Alec Emmerson is a well-known international arbitrator based in Dubai. He is vice chairman of the UAE ICC Arbitration and ADR Commission; a member of the LCIA Court; and a trustee and chief executive of the DIFC Arbitration Institute. He was a Clyde & Co disputes partner in England, Hong Kong (1984 to 1996) and Dubai (1999 to 2017). Since 2008 he has sat in around 150 arbitrations across a wide range of commercial sectors, institutions and jurisdictions in London and Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
What has been your most memorable case to date and why?
Probably my first appointment in an ad hoc arbitration in Hong Kong in the late 1980s, arising from a string of commodity contracts. I was a sole arbitrator with limited experience, and there was no law enabling consolidation, but the parties all agreed to have one hearing, and there was a roomful of London and Hong Kong lawyers and QCs. I agonised over the award … but it was bombproof and survived appeal!
What are the essential differences between ad hoc and institutional arbitrations from your point of view as an arbitrator?
I much prefer institutional arbitration, though I sit in quite a lot of ad hocs in various jurisdictions. Institutional arbitrations remove a lot of admin (and therefore time and costs) from the arbitrators and the parties – agreeing terms, handling deposits, potentially dealing with challenges and appointing arbitrators. They tend to keep the curial courts at a distance.
The ability of the tribunal to manage the process is also usually well known to the parties and tribunal in institutional arbitration and can be less clear in ad hoc cases.
Why did you set up your own practice, and what have you enjoyed most from doing so?
I was going to leave my former firm in 2008 to work full-time as an arbitrator, because that was what I enjoyed most about my work by then. I was persuaded to stay and work half-time for the firm and half-time for my own account as an arbitrator. Conflicts became a bigger and bigger problem and that’s why I obtained my own professional licence as an ADR management consultant from 1 January 2018. I have enjoyed being
free of “big law” conflicts and potential conflicts and working on my own with my personal assistant.
How has your experience as trustee and chief executive of the DIFC arbitration institute enhanced your practice?
On one level it hasn’t at all! Although I am involved in finance, strategy and marketing of the Arbitration Institute and its joint venture with DIFC-LCIA, and not at all with casework, I cannot generally be chosen as an arbitrator by the LCIA Court in DIFC-LCIA arbitrations (although I can be and am regularly party-nominated, except when the seat is “onshore UAE” – see article 10 (2) of the UAE’s 2018 Arbitration Law). On the other hand, it does give me some profile and I have learned a lot about the business of running an arbitral institution.
How has the increased use of data across industries impacted your work in recent years?
The amount of data (including emails) has grown exponentially. A lot of parties are still unwilling to go paperless, and are not well trained in how to organise either paper or data so that the tribunal and parties can identify and find everything that is relevant smoothly and quickly. This is something that needs to improve and I’m sure it will!
In terms of information about arbitrators, it is early days for the platforms that exist, but they do help to level the playing field a bit for the smaller players.
What advice would you give to younger practitioners who one day hope to be in your position?
There is no substitute for hard work, and also for finding time to network at arbitration events. Both are important. Then you need to do some writing and speaking, and once you are sufficiently well known you can let people know you would be happy to act as a tribunal secretary and/or arbitrator. Once you start getting appointments it will pay to be very well prepared and to be on top of case management.
You have had a very distinguished career to date. What else would you like to achieve?
I want to play my part in the continued growth and development of the DIFC Arbitration Institute, based on its joint venture with LCIA. We have made great progress over the past three-and-a-half years and now have a good team in the registry led by Robert Stephen; a place on the GAR “white list”; and a place in the ISDA guide, and we would expect about 80 new case registrations this year (five times as many as in 2015, when DIFC-LCIA was relaunched in November).
I also want to continue finding my role as an arbitrator interesting and stimulating because each day is different … different laws, procedures and sectors, and different cultural and legal approaches of the parties.
How do you see arbitration practice changing in the next five years?
I think there will be a continued southwards, and west-east, movement of the focus of arbitration. Dubai and the UAE are therefore ideally placed in the Arab world, but also at the business crossroads between Africa, Europe and Asia, to grow and develop into a global hub for arbitration. This will be assisted by Dubai’s smart-city vision and its continued development as a global aviation, logistics and business hub.
Alec Emmerson is a stalwart of the arbitration market in the UAE, and is singled out by peers as "an obvious choice" for arbitration matters.
Alec Emmerson is an international arbitrator. He previously practised as an English and Hong Kong-qualified solicitor and a legal consultant in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he is based. He was a partner at Clyde & Co from 1981 to 2008 and consultant until 2017.
Alec acted as party counsel in hundreds of arbitrations around the globe involving international trade, shipping, ship building, insurance and reinsurance, energy, commercial contracts, JVs, property, telecoms and infrastructure.
Since 2008, Alec has been appointed as co-arbitrator, chair or sole arbitrator in more than 160 arbitrations seated in a wide range of jurisdictions under the rules of ADCCAC, DIAC, DIFC-LCIA, EMAC, GCCAC, ICC, LCIA, LMAA, SIAC and in ad hoc and UNCITRAL arbitrations.
Alec is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a CEDR-accredited mediator and a member of many institutional panels, including ADCCAC, AIAC (and certified adjudicator), BCDR, DIAC, EMAC, HKIAC, KCAB, SIAC (including emergency panel) and SZAC.
In November 2014, he became a trustee of the DIFC Arbitration Institute, and subsequently its chief executive; since 1 July 2015 he has been a member of the LCIA Court. He is a member of the ICC UAE commission on arbitration steering committee.
Alec speaks and writes widely on arbitration. He is the author of the Lexis Nexis Users’ Notes for the ADCCAC Rules (2014) and the Lexis Nexis Users’ Notes for the DIFC-LCIA Rules (2016).
He has been listed as a leading individual in arbitration by GAR since 2009 and is recommended in many other legal and arbitration directories. He was recently described as the "Dean of Arbitration" in Dubai.