You started your legal career 45 years ago in Gray’s Inn and have had a unique path to Queen’s Counsel. What have been some of the highlights?
Well, I have come full circle. I qualified as a solicitor in 1966 and started out at 3 Gray’s Inn Place. I did a lot of commercial litigation, but because of the barrister/solicitor divide the opportunities for advocacy were limited. I enjoyed the challenge of advocacy, so I increasingly focused on international commercial arbitration, where I could not only manage the overall strategy of cases as a solicitor tends to do, but also appear and argue before Tribunals without hindrance. I had some success in the field, for example with cases involving the Rainbow Warrior/Greenpeace dispute and with Shell. I spent more than 20 years working at major American law firms. In 1997 I was one of the first two solicitors appointed QC. Lord Collins was the other. It was an enormous honour and it allowed me to get involved with Gray’s Inn again as an Honorary Bencher. I have now retired from the law firm world and set up premises at 12 Gray’s Inn. I am delighted to be back; it feels like coming home.
You’ve taken over the Chambers where Mark Littman QC used to practise, who I understand was a great mentor of yours. What is the new business offering of 12 Gray’s Inn Square?
We are an unusual group, because we do not fit the mould of the typical chambers set. For a start, none of us began our legal career as a barrister. If there is one thing that unites us at 12 Gray’s Inn, it is a focus on high-level, principally international, matters. I personally hope to keep a hand in high-level strategic advice and advocacy for select clients, usually, but not exclusively, in the context of international arbitration. I was involved in the drafting of the 1996 Arbitration Act and the establishment of arbitration as a viable method of dispute resolution in Hong Kong. I also think I can branch out in some other directions, such as mediation and regulatory advice to corporations doing business in multiple jurisdictions. Those may seem like utterly disparate fields, but they make more sense in the context of the other members of chambers. We have two other permanent members: Henry Brown and Paul Cohen.
A number of specialist and commercial sets have been keen to develop further their international presence in recent years, which markets will 12 Gray’s Inn be targeting?
We have strong links with the US, through myself and Paul Cohen. We also have strong links with a number of major markets, notably India, Brazil and Japan. We are cultivating those links by attracting door tenants. So far we have as door tenants the Senior Partner from the largest independent law firm in India, the Senior Partner from one of Brazil’s most prominent corporate law firms, and the former Senior Partner from one of Tokyo’s major corporate and financial services firms. We have similar relationships with respected figures in other jurisdictions as well. One common thread is that so far our door tenants come from places where there is no distinction between solicitors and barristers.
What are your views on advisory work at the Bar?
It is something I feel the general Bar should consider doing. Look at the legal department of any major corporation: the people there are of very high quality; often they are just as competent as their peers in private practice – indeed, these legal departments frequently are populated with people who have had a stint at a top law firm. Often also these big corporations have resources that match, or even exceed, those available at law firms. So the notion that barristers need to wait for a solicitor to instruct them on an engagement with a major client strikes me as outdated and in any event wrong. In the Shell case, two other colleagues and I served as the advocates in the arbitration, while Shell’s in-house legal team functioned as the support staff that you would usually find at a major law firm together with Shell’s technical experts. It worked out very well for Shell, and at a considerably lesser price than it might have cost them if they had outsourced the whole thing. The Bar is well positioned to play that kind of role. Barristers have the benefit of courtroom experience, great familiarity with the case law in their field, and an understanding of how certain strategic directions might affect a client’s litigation prospects. The one thing barristers currently lack, perhaps, is the ability to navigate a client through a regulatory enquiry that the client does not want to end up in court. Our American litigator cousins are 30 years ahead of us in that regard. But even in that context barristers can provide valuable perspective. The distinction between barristers and solicitors has eroded considerably during my professional career. It is getting blurrier still. Big law firms will take advantage of that erosion (as they already have done) by using solicitor-advocates to argue their cases and by making senior barristers partners in their firms, to name just two trends. There is no reason why barristers cannot take advantage of the same phenomenon by marketing themselves independently to clients as a first port of call, as it were, rather than a last resort. That is very much the way I have worked over the past few decades with advisory work. And it is something I am very interested in continuing to do. ?
Guy Hewetson, LPA Legal, interviewed Arthur Marriott QC