New solutions for the arbitration community: global Tribunal Secretary Platform

We hear from Dr Dorothee Schramm FCIArb about the new free Tribunal Secretary Platform she helped to develop and launch in March 2024. What is it and why is it needed? 

On 26 March 2024, the global arbitration community received a free new tool: The world’s first Tribunal Secretary Platform, which helps arbitrators find external tribunal secretaries for case-by-case collaboration and offers various resources to both arbitrators and tribunal secretaries. The non-profit platform is jointly powered by the Swiss Arbitration Association (ASA) and Jus Connect, and supported by senior practitioners and professional organisations worldwide, including Ciarb. 

Background: Changing landscape in the arbitration community 

The international arbitration community is changing. Traditionally dominated by arbitration teams in large firms, there has been in recent years an ever-increasing trend towards smaller arbitration boutiques and independent arbitrators. The arbitrators practicing in such settings have escaped conflicts of interests, but at the price of having a smaller pool of junior lawyers at their disposal to support them in document-heavy or otherwise administration-intense cases. 

At the same time, an increasing number of talented practitioners are joining smaller law firms or become entirely independent at an early stage of their career. The reasons are manifold and include more flexible working arrangements, entrepreneurial spirit, international relocation, or for personal/familial commitments. 

These trends have an impact on how arbitrators work with tribunal secretaries. Where tribunal secretaries are utilised, they are typically associates at the presiding arbitrator’s law firm. This traditional employment model is, however, increasingly challenged by the changing landscape. This has led to the emerging concept of using external tribunal secretaries, which also meets with approval by users. For example, Airbus’s Senior Vice-President of Litigation, Karl Hennessee, welcomes “more transparency and more independence between presiding arbitrators and tribunal secretaries”. In other words, an independent collaboration between tribunals and external tribunal secretaries who will, in this set-up, increasingly become a resource for the entire panel, not only for the presiding arbitrator. 

New Solution: Global Tribunal Secretary Platform 

The new Tribunal Secretary Platform fills a gaping hole in the tools available to the global arbitration community. One can use multiple platforms to find arbitrators, counsel and experts with a specific profile. But how do tribunals find external tribunal secretaries to support them on an individual case? So far, the solution was word-of-mouth. Since 26 March 2024, the solution is technology. 

The Tribunal Secretary Platform helps arbitrators find the right tribunal secretary for a specific case through an efficient search, based on filters such as bar admission, location, language skills, and more. As such, it makes profiles of tribunal secretaries visible, searchable, and easily accessible to arbitrators around the globe. The Platform also makes collaboration between tribunals and external tribunal secretaries easier by providing numerous free templates, such as a note on the most common fee arrangements, a template agreement, and template correspondence to the parties in the arbitration. Importantly, the use of the Platform is free of charge for arbitrators and tribunal secretaries. 

The needs of arbitrators are different, with some using only experienced tribunal secretaries and others wanting to train lawyers with less access to such opportunities. To strike a balance between diversity and specialisation, the Platform requires that tribunal secretaries have at least two years of dispute resolution practice experience, plus documented arbitration experience. In addition, the Platform offers two distinction badges for tribunal secretaries, namely for those who have two+ years of specific arbitration practice experience (Arbitration Experience Distinction) or six+ months of experience working as a tribunal secretary (Tribunal Secretary Experience Distinction). All of these requirements must be proven through a reference letter, which is available for download. 

Once an arbitrator has found suitable tribunal secretary candidates, they are encouraged to request specific references from them directly. Thus, the choice of a tribunal secretary will, in most cases, be made based on the same information as traditional hiring decisions: the CV (available on the Platform for free download), feedback from references, and a discussion with the candidate(s). 

An Elephant in the Room? 

The creators of the Tribunal Secretary Platform have always been mindful of ongoing discussions about whether arbitrators should use tribunal secretaries in any given case and, if so, for which tasks. The Platform does not relieve arbitrators of their responsibility to decide whether it is appropriate to use a tribunal secretary in a specific case. If an arbitrator decides to do so, with the consent of the parties, the Platform makes available a note regarding the role of a tribunal secretary. The note reproduces guidance from different sources, for example from arbitral institutions administering the case. In addition, it provides a convenient checklist of possible tasks that can serve as a basis for discussion between the tribunal and the tribunal secretary. After such discussion has taken place and an agreement has been found, the templates on the Platform encourage tribunals to inform the parties about the tribunal secretary’s tasks. Transparency is an important principle that is proposed and encouraged in several templates on the Platform to support best practices in this field. 

A Success of Worldwide Collaboration 

The Tribunal Secretary Platform has been a success of worldwide collaboration. Initiated and led on behalf of ASA by Dorothee Schramm (Geneva), the Project Team comprises Lindsay Gastrell (New York), Angelina Petti (Zurich), Andrew Pullen (Singapore), Peter Thorp (Paris), and Baiju Vasani (London). 

For the technical implementation, ASA partnered with Jus Mundi, thereby combining the Project Team’s deep arbitration experience around the world with the technology of Jus Mundi’s data-driven people-platform Jus Connect. Through this partnership, the free content on the Tribunal Secretary Platform is enriched for Jus Mundi subscribers by direct access to AI-powered information, such as awards or publications in which a tribunal secretary was involved. 

In addition, the Project Team sought and implemented feedback from different parts of the arbitration community. Input came from senior arbitration practitioners from all continents who agreed to act as advisors to the project. The Project Team also implemented feedback from tribunal secretaries, in particular from the Tribunal Secretary Network, an informal network of individuals who regularly act as tribunal secretaries in international arbitrations. Finally, more than twenty professional organisations worldwide, including Ciarb, lent their support to the project and provided further feedback. 

Through this worldwide collaboration, the Tribunal Secretary Platform is focused on offering universal solutions and global best practices. It supports flexible work arrangements, fosters diversity and contributes to the training of lawyers globally. 

The Project Team members are: 

  • Dorothee Schramm (project leader) 
  • Lindsay Gastrell 
  • Angelina Petti 
  • Andrew Pullen 
  • Peter Thorp 
  • Baiju Vasani 

The Project Advisors are: 

  • Mohamed Abdel Wahab 
  • Funke Adekoya 
  • Stanimir Alexandrov 
  • Chiann Bao 
  • John Fellas 
  • Karl Hennessee 
  • Marc Henry 
  • Michael Hwang 
  • Doug Jones 
  • Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler 
  • Christoph Liebscher 
  • Steven Lim 
  • Yoshimi Ohara 
  • Emilia Onyema 
  • Michael Schneider 
  • Edna Sussman 
  • Annet van Hooft 
  • Georg von Segesser 
  • Anish Wadia 
  • Eduardo Zuleta 

The Supporting Organisations are: 

  • AAA-ICDR (US) 
  • ACICA (Australia) 
  • CBAr (Brazil) 
  • CAM-CCBC (Brazil) 
  • CAM-Milan (Italy) 
  • CEPANI (Belgium) 
  • CEIA (Spain) 
  • Ciarb (UK) 
  • CRCICA (Egypt) 
  • DIAC (Dubai) 
  • HKIAC (Hong Kong) 
  • JAMS (US) 
  • KCAB International (Korea) 
  • KIAC (Rwanda) 
  • MCIA (India) 
  • NAI (Netherlands) 
  • SCC (Sweden) 
  • SVAMC (US) 
  • Swiss Arbitration Centre (Switzerland) 
  • VIAC (Austria) 
  • WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre (Switzerland)