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Louise Barrington FCIArb

Louise Barrington (photo c. Tina Chang)

Louise Barrington FCIArb is a Chartered Arbitrator, mediator and teacher.

Combining practice with academic pursuits, she has taught international and commercial law in Australia, Canada, England, Hong Kong and the USA, and has arbitrated numerous cases under ICC, HKIAC and UNCITRAL Rules.

Louise discusses her route to membership, the pros and cons of being a business owner and what inspired her to first get involved in the Vis East International Commercial Arbitration Moot.


You have been an active member of CIArb since 1996 and are currently on the Institute’s Education and Membership Committee for East Asia. Tell us about your route to membership.
I was recruited back in 1996 by a lovely group of CIArb members, among whom were Neil Kaplan, Geoffrey Beresford-Hartwell, Tony Canham, and Howard Crowter. 

They invited me and Maitre Serge Lazareff, one of France’s most famous arbitrators, to a CIArb dinner and meeting in Lille, France.  My mother was with me, so they invited her as well. 

It was a lovely introduction to the camaraderie of the Institute.  As a souvenir they gave me and Serge each a cut crystal tumbler; mine still has pride of place in my home today. 

What do you enjoy most about teaching and training in the field?
Ever since discovering international arbitration in the late 1980s, I knew it was for me.

I have taught in one way or another all my life and love to see that “Eureka!” moment among my students, as they grasp the possibilities of arbitration, both for international business people and on an even broader scale, for the rule of law.  

You have been a Director for the Vis East International Commercial Arbitration Moot for many years, what inspired you to first get involved in that initiative?
Around 2000 I was invited to arbitrate at the Vis Moot in Vienna and was blown away by the experience. 

I was impressed by the quality of the student participants, loved the friendly excitement of the Moot week, and was thrilled to be judging on a tribunal panel with some of the most revered arbitrators I had worked with, but never had a chance to sit with as arbitrators.  Hunter, Redfern, Karrer, Aksen – interacting with them was a learning experience for me as much as for the students!

It was at the very beginning of my life as an arbitrator, having always worked on the sidelines, both at the ICC Institute in Paris, and then as founder-director of ICC Asia. 

The whole experience for me was thrilling, challenging and very satisfying. But I did note that there were almost no Asian teams participating. Director Eric Bergsten was telling me that at about 100 teams, the Vis was getting so large it was becoming unwieldy and difficult to manage as a one-man band.

The following year, I returned to Vienna and got his blessing to try a “Vis East” for three years.  In the second year, Eric attended Vis East in Hong Kong, and was satisfied that I was remaining close to the values of the Vis that he holds so precious. 

And so the Vis East has continued.  And both Vis Vienna and Vis East grew. Today, Vis welcomes over 300 teams to Vienna and we had 115 in Hong Kong this year. For many students, it really is a life-changing experience.

You have actively promoted women in the field of international dispute resolution. What changes would you like to see happen?
Obviously, the goal is parity; equal opportunities and equal rewards for women wishing to use their talents in this field.  When I was with the ICC in Paris (1992-96) I got used to being one of the few women back then! 

I noticed, was curious, and did some research. At the invitation of Geoffrey Beresford-Hartwell, I spoke about Women in Arbitration at the Chartered Institute conference in Boston. 

I remember overhearing Pierre Lalive, who was about to chair the session where I was speaking, asking what I could possibly have to say about women in arbitration.  In the past twenty years we have made important strides. 

Today, ArbitralWomen and its partners such as CIArb can take a bow for pushing for visibility, acceptance, mentoring and rewarding of women in arbitration.  We have managed finally to introduce gender imbalance as a mainstream topic of conversation.

Today there is a lot of discussion about diversity – not just gender but also geographical and racial representation.   And today we can point to some obvious progress. 

There are lots of very talented women now visible - in law school classes, speaking at conferences, writing, teaching, acting as counsel, and heading up the administrative teams of ICSID, LCIA, AAA, HKIAC and other arbitral institutions. 

There are more women on the rosters of these institutions.  And at long last the institutions are actually keeping and divulging the statistics on women arbitrators.

A real qualitative change is taking place.  But we need the change to be quantitative as well. 

Despite the fact that for about a generation there have been over 50% women in law schools around the world, the percentage of women arbitrators is nowhere near 50%.

Five per cent would be closer.  And when it comes to the highest value cases - well, there are three women with multiple appointments who get nearly all the really big, high profile cases. 

That isn’t parity.  Because of the confidential, private nature of arbitration, it is hard to know the real figures.

However, one recent study estimated that at our present rate of progress there would be equal numbers of women and men arbitrators by 2126.

I don’t want us to wait that long.  To shorten that timeframe we need more open minds among counsel and clients, more mentoring of new arbitrators by those more experienced, and more women with the energy, persistence and thick skins to make change happen. 

What are the pros and cons of owning your own business? Is this something you would encourage other ADR practitioners to do?
I decided to take the plunge in 2010, shortly after leaving King’s College London. Being used to working in a law office or academic settings, I found it rather lonely to work solo. 

As with any small business, there are lean years and fat. Learning to live without a pay cheque was scary at times.   And of course, many people knew me from my work around arbitration but not as an arbitrator. 

Actually this is still a challenge I face today; many people hear my name and think Vis East, or ArbitralWomen, or perhaps ICC Asia.  But that doesn’t necessarily make them reach for my CV when they are looking for a tribunal chair or a party appointment. 

The majority of my cases come from institutions.  It means I rarely have more than two or three cases going at any one time.  

Some would find that frustrating, but for me not being loaded down with cases does leave me the flexibility to do the pro bono work that is so satisfying. 

Training and assessing arbitrators is a vital function of maintaining a top-notch pool of arbitrators, as many of the “gods of arbitration” are retiring. 

So is working on the Vis Moot, and its related Capacity Building Project, or tutoring on CIArb courses as an Accredited Faculty member, or running interactive classes in law schools.

Today, unless the parties object, I always engage a tribunal secretary. It is a great opportunity for would-be arbitrators to get first-hand experience working with an arbitrator or tribunal on a case and see what really happens inside that private arbitration room.   And I love having the company!

Was training to become an accredited mediator something you were always interested in or was it more of a practical next step/ addition to your ADR portfolio?
Many years ago, I attended the Harvard Negotiation class; it was the last year I believe, that Roger Fisher taught on the course. It opened my mind to the possibilities of negotiation.

Arriving in Asia, I encountered people who clearly preferred negotiation to arbitration or litigation. It made sense to add mediation to my skill set.

It was challenging and a bit frightening to take off that logical legal lawyer’s hat to get people to talk about their interests and needs instead of pounding on their legal rights. But the satisfaction of a successful mediation is hard to beat! 

I trained with Colin Wall (GMS) and realised that the skills of mediation are generic. I have used them so many times in non-mediation situations. And that’s how I “sell” them to both students and professionals. 

Mediation skills are social skills, people skills.  And they can produce results that a court or arbitrator cannot. 

Mediation is client-centred and promotes cooperation and respect.  So mediation isn’t just an addition to my professional life; it has become integrated into my whole approach to both clients and those in my personal life.

Right now, I have a case that screams for mediation:  a classic clash of business cultures degenerating into vindictiveness and a mutual quest for revenge. 

These parties should sit down rationally and figure out how both their needs can be met.  They could have, and should have had a terrific partnership.  But alas, on this case I’m not a mediator, I’m the arbitrator!