Ali Malek QC

Job title: Silk, 3 Verulam Buildings

3 Verulam Buildings is a leading set of Chambers specialising in domestic and international commercial and business law, arbitration, banking, insolvency, fraud, professional negligence, energy, IT and insurance/reinsurance.

You are widely regarded as an international commercial litigation heavyweight. To what do you credit your success?
I have always taken the view that my work is about achieving the best result for my client rather than fighting for the sake of it. I think clients appreciate that commercial approach. I also bring an international perspective – I think it helps I am half Iranian married to a Jamaican (of Lebanese origin). I have always been someone who travels a lot and international work really appeals to me. I am lucky to have a very understanding and supportive family who give me the freedom to travel as extensively as I do. I think I have benefitted from not focusing on a narrow area of commercial law and from sitting as an arbitrator as well as acting as an advocate. I have also been fortunate to work in a set that is forward thinking and dynamic.

Your time most recently has been largely taken up with the Berezovsky v Abramovich case and you are representing Vasily Anisimov. How have you found the experience of working with Russian Oligarchs?
There has understandably been a lot of focus recently on Oligarchs and I have been dealing with clients from Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan for many years. Many of these clients see London as offering a fair hearing and high quality counsel. I have found Oligarchs no different from other clients, although with the large sums of money involved, lawyers can be replaced swiftly. The recent litigation involving the Oligarchs highlights London’s leading position as the place to resolve international disputes. I was pleased to read a recent arbitration award, where I appeared for a foreign State, in which the tribunal commented on how it is a reality of modern banking that London is the world’s leading financial centre. They also commented on the English courts’ great experience in financial instruments and how English law offers great security to financial institutions and investors.

What ambitions do you still have for your career?
Personally, I hope to continue to have the opportunity to act in a range of interesting and international cases and to grapple with challenging questions of law. As Head of Chambers, I am keen to continue to make progress in building on the success of Chambers. The key factors as I see it are: maintaining our excellent clerking; relentless focus on providing the best service we can to our clients; and continuing to attract and retain the very best people. We are fortunate to be a diverse chambers and I feel this contributes substantially to our welcoming and open working environment. As a profession we must continue to work hard to make it as attractive as possible for people from a range of backgrounds to apply to the Bar and for parents to stay at the Bar if they want to. More generally, I want to continue to promote London and the Bar internationally and make the case that the Bar offers the best advocacy. Whatever might be said about fusion, I am convinced that a Bar-solicitor team offers the client the best opportunity of getting a good outcome. The skills of barristers and solicitors are different and it is the combination of their skills that is so valuable. I am a constant advocate on the virtues of the UK Bar in every country I visit, like many others, and I feel this continual profile raising benefits us all.

What have been the best and worst moments in your professional life?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to see matters from both sides of the fence, as an advocate and as a part-time judge/arbitrator, where you gain invaluable insight into what works and what does not when presenting a case. I feel I have become a better advocate as a result and I would recommend it to others.

My worst moment was probably in my first year when I addressed a judge as ‘You’ and not ‘Your Lordship’ – it is the only time I have been blasted by a judge. I had not realised at the time why the judge got so upset, but a more experienced barrister in the case pointed this out afterwards. Fortunately modern judges have more important matters to focus on.

One of my most interesting cases in recent years was acting for Renault before the World Motorsport Council in Paris on the “Crashgate” case that involved a deliberate crashing of a car at the Singapore Grand Prix. The facts of the cases were truly remarkable and they came out shortly before the hearing. It ended in a plea of mitigation. It is not often that a case gets so much publicity.

Arbitration work continues to increase with a pace in the Far East; are there any plans to follow some other sets in setting up shop out there?
I am increasingly being asked this question. We do a large amount of international arbitration as a set, but we act in so many jurisdictions it would be difficult for us to pick one to be based in outside London. Hong Kong and Singapore are obviously very important markets for us, but we have excellent relationships with the local firms and we have not seen the need for a permanent presence to date. If it transpires clients wish us to be on the ground outside of the UK, then we will certainly consider the matter, but I do not feel we have lost out by not doing so at the moment and we have the ability to travel and to communicate by video-conference.

Ali Malek QC was interviewed by Guy Hewetson of Hewetson Shah

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