There seems to be a surge of articles on arbitration-as-law lately: the latest, Judging Lite: How Arbitrators Use and Create Precedent, involves empirical research involving hundreds of US arbitration award records, and it provides some interesting insights. The article was reviewed on jotwell, excerpt:
...The criticisms include the concern that widespread arbitration mandates will lead to a privatization of public law, with arbitrators that are not bound by public law authorities producing awards of no precedential value.
...Mark Weidemaier worked from [various databases of arbitration awards]. He analyzed these awards to gauge the extent to which arbitrators cited and engaged with precedent.
Weidemaier, not surprisingly, found very little citation to precedent in securities awards because reasoned opinions accompanying those awards are extremely rare. Among labor awards, 48.6% cited to at least one precedent, as did 66.7% of employment awards, and 71.8% of class action awards.
...Weidemaier attributed the differences in types of authorities cited to the different nature of each type of arbitration. Labor arbitration is concerned predominantly with interpreting and applying collective bargaining agreements and is frequently fact-based, making it more likely that arbitrators will not cite any precedent and more likely that when they do cite precedent, it will be other arbitration awards. Employment awards are much more likely to be adjudicating statutory claims, resulting in arbitrators looking to judicial authority interpreting the statute. Arbitral authority is far less relevant. Class awards look more to judicial authority but many deal with whether class arbitration is permitted under the contract and, consequently, in Weidemaier’s view, they are more likely than employment awards to look to arbitral awards interpreting similar contracts.
... Candidly acknowledging many limitations to his study, Weidemaier found no evidence outside of securities arbitration that arbitrators were deciding cases in an ad hoc fashion. Rather, he noted, the process has become highly legalized and arbitrators appear to be trying to follow the public law when it is at issue before them. ... he suggests that judges discuss arbitral authority in their opinions, thereby providing valuable feedback to the arbitrator community.Jotwell reviewer Martin Malin calls Weidermaier's article "required reading for all participants in the on-going debate over arbitration mandates." You can read his whole review here.