Networking and working in a virtual world

Published on: 11/05/2021

Two aspects of dispute resolution were discussed in Monday’s opening sessions at LIDW, notes Ben Rigby; one, the challenges of practice development, and second, how to manage digital solutions to a decentralised age.

The first session of the day, chaired by Barry Fletcher and Sophie Lamb, focused on business development; the audience having been primed by Liz Heathfield of Pinsent Masons, Stephen Auld QC, of One Essex Court, explained how remote working had made barristers hone their practice development skills, not least in pitching to virtual beauty parades.

Webinars, he added, had been also useful in supporting solicitors in their work – provided they had immediate relevance to clients, and did not overload them – something that all panellists agreed with.

For Rovine Chandrasekera of Stephenson Harwood, pitching to international clients with multi-office involvement – all done virtually – enabled him to show the breadth of the team’s personnel, rather than just telling that client about them. Managing client expectations and cultural sensitivity were important in “going the extra mile to give [clients] what they wanted”.

The challenges of creating new connections in a pandemic were also explored; they were met by using LinkedIn more frequently, taking the time to understand mutual areas of interest, though sharing a virtual coffee, rather than formal meeting requests.

By taking a more targeted, gradual, and hybrid approach to future meetings, mixing the virtual and the physical, lessons learned from lockdown marketing would translate to the post-pandemic world.

Lawyers, as Tafadzwa Pasipanodya, of Foley Hoag, said, should be selective, dedicate time to building relationships and networking. Above all, the panel discussed, one should remember one Golden Rule; to do unto others as they would be done by.

The following plenary session showcased what London offers to the global disputes community in this new, decentralised landscape, led by Dame Elizabeth Gloster, with views from former LSLA president, Julian Acratopulo, in-house lawyer, Maria Gritsenko, of, VEON;  Jackie van Haersolte-van Hof, of the LCIA, John Howell MP, and Oliver McClintock, of Opus 2.

London remained a popular venue for international clients, with caseload figures in the LCIA’s most recent report being “very robust”; thanks to expertise with specific industries, like telecoms, or specific disputes, like shareholder claims. That breadth of experience, and use of English law in those areas, resulted in a wide array of disputes being heard.

While some sectors – derivatives (through ISDA) in financial services – had hitherto preferred to litigate – there was evidence that “arbitration is becoming an increasingly attractive option for banks that may have been reluctant in the past,” thanks to arbitration’s ease of enforcement.

Mediation was also discussed, noting the All-Party Parliamentary Group on ADR’s work in promoting the same, following the recent Singapore Convention on Mediation. The UK government, the panel heard, should express the same support for ADR as Singapore had done, so as to keep London at the forefront of the dispute resolution landscape.

The wider adoption of virtual and hybrid hearings was discussed, thanks to the UK courts committing to ensuring proceedings continued throughout the pandemic, thanks to technology, which set the tone – and maintained it – for London as a commercial centre. Investment in online platforms, as well as hearing centres, like that of the IDRC, meant that virtual infrastructure had been optimised for business use, with great efficiency.

Subsequent discussion still showed strong support for in-person hearings; but alongside greater remote access, hybrid hearings, and interlocutory procedural matters being heard virtually, with in-person hearings reserved for the most complex cases, especially with witness evidence in mind.

That range of approaches, suggested McClintock, would deliver better value to clients – because it had been proven, so far, to work, while remembering that managing virtual proceedings required considerable sophistication for mediators and arbitrators alike.

There were, the panel noted, limits to an online world; “being a good arbitrator is not easy”, one panellist noted; but “being a good virtual arbitrator is potentially even more difficult.”

Virtual hearings were part of good service delivery, by lawyers; helping to deliver the best service for clients – and with the right balance in how that was delivered. With techniques, such as cross-examination, evolving, and greater discipline and concentration being expended in managing such hearings, finding a suitable balance was important.

Had Brexit had an impact on disputes? On one view, the effects of Brexit in litigation would be mitigated by the greater supply of work from Russia, the Ukraine, and Eurasia, including Kazakhstan; on another, it was “blatantly obvious” arbitration would prosper, given UK adherence to the New York Convention.

Acratopulo noted, meanwhile “there has been no immediate impact from Brexit in relation to business being conducted” in the courts; English law dispute resolution clauses had retained their popularity – and would, it was suggested, continue to do so.

Add in the flexibility of English contract law, a legacy that “English law has that it should be very proud, and very careful of”, noted van Hof, and it would remain competitive – provided it adapted to new innovations, like cryptocurrency, with flexibility and certainty – a subject which led neatly to the Master of the Rolls’ speech.