Benjamin Hughes
1 Gwanak-ro, Gwanak-gu
+82 10 8997 0724

Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Arbitration

Ben is an independent arbitrator with the Arbitration Chambers in Singapore and Fountain Court Chambers in London, and associate professor of law at Seoul National University. Since establishing his practice as an independent arbitrator in 2013, he has been appointed as chair, sole arbitrator or co-arbitrator in over 60 cases with a total value in dispute exceeding US$1 billion. He has also been appointed as emergency arbitrator and sole arbitrator in expedited proceedings.

Describe your career to date.

I took the long and winding road. Prior to law school, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, a fish farmer, a (terrible) musician, an elementary school teacher and a graduate student. I attended law school in Korea first, then in the US, and started my legal career as a corporate lawyer in San Francisco.

What drew you towards a career in international arbitration?

The sheer diversity of it. Every case is completely new in so many ways, even as the process also becomes more familiar.

Which case you have worked on most sticks in your mind and why?

That is a difficult choice. I have recently served as emergency arbitrator under the ICC and SIAC rules. Complex issues must be presented by counsel and resolved by the tribunal very quickly, which makes these cases stressful, memorable and enjoyable.

What skills make for a successful arbitrator?

There are many effective styles, which is why it is important for the parties and institutions to choose the right arbitrator(s) for any given case. An arbitrator must be flexible and work with the parties in designing an appropriate procedural path forward, but firm in enforcing this procedural framework once it is established. We must not be too timid in exercising our responsibility to move the proceedings forward efficiently.

In what ways has teaching at Seoul National University Law School benefited your practice?

Out of the mouths of babes comes the truth, as they say. My students consistently ask penetrating questions which challenge many of the basic underlying assumptions in international arbitration practice. I believe that helps me be more creative as an arbitrator.

What was the most challenging aspect of transitioning from a large law firm to independent practice?

Suddenly I had no secretaries, paralegals or associates! I realised how much I had come to depend on the support network of the firm.

What steps do you take to maintain your profile in the arbitration community, to ensure that you receive a healthy stream of appointments?

Arbitrators cannot market themselves in the same way attorneys can. I attend and speak at conferences, and write some articles. But I think the only way to maintain a profile in international arbitration is to be fair, efficient and firm, and hope your reputation spreads by word of mouth.

What have been the most significant developments you have witnessed in the Korean arbitration market in the past few years?

2016 was an amazing year. Korea updated its Arbitration Act to incorporate the 2006 revisions to the UNCITRAL Model Law, the KCAB updated its International Arbitration Rules to incorporate the most recent developments in international arbitration practice, and the Ministry of Justice took steps to support the development of arbitration in Seoul. This is part of a trend in Korea toward becoming one of the most arbitration-friendly jurisdictions in Asia.


Who's Who Legal Arbitration: Lawyers

Benjamin Hughes FCIArb FSIArb FHKIArb is an arbitrator and door tenant of The Arbitration Chambers in Singapore and of Fountain Court Chambers in London, and associate professor of law at Seoul National University. 

Ben has been appointed as sole, presiding or co-arbitrator in over 70 arbitrations, under the rules of AAA/ICDR, ACICA, CIETAC, DIS, HKIAC, ICC, JCAA, KCAB, KLRCA, LMAA, SCC, SIAC, UNCITRAL (administered and ad hoc) and VIAC. He has also served as emergency arbitrator, and as sole arbitrator under expedited and fast-track proceedings. Chambers & Partners recognises Ben as a "most in demand arbitrator" in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ben’s experience as arbitrator spans a broad range of commercial disputes, including disputes relating to joint venture and shareholder agreements, IP licensing agreements, agency and distributorship agreements, construction and infrastructure projects, energy and resource projects, shipbuilding, automobile and heavy machinery manufacturing, sale of goods, shipping, and general contractual disputes. He has heard cases governed by the laws of Australia, Austria, China, England, Fiji, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mongolia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, the United States and Vietnam, as well as lex mercatoria. He has also handled complex conflict of law and jurisdictional issues, joinder applications and disputes involving multiple contracts and applicable laws.

Ben was educated in both the civil law and the common law traditions, having studied first at Seoul National University college of law (all coursework in Korean), and then at NYU school of law (JD). He studied East Asian history at Harvard University (MA) and speaks conversational Mandarin in addition to Korean and Spanish. 

WWL says: Benjamin Hughes is renowned for his "deep understanding of the Korean business market" and is described by one impressed source as "the best arbitrator in Korea".

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Arbitration which can be purchased from our Shop.

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