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GROWING A BUDDING ADR PRACTICE: The Role of Mentors and Sponsors in ADR Practice


I appreciate the organisers of this workshop – International Chamber of Commerce Young Arbitrators Forum (ICC YAF) for the opportunity to speak at this workshop.  I recognise every other speaker at this workshop and the amount of resource each speaker has offered at today’s workshop.

At the risk of rehashing what has already been said earlier on, permit me to re-introduce the workshop’s theme. The theme of this session is “Growing a budding ADR Practice”. However, the focus of my discussion is as it pertains to “The Role of Mentors and Sponsors in ADR Practice”. This is a very timely discussion as the practice of ADR is becoming a very viable and attractive practice area. This is seeing the influx of a lot of young practitioners into the ADR scene. Practitioners interested in making a successful practice require to have discussions such as the instant one and this avenue is very much appreciated.

What is ADR and ADR Practice?

I cannot effectively do justice to this topic without briefly touching on the meaning of ADR and ADR Practice. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a set of practices and techniques designed to facilitate the resolution of legal disputes outside the Courts system. It is a set of processes used in resolving disputes without the need to go to court. It can also be said to be a means of settling disputes by means other than litigation. It usually includes negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and a variety of other hybrid procedures involving a neutral party who facilitates the resolution of legal disputes without a formal adjudication, such as combining Mediation and Arbitration (Med-Arb). Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) may be preventive (negotiation, ADR clauses); facilitative (mediation); advisory (conciliation) or determinative (arbitration, Med-Arb, Arb-Med, and Adjudication).

The practice of Alternative Dispute Resolution indicates a person’s involvement in the facilitation of alternative means of resolving disputes. ADR practice connotes the giving of legal advice or of representation of another as an agent in an ADR process, or in the preparation of legal documents to be used in the procedure. ADR practice can also be said to extend to playing the role of facilitating a mediation as a mediator, performing in advisory function as a conciliator or acting as an unbiased umpire in determining the rights of the parties, although outside of the institution of the court.

As a lawyer, your role in ADR is diverse and therein presents the opportunities to grow a vibrant ADR practice. A lawyer may embrace the practice as a counsel or may play the role of resolving the dispute in some supervisory function. Either way, there appears to be an avenue to pursue a vibrant ADR practice.

Growing a Budding ADR practice

At this point, I believe that it would be appropriate to highlight some ideas on how to grow a budding ADR Practice. How can a lawyer build a career in ADR practice? How can he/she grow a budding practice? These are questions that may well be on the minds of a larger percentage of this paper’s audience. I have no doubt that previous speakers have touched on this broad topic. However, permit me to say a few words before I get to the nitty-gritty of my paper.

Growing a budding ADR practice can be difficult as one may not know where to start from. The questions that may probe the mind are: how do I get the clients? What strategies should I invest in? What strategies should I avoid? How do I create the awareness that I am involved in ADR practice? How do I create an exposure for myself? How do I grow a budding ADR practice?

There are many ways to grow a successful practice. At the outset, growth starts with setting a clearly defined goal on what you want to achieve. Growth can be intimidating and mean a lot of different things to several ADR practitioners, as growth is relative. At the outset, you must set out a clearly defined goal. This goal directs the trajectory with which you will build the practice. If you want your practice to revolve around the role of counsel or that of a third party such as an arbitrator, mediator or conciliator, setting out the goal early on provides a sense of direction and concentration of concerted efforts.

In building a budding career in ADR practice, one must be proactive. When you are presented with a dispute, you could seize the opportunity to encourage your client to explore ADR. By so doing, you place yourself in the position to act as counsel to such a party in an ADR process. As a preventative measure, while advising clients with respect to an agreement or while drafting an agreement, you can ensure that you insert a dispute resolution clause in the agreement. These are some of the ways you can proactively position yourself to act as counsel in an ADR process.

As a young ADR practitioner, one of the things you must do to ensure a budding ADR practice is to embrace continuing legal education. You must get trained. Spend money on training courses which will equip you for a vibrant ADR practice. Attend trainings and workshops. Be more interested in learning and building your craft. This will distinguish you from the flock. As a part of the trainings, you will realise that there are a number of professional bodies which offer trainings. Join these professional bodies and leverage on professional memberships.

If I do not raise a caveat here, I should be expecting questions at the end of my talk to the effect that training alone does not provide guarantee of a budding practice. Indeed, training alone does not guarantee a budding practice. Other factors, as earlier identified, which may guarantee a budding practice include mentorship/sponsorship.

ADR is a quiet type of practice and as such it suffers from its practitioners quickly being known by its users. This may be a challenge to practitioners not familiar or conversant with the scene. Breaking even may seem an impossible task. This is where I believe that mentors/sponsors can fill the vacuum.

Mentorship/Sponsorship defined

Mentorship is a relationship whereby a much more experienced or a more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. A mentorship relationship is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wants to learn. Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé).

While sponsorship, on the other hand, is more involved mentorship arrangement. Sponsorship is the act of supporting a person in one area of life or the other. Sponsorship has many different facets, which may include the act of supporting a person by giving money, encouragement or other forms of help/assistance. However, our focus within the context of our discussion is centred on the support a person gives another in a field such as ADR practice. A sponsor can be likened to a benefactor. Who is a benefactor? A benefactor is someone who offers some form of help to the benefit of another person. A benefactor champions or supports a person. A benefactor may be a humanitarian leader, amongst others who provide assistance in any form. A sponsor, like a benefactor, has some sort of responsibility for another person. A benefactor is someone that provides help or an advantage.

Sponsorship can be said to be a higher and more active form of mentorship. For example, a mentor would say: “Femi is a very influential person, and you could benefit from getting to know him.” A sponsor, on the other hand, would say: “I’m having lunch with Femi on Wednesday, and I want you to come with me so that I can advise him that you’re the expert in this area. When the conversation focuses on, I want you to do this”, it is a form of sponsorship. Sponsorship is a much more active kind of support. People talk about sponsors advocating for you when you’re not in the room. They’re the ones who argue that you are prepared for and deserve a promotion, raise, or bonus. They also support your appointment to committees and other positions of leadership.

Importance of Mentorship/Sponsorship

In highlighting the importance of mentors and sponsors, I will make reference to some quotes by notably successful people in various walks of life.

“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.”

  • John C. Maxwell

“The best way a mentor can prepare another leader is to expose him or her to other great people.”

  • John C. Maxwell

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”

  • John Crosby

“A lot of people put pressure on themselves and think it will be way too hard for them to live out their dreams. Mentors are there to say, ‘Look, it’s not that tough. It’s not as hard as you think. Here are some guidelines and things I have gone through to get to where I am in my career.’”

  • Joe Jonas

Mentors and sponsors are very important and play a huge role in career growth. Most great people acknowledge having benefited from mentorship/sponsorship.

Permit me to illustrate with my own experience. I have greatly benefitted from mentorship/sponsorship. In the course of my career, I have had two notable mentors: Prof Mrs David and my principal – Aare Afe Babalola, SAN. These two people independently played an immense role in putting me on the right career path, even when it seemed bleak. Till date, they continue to play notable roles which have guided me in my career path.

Also worthy of note is the mentorship initiative – “Breakfast with Funmi Roberts”, organized by Mrs Funmi Roberts, a leading dispute resolution expert of no mean repute. Breakfast with Funmi Roberts is a mentoring program for lawyers aged 22 – 40. It is a commendable effort and one which seeks to bring up a more informed and educated next generation of lawyers/ADR practitioners.

The role of mentors/sponsors in ADR practice

To grow a budding ADR practice, one major thing which may be of benefit is to seek the help of a mentor/sponsor.  As an ADR practitioner, one should embrace mentorship. Mentorship could take place in different forms. Mentorship platforms may be offered under the auspices of professional bodies or may be offered on a one-on-one basis approach. Either way, mentors and/or sponsors have a vital role to play in helping to grow a budding and vibrant ADR practice. Mentoring can be rewarding and enlightening. Mentoring could be formal or informal. If you are interested in developing as a professional and growing a budding practice, mentoring may be one of the most important means towards achieving that.

A mentor/sponsor has the responsibility for the young practitioner’s growth and development. This extends towards availing the ADR practitioner of the opportunities to grow and develop his practice. A mentor/sponsor is to teach the mentee how to interact with clients, how to serve their interests, how to market, how to argue, how to write and how to better grow their ADR practice.

The following are some of the ways a mentor can facilitate a mentorship relationship:

  1. The mentor may schedule a regular meeting, either in person or over voice or video call, with the mentee. This provides the forum to discuss the mentee’s goals and aspirations and for the mentor to provide guidance to the mentee.
  2. The mentor may from time to time invite the mentee to accompany him/her to ADR processes like a deposition, hearing or a client meeting.
  3. The mentor may from time to time share articles, papers, books or any other material which may be of benefit to the mentee.
  4. Mentors provide insights and support to the way ADR practice operates.
  5. The mentor is a cheerleader and must encourage the mentee’s growth.
  6. Mentors/sponsors may financially provide the support required to set up a practice or to obtain additional training to equip a mentee for a budding ADR practice.

Mentoring remains a way for people to learn from one another and provides an opportunity for someone with more knowledge and experience to assist in the growth, development, and career of someone else. Choose a mentor/sponsor today.

As a young ADR practitioner, how can you secure your first appointment? You are most likely to succeed in securing your first appointment through the intervention of a mentor. A mentor/sponsor, as earlier indicated, is someone who can provide a platform of opportunities which you may use to forge a path of success.

How do you secure a mentor/sponsor?

Identifying strong mentors in ADR Practice may not seem like such a difficult task, at first. However, choosing a suitable mentor/sponsor may be a good way to set yourself up for significant career transitions. This calls for a careful selection of a mentor/sponsor. Worthy of note is the fact that the persons you may look up to as prospective mentors/sponsors have their own practice to run and are very busy professionals. Hence, choosing and securing a mentor/sponsor may be a task to be approached with almost surgical precision. There are many prospective mentors/sponsors out there but it is not easy to secure a good one or a willing one. You have to be a good mentee yourself before you can find a good mentor/sponsor. You have to place financial rewards as secondary before you can succeed with a good mentor. You have to be ready to make a sacrifice before you can reap the benefits of the mentorship/sponsorship relationship.

It is important to secure a mentor/sponsor who can assist you to achieve a set of goals. In sourcing for a mentor/sponsor, a mentee should look out for someone with who he/she will be compatible with. It’s often more practical when the mentor/sponsor has a close working relationship with the mentee. That way mentoring can be more practical and infused. In other words, finding a mentor/sponsor within your work environment may be a good start. You have no limitations to the number of mentors/sponsors you may have. A mentor/sponsor at your place of work is indeed a great place to start. In such an environment, the mentee must show themselves capable of providing useful services to the mentor/sponsor. Sacrifice your knowledge and resources by ensuring you prove yourself worthy of the mentorship/sponsorship. This places you on a pedestal where the proposed mentor/sponsor identifies your good work and is willing and ready to foster the mentorship/sponsorship relationship.

You may also secure a mentor/sponsor through informal professional networks such as LinkedIn. This requires that you have a vibrant presence showcasing your strengths. This exposes you to opportunities and makes you attractive. Ordinarily, LinkedIn ought to be a professional platform but people have begun to abuse the platform and give it a similitude of a social platform such as WhatsApp and made it an avenue to make all sorts of demands. However, you may utilise the LinkedIn platform to secure a good mentor by proper use of the platform.

A mentee can secure a mentor/sponsor by offering to help the proposed mentor/sponsor. I’m speaking in the sense that you offer your service to the mentor/sponsor. Do good work that will attract more work from the mentor/sponsor and develop a good relationship. This provides an avenue for further discussions.

Regardless of where you find your mentor/sponsor, the most important thing is to choose the right person. The right mentor, as in the context of our discussion today, must have extensive experience in ADR practice. Such a person should have overcome relatable challenges which can be a good learning curve for the mentee. Most importantly, a good mentor/sponsor must not feel threatened about empowering others. He/she must be favourably disposed towards adding to the mentee and providing a platform for growth.

How do you maintain a mentor/sponsor?

From the tone of my discussion so far, I believe you have been able to realise that a mentorship/sponsorship arrangement is a relationship. I must point out at this point that a mentorship/sponsorship arrangement must be symbiotic and not parasitic. The mentee must not leech on the sponsor/mentor. It is a two-way process. As indicated earlier, the mentor/sponsor has a certain level of responsibility towards the mentee, but the mentee must equally maintain the mentor/sponsor. Ensuring the success of the mentorship relationship requires a lot of effort, preparation, time, patience and commitment.


The bottom line is that a mentor/sponsor can make a real difference in your career and life. Choose a mentor/sponsor carefully, discuss your goals with a mentor in a formal setting and work hard on maintaining the mentor-mentee relationship. The impact that a mentor/sponsor would have on your budding career may not be felt in the immediate but sooner rather than later, you would realize the positive impact that your mentor/sponsor has come to have.

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