Nial currently works with a law enforcement agency to review and manage a complaints, an area of expertise since 2012. His experience includes helping major banks deal with complaints arising out of specific failures, as an Executive Assistant at Ombudsman Services, and resolving complaints by adjudication or mutual agreement in the energy sector as an Investigation Officer. He has also worked as a lecturer in dispute resolution at Queen Margaret University and conducted research into dispute resolution on behalf of Citizens Advice, the UK Administrative Justice Institute, the Nuffield Foundation, and Water UK. He joins Nominet’s DRS in autumn 2019.
What attracted you to dispute resolution?
I think it was more the other way around – the art of dispute resolution seemed to be intently interested in me! I first began resolving conflict when I was working in car insurance. I uncovered a few issues that our clients were having with our hire services and discovered that this was due to a mismatch between our classification of vehicles and those used by hire company. Even though this was firmly outside of my role description, I did a little investigation and solved the problem, and felt a lot of satisfaction at having done so.
What were your initial career intentions?
I wanted to join the Armed Forces and opted to study history and politics at university, but the political environment at the time and the war in Iraq quickly put paid to those aspirations. I had a passion for the investigation and analysis that historians and international relations scholars undertake, and considered investigative journalism for a while, but circuitously made my way towards a more legal profession in the end. Since then, I’ve grasped at the opportunities that have come my way really, finding a real enjoyment in the breadth of experiences that I’ve been lucky to have.
Which has been the most interesting of the dispute resolution roles in your career so far?
Surprisingly, helping to develop the ‘Parking on Private Land’ appeals scheme was the most interesting. There were a number of legal grey areas that required meticulous process development to help our assessors come to effective decisions. This really stirred my interest in legal decision making and inspired me to take a masters in the field. There was also something about the intense emotional states we often found appellants in, over something which might to the casual observer seem quite trivial (a £100 parking charge) that opened my eyes to the difference that effective dispute resolution can have on people’s lives.
What do you continue to enjoy about being directly involved in dispute resolution?
I like knowing that, in resolving a dispute, I am helping people to move forward in their lives, whether they win or lose. There is also a satisfaction in solving immensely difficult problems that often very intelligent people have so far been unable to resolve. I get great pleasure from my peers, too; I have found that almost everyone who works in the field has a real humanitarian streak and a fundamental desire to effect positive social change through their work. It’s an absolute honour to be counted amongst them.
What compelled you to become a lecturer in dispute resolution?
I always liked teaching and had been doing quite a lot of it in my previous workplace. Also, I already had a good relationship with some of those who were working at Queen Margaret University; I knew they were immensely talented people and would support me in my development. It was also simply because the opportunity presented itself. I have always enjoyed trying my hand at new things, and overall the experience was transformative.
What three things have you learnt about the best ways to resolve disputes?
- Confirmation bias is a real threat. Dispute resolvers must be very self-critical when everything seems to ‘fall into place’ easily. Your brain and previous experience, whilst both critically important tools to bring to the table, can sometimes be your worst enemy.
- People often find it quite difficult, and are even intensely unwilling, to identify when they have suffered an injurious experience. Effective dispute resolution therefore involves a good deal of empathy and understanding, helping the disputants to rationalise why they made this mistake, and equate this with a positive view of the self.
- Each dispute, depending on its specific characteristics, will have a type of dispute resolution that it is best suited to. Usually, giving good old negotiation a go in the first instance is a positive idea!
What attracted you to apply to Nominet’s DRS?
Aside from my passion for dispute resoIution, I am an older millennial so I grew up alongside the internet and computing in general. I have always been interested in how the legal sphere has grown and developed to deal with the novel opportunities this has presented, and how the internet opened up questions about copyright, intellectual property, security and privacy, in particular.
Nial joins Nominet’s DRS in autumn 2019. Find out more about the new experts here.