London’s position of leadership in international commercial dispute resolution has been confirmed in recent weeks. In just three years, the London International Disputes Week has booked a firm place on the calendar. Statistics from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) place London as the leading seat for its caseload. The strong challenge of Singapore is reflected in the Queen Mary University of London – White & Case Annual Survey which shows London and Singapore sharing first place as the most preferred seat among respondents: London 54%, Singapore 54%, Hong Kong 50% and Paris 35%. In Europe the LCIA (65%) is second only to the ICC (79%) within the five most preferred institutions by region. The London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) reports receipt of an all-time high of 444 cases in 2020.

There is a bright future ahead and while politicians are ‘resolving issues around’ the regional Lugano Convention for recognition and enforcement of judgments, international arbitration awards are not impacted as they are recognised and enforced under the worldwide New York Convention. Many of the arbitrations seated in London are from jurisdictions beyond the EU in any event.

This presents great opportunities for counsel to develop skill sets applicable to the menu of alternative dispute resolution. Having been invited by Counsel to present a toolkit, the following suggestions may be worthwhile of consideration by colleagues both in private practice and in-house who are building a profile and expertise in the field. As in any area of practice, a career in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has no destination. It only has an end, sooner or later. Along the way the road twists and turns, so the toolkit must allow for flexibility and the ability to adapt to take advantage of the inevitable changes and challenges.

1: Positioning

Party representation is the means of entry into the world of arbitration. For counsel this means advocacy. For those starting in practice, a stage/internship or short contract in an arbitral institution is invaluable. Aiming at chambers with a strong arbitration profile, and practising in fields where arbitration and ADR are the dominant methods of dispute resolution such as construction, insurance, maritime and leases, lead naturally to a career in arbitration and ADR. Similarly, it is notable that the experience developed by managers, including case managers in arbitral institutions, often opens doors in the course of career progression.

2: Professional practitioner profile

The traditional methods of appearing in court, and demonstrating advocacy skills, returning papers promptly and, win or lose, having a satisfied solicitor/client, remain the route to success at the Bar. This is also the case for arbitration and ADR, notwithstanding that advocacy in arbitration and mediation is less observable. There is greater emphasis on written submissions and so paper advocacy plays a much higher part, adding to the low visibility due to the confidentiality of the process. Uniquely arbitration and ADR present in-house counsel with opportunities to engage directly in advocacy as the rules of court do not apply.

3: Academic profile

In all fields of the law, there is increasingly a direct career progress from academia to practice. This is particularly observable in arbitration where there is a particularly high regard for academic achievement. This is perhaps due to the international character of the discipline and the influence of civil lawyers who do not distinguish between the practitioner and the academic to the extent that has traditionally been the case among us common lawyers.

As a result, many, if not most, arbitrators are associate members of faculties in universities and academics are door tenants in chambers. Among the biggest events in the world of international arbitration is the VIS Moot, which is held in Vienna at Easter each year. Like the biannual ICCA conference, this attracts the majority of international arbitration practitioners. Teams from universities across the globe participate in this event – and its spin-offs and pre-moots – and there are many opportunities to assist in the training of teams or to volunteer to act as arbitrator on the many panels. In 2020 and 2021 the events were held on an online platform which was a learning experience for everyone involved.

4: Publishing

The focus in profile building is very much on social media, and rightly so. However, publishing by traditional methods retains its status as the more prestigious. In one of his last lectures, the late renowned arbitrator Mark Cato said that when he decided to become an arbitrator he knew that he would have to write a book on the subject and so the world was presented with The Sanctuary House Case. Writing a book is perhaps not an option for most practitioners. In my case I have found it easier to commit to writing a chapter than to take responsibility for an entire volume and there are many opportunities to write headnotes in law reports and case notes and articles such as this.

5: Flag a ‘special interest’

Members of chambers often don’t know each other very well. Colleagues and clerks are frequently not aware of the expertise and interests of other members. This is particularly the case in mixed chambers, where arbitration and ADR may not be a core activity for most members.

6: Training and CPD

Training and networking are essential for building and maintaining competence. Securing recognised qualifications allows appointing bodies and parties to have confidence in making appointments.

The arbitral institutions present a cornucopia of opportunities. Members of London chambers are in a unique position to access training and CPD in the field. The headquarters of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) is in Bloomsbury Square, and the very active London Branch of the CIArb is also on our doorstep, offering the gold standard of training and accreditation. The post-nominals MCIArb, FCIArb and Chartered Arbitrator flag not only an interest and expertise in the field, but also attest to a level of accreditation and professional regulation that is shared and valued by the global membership (approaching 17,000 practitioners across almost 40 branches across the globe) and the international arbitral community generally.

7: Joining panels

The international arbitral institutions tend not to have panels as such. Among the exceptions are ICSID and CAS/TAS which select nominees and appointees from their lists. The distinction between a panel and a list is elusive but there is clearly a policy reason for this. Presumably the difficulty in refreshing panels is an issue. One can, however, become a member of the LCIA Users’ Councils and similarly the ICC UK National Committee and ICCA have subscription memberships.

Almost every week there are international conferences, seminars or workshops available which are presented by law offices, chambers, institutions such as the UK National Committee of the ICC, the LCIA, the London Branch of the CIArb and for those interested in the traditions of the City, the Worshipful Company of Arbitrators. While these are costly and time consuming, they are the fora in which the stakeholders meet and build relationships. In London in particular there are many low-cost evening and early morning events that are accessible for younger practitioners.

8: Engagement in professional organisations

Specialist Bar associations such as TECBAR and related professional membership organisations provide opportunities for networking as well as CPD compliance. At the heart of London, the Worshipful Company of Arbitrators is a very active livery company which has risen masterfully to the challenges of COVID restrictions and is beginning to hold in-person events in the coming weeks.

Most arbitral institutions have a young practitioners’ group which can provide a career-long support network, eg the Young International Arbitration Group (YIAG) associated with the LCIA. The ICC has the Young Arbitrators Forum (YAF) open to young arbitrators up to the age of 40. The CIArb’s Young Members Group (YMG) is also open to dispute resolution practitioners and students below the age of 40. (Being ‘young’ at 40 perhaps says a lot about arbitration!)

When starting off in practice, I was advised to focus my energies on one organisation so, in my case, I committed my energies to working within the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and I think it was probably good advice.

9: Mentoring

Often suggested, finding a mentor is perhaps easier for counsel in chambers specialising in areas such as construction, maritime or insurance, where ADR is the default method of dispute resolution. Otherwise, the pupillage system demands shorter term attention. The CIArb has announced a pilot Career Development Diversity and Inclusion Mentoring Programme and is currently asking for expressions of interest from volunteer mentors.

If a formal mentor/mentee arrangement is not readily available, it is always possible to identify a role model and develop a network of connections with more experienced members of the profession. The wealth of the Bar is in our tradition, and a core element of that tradition is our non-transactional collegiality, where we are available to our colleagues, usually within but often outside chambers, to informally provide the benefit of our experience.

10: Diversity and inclusion – take the pledge!

There is a moral and economic imperative to extend opportunity across the diverse body of practitioners. Play your part from the start! The equal representation in arbitration pledge has almost 5,000 signatories including the principal institutions and stakeholders. It is no longer news that many of the most influential members of the arbitral community are women and this is not only at CEO level, as reflected by the composition of the ICC Court of Arbitration. In the world of international arbitration there is an openness to a diverse national and racial mix on panels and tribunals. It is more difficult to quantify the expansion of diversity and inclusion in other respects but there is a sense that we are travelling in the right direction, though need to get a move on!