Arbitration Team of the Month #26
Jus Connect is pleased to nominate BonelliErede 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 commitment to innovation and technology.
BonelliErede has an impressive track record in arbitration. They have been involved in at least 29 international and domestic arbitration case(s) known by Jus Mundi (14 Commercial Arbitration and 15 Investor-State) in a variety of economic sectors including, Construction; Financial activities; Electric power and Oil & Gas (energy); Telecommunication; Chemical related activities; Mining; and Real estate activities.
Paolo Di Giovanni and Barbara Concolino, Partners in the International Arbitration Department, discuss BonelliErede’s culture & growth, and commitment to innovation & technology through the development of beLab.
Congratulations on winning this coveted award. Can you tell us about BonelliErede & its International Arbitration Department?
Paolo Di Giovanni: BonelliErede is a multi-practice international law firm that counts more than 800 people across EMEA. Our international arbitration practice, which began in the early ’90s with Antonio Crivellaro, is the largest in Italy, with around 25 lawyers dedicated to international arbitration. We handle a range of commercial contracts, with a particular focus on construction, M&A, and energy and oil and gas. We have 26 pending cases worth around $8 billion (information and statistics from August 2022), and seven partners who work exclusively in international arbitration. Barbara and I deal primarily with commercial arbitration but our practice is balanced as our group also does investment arbitration. According to our latest statistics, we were involved in more than 20 investment arbitrations as counsel and many others also as arbitrators.
Barbara Concolino: Our clients come from a mix of Italian companies (particularly construction companies), multinational companies based in continental Europe, and foreign multinationals. We are not just an Italian law firm to which Italians go: we are attractive also to huge foreign multinationals.
How did you come to work in arbitration in the first place?
Barbara Concolino: After finishing my law degree, I started a PhD in International Law and European Union law. I was looking for a job in international organizations and tribunals when I got an offer from the Iran-US Claims Tribunal to work as a legal adviser; there I fell in love with arbitration. I came to BonelliErede because I knew they had a great arbitration practice. Then I found out that they also have a great team, not only professionally, but also from a human perspective, which is something very important to me. I’ve been with BonelliErede for over 9 years now and became a partner. So, I can say it was a good choice.
Paolo Di Giovanni: I was one of the first associates hired by BonelliErede after the merger of three boutiques, where I witnessed the exponential growth of the firm. In the first two years of my practice here, I kept on dealing with domestic litigation. I joined BonelliErede as a competition lawyer initially. And then one of my mentors got a big arbitration case that he wanted me involved in. We won that case and I never left international arbitration after that. That was 22 years ago.
What is the secret to BonelliErede’s successful global expansion while remaining Italy’s largest independent law firm and a top choice for Italian clients?
Paolo Di Giovanni: The answer is twofold. Firstly, our founders had strong international backgrounds and wanted the law firm to have an international outreach. Secondly, our focus on quality is a key factor, with quality being a mantra for us. After 20 years and with 560 lawyers, quality remains of paramount importance to us, and it is recognized by clients worldwide. This has enabled us to achieve a uniformity of quality across our offices globally as we now have offices in London and Brussels but also in Cairo, Addis Ababa, and Dubai.
Barbara Concolino: In line with our focus on quality, we invest a lot in training people to become great lawyers across all departments, with the aim of providing the best service to our clients.
Your arbitration team has doubled in the past five years. What makes your arbitration practice attractive to new and experienced talents?
Barbara Concolino: It really was part of an intentional growth strategy which also involved growing internationally. We started it in 2017 with Larry Shore joining us as the head of the international arbitration department and Andrea Carlevaris (re)joining us after serving as Secretary General of the ICC International Court of Arbitration. That gave a strong message to the market and also made our arbitration practice even more attractive to young people pursuing a career in arbitration. On top of that, we have a big team that is fully dedicated to international arbitration, and we work on a variety of cases in all fields of arbitration. Our associates have the opportunity to see a wide variety of cases, and we care about training them at all levels to grow within the team and stay with us long-term. Our associates feel part of the bigger team and are encouraged to contribute to the overall strategy.
I also wish to stress that our recruitment process emphasizes personal qualities, not just academic qualifications. It is important to us to nurture a good work environment where people are happy to work. We really care about our people and that matters to them and to candidates looking for opportunities in international arbitration.
Can you tell us about BonelliErede’s D&I efforts and commitment to environmental sustainability?
Paolo Di Giovanni: The firm heavily focuses on diversity and inclusion. I am a member of the steering and Italian committees of the Equal Representation and Arbitration Pledge. Since I joined, we have created many initiatives to that effect, such as webinars called “Meet Your Female Arbitrators,” which have been very successful.
Barbara Concolino: Our firm has made conscious efforts in terms of recruitment to have balanced departments. Diversity and inclusion are not just ethically good, but also better for business, as different perspectives bring unique contributions.
At BonelliErede, we set up a diversity and inclusion committee that developed policies to promote diversity and inclusion internally and externally. We also monitor annually promotions to ensure gender equality.
The firm has also made efforts to improve its environmental impact. To speak about our arbitration department, for example, we have been drastically reducing paper copies for submissions and try to avoid as much as possible unnecessary travel. In fact, we hardly ever do paper filing nowadays. All these copies just did not make any sense and were very wasteful. As were travels across the world for one-day hearings.
How important is visibility for your arbitration team? In what ways does your firm/practice promote visibility?
Barbara Concolino: Visibility is very important for everyone working in international arbitration, and we encourage our associates to be involved in activities that can give them visibility. We acknowledge that time is a valuable commodity, and it can be challenging to invest in these activities but this is also part of the job, especially going forward in one’s career.
We encourage participation in organizations, which can be an opportunity to gain visibility and meet like-minded people and learn from others in the field. For instance, me and some of my colleagues joined initiatives such as Mute off Thursday and the Arbitration Lunch Match, which not only provided visibility but also allowed us to learn from others’ experiences. We also have our own newsletter to which all our associates are invited to contribute each month, giving them the opportunity to get published.
Paolo Di Giovanni: Personally, I prefer to attend conferences and speak at them, as well as publish. However, I acknowledge that visibility requires more than that nowadays but I am not yet a proficient LinkedIn user, for instance.
What role does technology have in your practice? What is BonelliErede’s beLab?
Paolo Di Giovanni: beLab is a separate company fully owned by BonelliErede. It was created a few years ago to experiment with advanced software and artificial intelligence, providing services for the law firm and its clients.
beLab works on e-discovery, litigation, due diligence, investigations, and more. The law firm has made a significant investment in new technologies and currently, our international arbitration department uses beLab during document review and in the discovery phase.
There are cases in which clients go directly to beLab for specific services. beLab became profitable very quickly and is a successful startup.
If AI softwares can’t replace lawyers (for now), but it can deal with extremely time-consuming tasks. This significantly reduces our workload.
What is your vision for the arbitration field in 2023? Any trends that we can expect?
Barbara Concolino: Internationally, environmental protection will continue to be a crucial aspect of arbitration. We will see increasing numbers of arbitration cases for breaches of clauses regulating environmental protection in different contract transactions and international agreements. We already dealt with similar cases in the past, but we do expect them to increase in the future.
More domestically, the 2022 reform of the Italian civil justice system, which also affects international arbitration, is a hot topic, and we expect to start seeing its (hopefully positive) effects soon.
Paolo Di Giovanni: We are also currently witnessing a significant number of cases related to the war between Ukraine and Russia, mainly linked to sanctions, supply chain issues, and the impact on the price of raw materials. Contracts and clauses are generally inadequate to govern such phenomena, and lawyers should focus on drafting more tailored hardship clauses to deal with future situations.
Congratulations to the team once again! Jus Connect wishes them nothing but success.