Building talks to Karen Gough, the new president of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators
Karen Gough is emphatic about her plans for the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. "Big," she says. "They've always been big. The institute has a massive future – we're on the runway now."

It's been a busy couple of days for Gough. She only got off the Eurostar from Paris yesterday evening after her holiday, then stayed up until 1am preparing for her first day as Chartered Institute of Arbitrators president. At 44, she is the youngest ever president of the institute; her background is as a barrister and arbitrator.

Only one day into the job, Gough is making an impact. She has announced plans for a massive membership drive, is promoting the institute abroad and has even found it a new headquarters in Bloomsbury Square, west London.

"The old office was adequate," she explains, "but we wanted somewhere that felt like a home for our members, where they could drop in for a coffee or hire rooms for their cases."

How big is the institute?
We have members in 85 countries – more than 10,000 members, which is not nearly enough.

What are you going to do about that?
We've improved our membership standards.

All sorts of things require certification now, and we are bringing in a system that regulates arbitrators. We live in a world where you have to prove that you are competent. We don't think that arbitrators should be any different.

We've also embraced alternative dispute resolution as a general concept. We're doing massive mediation training, and we've absorbed the Panel of Independent Mediators into our membership.

So, did the Construction Act work?
What was adjudication for? It was a quick fix, keeping money flowing, keeping the contract going. We wanted jobs to get finished. Adjudication now is growing more and more into arbitration. Sometimes it's fine. Sometimes it's hopeless. Sometimes it's not appropriate to adjudicate something. Adjudicators need to be more sharp and sure of their own training. There's a lot more work for the lawyers, and I don't think that's a good thing.

So the act made the industry more adversarial?
No, I don't think it has at all. Perhaps it is adversarial at a different point in the contract. The point is, adjudication was supposed to make it less adversarial and I can't see that it has.

Do lawyers make the best arbitrators?
It's horses for courses. It depends on the dispute. There are some excellent and some awful technical arbitrators. We have to be absolutely ruthless in weeding out the people who aren't up to the job. They could undo all the good we're trying to do. I think, on the whole, lawyers do make the better arbitrators, they have the necessary experience. Creative types like architects tend to make the better mediators.

Why has mediation become flavour of the month?
It's very effective in America, and it's also gaining in prominence in other areas of the globe. It can be very effective if parties have a real will to settle their differences. It's the modern equivalent of settling things in the pub over a few drinks with some help from a diplomatic and neutral bartender. If it fails, you've wasted a lot, so you've got to be certain of getting a result. It's just a matter of getting it to work.

What's the future of dispute resolution?
ADR is bound to grow significantly, because of the advantages it offers business in comparison with litigation in terms of speed and efficiency. I think the future of dispute resolution is to offer a whole package of solutions and to pick the one, or combination, that is best suited for the particular dispute in hand. My job is to solve problems, not to be making case law in the Court of Appeal with my client's money.

The rise of the institute

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators was founded in 1915 and now has more than 10,000 members in 85 countries, including 5700 in the UK. Three thousand of the UK members are construction professionals, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the adversarial nature of the industry. The institute also contains representatives from the shipping, engineering, finance, insurance, commodities, medicine, health, IT, sport and automotive sectors.