Arbitration Team of the Month #23
Jus Connect by Jus Mundi is pleased to nominate Rajah & Tann for its coveted Arbitration Team of the Month (ATOM) Award, in appreciation for the firm’s extensive work in international arbitration as well as its initiatives championing workplace mental health.
Rajah & Tann has an impressive track record in arbitration. They have been involved in at least 76 international case(s) known by Jus Mundi (70 Commercial Arbitration and 6 Investor-State) in a variety of economic sectors including, wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles; construction; manufacturing; financial and insurance activities; transportation and storage; mining and quarrying; arts, entertainment and recreation; electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply (energy); accommodation and food service activities; information and communication; real estate activities; professional, scientific and technical activities; administrative and support service activities; education: water supply; sewerage, waste management and remediation activities; agriculture and forestry and fishing.
As the conversation grows around demanding hours and stressful work environments at many law firms, the Singapore big-four firms have made real strides to distance themselves from such environments.
Deputy Head of International Arbitration, Avinash Pradhan, discusses why lawyers’ wellbeing matters to Rajah & Tann and how important it is to the firm to change such outdated mindsets.
Congratulations on winning this coveted award. Maybe you can begin by telling us about yourself…
I am the Deputy Head of International Arbitration & Rajah & Tann. My expertise is in commercial arbitration, but slightly unusually, I also do construction disputes. In fact, because of the firm’s history, several partners at Rajah & Tann do commercial and construction work. I started my career in the UK – studying and then called to the bar. I then moved to Malaysia, and then to Singapore and was called to the bar here – it’s been around 13 years!
Wow, that’s impressive! We’re also impressed by Rajah & Tann’s significant caseload over the years, including in arbitration. With a network of offices all around APAC, what is the secret for the firm to continue branching out both regionally and globally and maintain one of the prime choices for clients in APAC?
One of the important parts of Rajah & Tann’s growth in the last 10 years has been to establish itself as a regional network of firms. We saw a gap in the market for “one-stop-shop” network in the region. So, we developed around that model and became one of the largest network of firms in Southeast Asia. We have several sister offices and with those, we provide full-service support. The driver for this is that we see a lot of potential in Southeast Asia as an economic region.
We’re proud to be so Asia-focused. I think it’s one of the main reasons why Rajah & Tann is so appealing to clients. The other reason of course, is quite simply that we provide an excellent service – we know what we are doing. Our clients know they can rely on us and that we are there for them. We make sure that we meet their wants and expectations, and not just in the short-term. We thrive by building long-term relationships with them and helping them navigate through the often-choppy waters they face. That’s what makes us stand out. We’re really with them for the long-haul!
In your opinion, what makes Singapore such an up-and-coming seat in arbitration? Why should global in-house counsel consider it more?
Singapore is one of the most pro-arbitration jurisdictions in the region, both in terms of its legislative framework and judiciary. In the last 20 years, it has been at the forefront of arbitration and very progressive.
- Singapore is a secure seat with a system that encourages arbitration and makes sure that arbitration progresses.
- Singapore is also very international: there is a great sense of cultural awareness that can translate into arbitration. If you have an international dispute, culture is very important. Sometimes in a western seat, arbitration may fit one culture but miss the intricacy of other cultures. A lot of the arbitral institutions now encourage cultural and gender diversity. So, Singapore is ahead of the curve, which is important to in-house counsel.
- In-house counsel should also look for a legal system that can deal with a spectrum of disputes. Disputes come in all shapes and forms. You want a system that is flexible and provides solutions tailored to your requirements. Singapore provides that.
- The quality of legal support in Singapore is as good as what you get in other jurisdictions, but our fees are more competitive. Historically, that is what has allowed the market to grow. We are competitive because we believe in an open environment: other seats may not be quite so open.
For more arbitration advice dedicated to in-house counsel, read Avinash Pradhan and other leading arbitration practitioners’ tips in Jus Mundi’s Arbitration Toolkit for In-House Counsel.
With the pandemic and the increased need for technology since, has your practice developed in a different way?
Yes, it certainly has. Even before the pandemic, we decided to switch to a paperless environment, and we got there! Because we had taken those steps, we were better prepared when Covid hit. Since then, there has been a steep learning curve for everyone in the international arbitration environment with the need for virtual hearings, but we adapted. Now, we do international arbitration hearings at all hours of the day!
We have really embraced a hybrid work environment, and it’s been great. For me, there are two key benefits:
- There is more flexibility for our lawyers to engage with other aspects of their lives. We see how people have become more productive when they are allowed flexibility, and we are very encouraged by it.
- We are now in a position where we can be more efficient when working with our clients. Because of our regional strategy, a lot of our clients are not based in Singapore. Because of technology, we now have platforms to facilitate virtual interactions on a global scale.
At Rajah & Tann, all members of the team are encouraged to embrace technology. We’ve made a real effort to ensure the transition to virtual platforms for all users is seamless. In often aggressive disputes, seamlessness is of tremendous benefit.
What is your vision for 2023 in the arbitration field? What other trends do you foresee in 2023 in the legal profession?
This is a very interesting question!
- Firstly, I believe that virtual hearings are here to stay, but they will not completely replace physical hearings. Arbitrators like to travel! I think we will come to a middle ground, which is a good thing. Flexibility is important. There is no one-size fits all solution to every problem.
- Next, I see a lot more arbitration from the APAC region. In the current global economic climate, there is a lot of uncertainty in the market. For a lot of clients, it’s going to be necessary to take adversarial steps to get to a solution. Because of this, a lot of enforcement actions will follow.
- Finally, I believe there will be a lot of fintech and cryptocurrency disputes. It’s something that has started already, but I think, will continue. It’s a fascinating area and certainly one to keep an eye on! We’ve already seen some arbitration in that field, particularly in the acquisition of fintech companies. There is a lot of scope there. The market is going to be tough for a lot of these businesses and arbitration will soar. It may take a little while to learn the technicalities behind the industry, but it’s important to do so as the field certainly has a future.
At Jus Connect by Jus Mundi, we are creating an arbitration community and helping to bring some transparency to the field. How important is visibility for your arbitration team? In what ways does your firm promote visibility?
We believe that work comes from building organic relationships. But marketing initiatives are very important. The reality is, we must have visibility in order to grow relationships, and that means visibility on marketing platforms. This way we can keep abreast of what is happening and keep an eye on our competitors.
As lawyers, we are often busy and don’t pay as much attention to some of these initiatives as we should. At Rajah & Tann, we are very ably assisted by our Business Development and Marketing departments. We keep in regular contact with them and trust them to guide us and help us bring more visibility to the firm. They encourage us to attend events and conferences, publish articles, create online profiles and partake in many initiatives to help promote visibility within the community, and outside as well.
Rajah & Tann has been recognized as a leader in advocating for mental health in the workplace. How does your firm meaningfully act to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for all?
This is an incredibly important question. The last few years have been difficult for the world overall, but when you’re in a particularly demanding profession, like law and arbitration, a lot of what you do can be consuming. It’s particularly overwhelming when you’re young, learning on the go, and unsure of what your next step will be. Law was always a profession that took a toll on people, but Covid exacerbated it. So now we have a greater consciousness to encourage and facilitate growth.
At Rajah & Tann, there is now a greater awareness within the firm of the importance of these issues. We introduced a guide with a specific focus on well-being. We want to make sure our associates are being taken care of.
In terms of how we meaningfully act to ensure a safe environment, there has been a real transition. Young lawyers have traditionally been expected to earn their stripes, and part of that meant going through what senior lawyers went through in their time. There used to be a mentality that if you complained, it meant you couldn’t stomach it. Thankfully, at Rajah & Tann, this is not what we believe. It’s refreshing to have come away from that and be in this position. That doesn’t mean it will be easy but if you have the will to learn, we will help you do that, whilst maintaining a balance with the rest of your life.
Finally, it is important to enjoy what you are doing. International arbitration can be a difficult field to navigate but it is a lot of fun too!
Rajah & Tann is a fairly large firm, but it’s very close-knit with a lot of great people. We like who we are and what we do and the people we do it with. It’s an important part of our culture. We are here to provide a service. And if you believe in that as an idea, to protect your client’s interest and fight their corner, you will enjoy the process.
In terms of our standing in the market, that is something others can judge for themselves. But being in a place where people look out for your interests is important. A lot of firms commoditise their lawyers. At Rajah & Tann, we see nurturing our lawyers as part of our job.
With that in mind, what advice would you give young arbitration professionals wanting to succeed in such a competitive field?
Go into it for the right reasons. If it’s something that you think you will enjoy, go for it. If you go into it for any other reason, you will not last.
Even when you go into it for the right reasons, you will encounter challenges. It takes time to build knowledge, skills etc and it can become frustrating at times. My advice: keep focussing on the bits of it that are fun!
Presumably, you like the idea of arguments, speaking to people, learning about various businesses etc. Focus on that and you will succeed. But remember that it does take time. Some people say it’s a marathon, not a sprint but I like to think of it as a nice trek.
Congratulations to the team once again! Jus Connect by Jus Mundi wishes them nothing but success.