degree, I volunteered at The Citizens Advice Bureau which enabled me to build my confidence in interviewing clients both via the telephone and face-to-face. Once I had completed my degree, I spent some time travelling around the world, exploring countries such as Bali, New Zealand and Australia. In September 2019 I enrolled and completed the LLM Legal Practice Course. I’ve now been working at the Ombudsman for over a year, working with both furniture and home improvement cases.
Anastasia: I obtained a 1st class degree from the University of York, then completed my Masters with a distinction and I joined DRO as a full time Ombudsman. After 6 months, I began the BPC to qualify as a Barrister whilst working part-time at DRO. Once I’ve completed the course I will be called to the Bar of England and Wales. The next stage is to obtain pupillage, which will be the final part of my training. This is the on-the-job training element of my qualification. The application process takes roughly 18 months in advance, which entails several rounds of interviews. From a progression standpoint, a lot of people are interested to hear you’re an Ombudsman; it’s a great conversational piece!
What’s next for you both?
Juliette: During my time at the Ombudsman my confidence has grown significantly. Additionally, I have built resilience when dealing with more complex casework and challenging conversations. I also coordinated a corporate charity fundraiser in Summer 2021, despite the challenges that the pandemic threw at us!
The skills I’ve developed at the Ombudsman will be taken with me as I step into my new role as a Trainee Solicitor in September. I’ve worked with a wonderful team over the past year, which makes goodbye very hard, however I'm excited to see what the future holds.
Anastasia: Next is to obtain pupillage. My role here has been a fantastic steppingstone in my career, providing unparalleled experience at such an early stage. There are several similarities between our process and court proceedings, especially in how we use experts in adjudications. Whilst studying practical BPC course, I’ve had the opportunity to apply what I’ve learnt on the course at work, which has really helped me with my studies and developing skills for my future career. Alongside the specific legal knowledge I’ve gained, I’ve been able to develop my soft skills, dealing with a huge variety of consumers and business on a daily basis. I’ve also been grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given to stretch myself and undertake tasks beyond my role, allowing me to learn skills I’ll be utilising in my future career, such as reviewing Terms and Conditions. The role of an Ombudsman carries a lot of independence, managing your own caseload, and responsibility, making legally binding decisions; aspects which will reflect my future career at the Bar. Looking back, I’ll certainly be using the training I’ve inadvertently picked up too, relying on real-life scenarios and experiences in my day-to day role.
For more information, go to www.disputeresolutionombudsman.org/careers.