60 seconds with Owen Lawrence - Chief Executive at Arbitra

Jul 28th, 2021 by Hewetson & Co

Tell us more about your latest venture, Arbitra?

Arbitra is a new and innovative initiative, and from the initial response to our launch from the market, it seems to be needed.

The concept is one I have been passionate about for the last decade as international arbitration has grown. Essentially, we are a support service for arbitrators, with London and Washington addresses, helping to provide the professional support services that arbitrators or mediators have previously received throughout their professional lives.

As I have witnessed in over two decades working with the Bar, while the chambers model can be a default option for some arbitrators, in certain sector-specific sets, real issues can arise, which build quite a divide between counsel and neutrals. Arbitrators do not receive the same attention and support that counsel do in many sets, which may hinder their development.

Potential conflicts of interest are also under the microscope – with the possibility of challenges to appointments – both at law firms and in chambers. Minimising those risks will be increasingly important – joining Arbitra helps arbitrators do that.

As well as accepting arbitrators associated with Chambers, you have attracted lawyers/arbitrators from highly regarded law firms – how does this work?

We are working with numerous commercial law firms, assisting them to help retain senior and developing legal talent. That ranges from working with senior equity partners to working with aspiring arbitrators, helping them manage the transition, and working as a full-time arbitrator, from up to ten years before choosing to step out independently.

I have witnessed first-hand law firms agreeing that their partners or associates can accept a certain number of appointments as arbitrators or allocated an amount of time to develop their practices – which is welcome.

However, it is often hard for the arbitrator to clear internal conflicts or accept appointments where the challenge arises. If they do, it can lead to legal teams being conflicted going forwards.

At Arbitra, we agree to ‘one step remove’ any potential conflict. Firms can disclose that whilst the member remains active as counsel, at the law firm, Arbitra runs and administer this side of their practice, separating all correspondence from the law firm and administering the arbitrator’s side of any hearing.

Have you set up a Chambers for arbitrators?

No – We operate a membership list and support service for arbitrators and other ADR professionals; we are not regulated as a set of barristers’ chambers. Our members include lawyers and non-lawyers. We distinguish ourselves from different arbitrator-only chambers by the depth of our industry experience and the breadth of our support services for members.

You received phenomenal press coverage in four of the highest-profile legal publications in the UK and New York - how pleasing was that industry recognition?

It’s been truly humbling to receive such coverage, especially given the presence of significant events such as the pandemic, the Euro 2020 final, and the Olympics, which was a bit nerve-racking. Thankfully, people weren’t too hungover and received our good news very positively. It shows people are interested, despite England not winning the Euros, which was clearly disappointing, but bitter-sweet, as we launched on 12 July.

You have launched with eighteen high-profile members – how did you achieve this?

Simply put, our product is needed. Demand to join has exceeded expectations. Since launch, we have received over 40 applications to join. As a result, we have paused applications for membership for a few months as we settle in and work with our current members.

We presented ourselves succinctly. People have signed up for the concept. Our message was clear, and our track records back up our ambition.

You have a strong management team – what is Arbitra’s culture, and what can clients expect?

A well-known entrepreneur once said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Our culture is a positive one, with staff and consultants who believe in the concept, buy into the business, and support our idea – and our members.

My senior management experience tells me that not everyone is always driven or ambitious. Staff can be happy with a certain level of responsibility and tasks. While I respect that, I wanted a team that I could trust, that shared my ambition, who work well together, and trust each other, who are prepared to go a bit further in delivering services for our members. Our core values are trust, integrity, strength-in-depth, diversity, and excellence.

What is the significance of being based in the new IDRC building, Juxon House?

Location, location, location! Visibility, accessibility, availability. We are based in the epicentre of London’s largest dispute hub. On a busy day, the IDRC can welcome 400 clients in person. All of these people will walk past our office and welcome smiles. The IDRC’s state-of-the-art conferencing facilities enable us to connect with an international audience, facilitating virtual or hybrid hearings for our members, regardless of the venue of arbitration, where the relevant rules permit.

What do the next 6-12 months look like for you?

I’ll be focusing on broadening conversations with Arbitra’s supporters internationally and in the UK. We hope for a return to some normality. While I have flights booked to key jurisdictions, depending on restrictions, the conversations that matter will continue to happen as we make clients and members aware of what we do and how well we can do it.

How are events of the last year shaping the future of arbitration?

Our launch reflects strong demand for arbitration, which continues to grow exponentially. Both governments and judiciaries make it clear that the label of ‘alternative’ has been dropped from ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution.

As GAR has made clear in its coverage, arbitration and mediation are the default option for corporate clients. So, too are disputes boards and adjudication in the construction and engineering sectors.

Demand for arbitration has always been there, but post-Brexit, and post-pandemic, we expect there will be a further surge in disputes across a dynamic range of sectors – the resolution of which we are well placed to assist.

As economies recover, infrastructure is a priority for many countries, while financial, contractual and investment treaty cases will continue to arise. Aligning ourselves in key jurisdictions is essential; our member base reflects this.

The future’s bright for Arbitra. As London International Disputes Week shows, London has been named a strongly preferred seat in arbitration. Equally, many of our members have extensive investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) practices, which resonate in DC – a home for ISDS work. We will look to build on both centres, and further afield.

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When considering a chambers move with my team, I met with all the major players in the industry. Guy and Tony were our clear preferred choice.

They were authentic in their approach, challenged us when they felt it necessary and ultimately delivered a seamless service. Most importantly they showed complete discretion, which was for us the most important criteria.

Their reputation for being leaders in their field is well deserved and I would not hesitate to recommend them to others.

Banking Silk
Premier Commercial Set, London
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