You became a CIArb Member in 2012. Tell us about your route to membership.
I used to be a Principal Quantity Surveyor for the Ministry of Defence (MoD). I spent around 15 years auditing contracts and contractor accounts, and dealing with construction claims for MoD and defence contractors. I worked in the UK and Gibraltar, with the Navy, Army and Airforce and as a liaison with the American Navy.
In 2005, I formed my own Design and Project Management consultancy. It was as a consultant that I started to prepare claims for contractors and developers and started to work with solicitors to prepare reports on building defects and quantum, basically, Expert Witness work.
I really enjoyed the work and decided to train as a Solicitor and Arbitrator, with the intention of specialising in construction, contract law and ADR. I became an ACIArb in 2010, and while studying on the PSC at Kaplan Altior in London, I found I had a real love for advocacy, and later decided to train as an advocate as well (I am lucky I have an understanding wife).
I completed my International Practice Diploma in Arbitration Law with the International Bar Association in 2012 and upgraded to MCIArb soon after. I help out as much as I can now, teaching ADR for CIArb.
Congratulations on having just won three awards for your work in the ADR field. Can you tell us more about that?
Obviously a large part of my work is confidential and private. Since it isn’t reported, I am lucky to have some very good clients and a loyal following who nominated me for the awards.
A panel of judges gets to research you as a nominee, they talk to your clients and colleagues, and search you out on social media. A variety of things are considered in order to measure your success over the last year as well as your contribution to the sector.
I do a lot of pro bono and voluntary work on panels and boards, and I regularly contribute to online forums and journals.
I have a strong interest in legal reform and training, and can be rather outspoken about it on social media, which I guess attracts some attention as well.
Most of my work is international in nature, predominantly Gibraltar where I used to live, and America, so I have a very varied client base.
I was just delighted that my clients and colleagues put me forward in the first place, I did not expect to win, but I am thrilled that I did.
What do you enjoy most about your work as a construction arbitrator?
My work involves a lot of advocacy and I work as Arbitration Counsel more than as the decision maker.
In that capacity, I enjoy the challenge of taking a really complex construction claim and laying it out, structuring it, framing it and putting it into a simple format that is easy to follow. I guess “un-complicating” the complicated.
Being able to communicate a technical issue to a non-technical person is always rewarding.
As Counsel, I always get engrossed in what I do, because of my former career as a Quantity Surveyor, I understand the contracts and bills of quantities and so I get absorbed into the paperwork.
By the time I present the argument, I feel like I have a real investment in the outcome. I think that is what my clients appreciate, that they feel like I am in it with them, rather than outside looking in.
I guess the same goes for decision making, the most enjoyable aspect is the satisfaction in making a difficult issue simple, through the application and analysis and structure, and setting it out so that others can see it as well.
What prompted you to want to become the Treasurer of our Western Counties Branch?
The Western Counties Branch is a strong group with a large area to cover. We have over 350 members in our region.
When I moved to the UK from Gibraltar I settled in Bath and notified HQ of my change in address. Chris Smart the Chairman of the branch at that time, came to see me and welcome me to the CIArb WCB area.
We got talking and Chris invited me to put myself forward to join the committee. Robin Gupta the Treasurer retired from practice soon after and the post was empty.
I guess as an ex- QS the committee thought I would be a good fit. I love it, and have been Treasurer now for three years. It’s a great branch and a great committee to be part of.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges that ADR is facing at the moment?
I think there are three main challenges for ADR at present.
Firstly, there is a growing issue from the established judiciary that view arbitration as a threat to litigation. These few, feel that the development of the common law is being held back because of the popularity of ADR.
This is an unfortunate mind-set as we have worked hard to promote ADR over many years, and particularly international arbitration, as an effective mechanism to resolve disputes across borders.
Arbitration is not stifling the development of the common law, and I am sure there are enough commercial disputes to go round.
Another challenge concerns unqualified representatives acting in Dispute Resolution. By that I mean certain solicitors, more than any others, who hold themselves out as being dispute resolvers when they actually have no experience or qualification at all in either arbitration or adjudication.
There is a big difference in the process of litigation and ADR, and those that profess to be ADR experts, without any training at all, do us all a disservice, driven by the commercial greed of some large law firms that feel they need an ADR department in order to compete.
If a client has a bad experience of ADR they will resist using it in the future.
In my view, large firms should ensure that their ADR staff are properly qualified in ADR, not just litigation, and they should also consider employing Surveyors, Architects and Engineers, who are also qualified Arbitrators or Adjudicators.
After all, there is no right of audience issue with ADR, and that way the firm gets the benefit of in-house experts, in areas like quantum and building defects.
We also have a major challenge in educating the public about the flexibility of ADR and how it can pose a real alternative to a drawn-out and costly court case.
Arbitration gives the Parties the opportunity to decide who resolves the dispute and how. That ought to be appealing to some of the community, as many feel that the judiciary does not always best represent them, or understand their issues.
Arbitration can take account of cultural and religious diversity, in ways that our traditional courts system cannot do so to the same extent.
What would you like to see change in the coming years?
We do have fast tracks for progression and we are actively encouraging more women into what appears to be a field dominated by older men (I say that as an older man myself).
We need to continue to encourage younger people into membership and we need more females at the top of the industry.