Alvin Yeo, senior counsel, is the chairman and senior partner of WongPartnership LLP. His main practice comprises counsel work for corporate, commercial and infrastructure disputes, in both arbitration and litigation. Described by Chambers Global as “the most impressive, as an advocate, out of all the Singapore firms”, he is acknowledged for his prominent international profile and recognised in many legal directories including The Legal 500, IFLR1000, Chambers Global and Chambers Asia-Pacific.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST INTERESTING CASE TO DATE AS COUNSEL OR ARBITRATOR, AND WHY?
Several come to mind. One of my earlier cases as counsel involved acting for an oil major who claimed against a dredging contractor and the statutory board who had engaged that contractor, for damage caused by the change in currents brought about by land reclamation. The sheer span of technical issues – including wave hydraulics, reclamation technology and metallurgical analysis – was daunting but at the same time fascinating. At the other extreme, I acted for an investor against a foreign state in a claim for denial of justice arising from a series of court proceedings covering a couple of decades, which is a fairly rare basis of claim.
HOW HAS ARBITRATION CHANGED IN SINGAPORE SINCE YOU STARTED PRACTISING?
In parallel with the growth of Singapore as an international arbitration hub, the cases have become ever more cosmopolitan, and ever more complex in their legal and factual context.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
As lead counsel, and occasionally as presiding arbitrator, one gets to survey the entire sweep of the dispute, and to try to bring focus on the key issues, while dealing with the typical mass of documentation and arguments mounted by either side.
AS THE CHAIRMAN AND A SENIOR PARTNER OF WONGPARTNERSHIP, WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FIRM IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS?
My priority has been and is to establish our firm as a leading presence in international commercial and investment arbitration.
YOU HAVE ACTED IN MANY HIGH-PROFILE INVESTOR STATE ARBITRATIONS. WHAT IS THE KEY TO PREPARING FOR THESE?
In a sense it is no different from preparing for any other case. However, it is important to appreciate the various cultural and legal differences of disparate jurisdictions, as investment arbitration tends to bring these differences to the fore.
HOW DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE AS AN ELECTED MEMBER OF SINGAPORE’S PARLIAMENT ENHANCE YOUR PRACTICE?
I don’t believe this has a direct impact on one’s legal work, but being a member of the legislature perhaps helps to give one the “helicopter” view of not seeing an issue from a purely legal perspective.
AS THE YOUNGEST EVER SENIOR COUNSEL APPOINTED TO THE SUPREME COURT, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PRACTITIONERS HOPING TO BE IN YOUR POSITION IN THE FUTURE?
Work hard. Everything requires practice, including advocacy, and there is no substitution for being prepared for each case you undertake.
YOU HAVE HAD A VERY DISTINGUISHED CAREER SO FAR. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE?
To pass on what I can to the younger lawyers coming after me. I benefited from the sage advice of my seniors, and it is a virtuous cycle that we should all strive to keep going.
Alvin Yeo, Senior Counsel, is chairman and senior partner of WongPartnership LLP. His main practice comprises counsel work for corporate, commercial and infrastructure disputes, in litigation and arbitration. Described by Chambers Global as “the most impressive, as an advocate, out of all the Singapore firms”, he is acknowledged for his prominent international profile and recognised in global legal directories, including The Legal 500, IFLR1000, Chambers Global and Chambers Asia-Pacific.
Why did you decide to become a litigator?
I enjoyed the cut and thrust of debating and mooting since my student days, so it was a natural decision to go into litigation.
What has been your most memorable case to date?
There have been several in the course of my career. Perhaps one I should mention concerned the contest concerning a “floating casino” ship operator, seeking to collect on gambling debts incurred by an individual who had embezzled her gaming funds from a bank where she worked. Apart from the colourful facts, it threw up complex issues of restitution, public policy and international maritime law.
How has the practice of the litigator changed since you started your career?
The practice has become more intense and also more international. The enhancement in technology has aided both these advances.
Which part of your work satisfies you the most?
Modern litigation requires a team to cope with many moving parts. It is satisfying when the team is able to pull together all the different aspects of the dispute and put forward a cohesive and persuasive position.
How has your arbitration experience improved your work in other forms of dispute resolution?
The varied experience – with different legal systems, different procedures and the multinational aspect of tribunals, counsel and witnesses – teaches one to be adaptive.
What do clients look for in a top-class litigator?
A clear sense of objective, and a comprehensive yet flexible strategy to achieve that.
As the chairman of WongPartnership, how does the firm differentiate itself in the market, and what are your current priorities for its development?
WongPartnership positions itself as an Asian regional firm, incorporating the best of Western and Eastern practices to deal with the international nature of dispute resolution.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
To move graciously into retirement when the time comes, which I hope is still far off!
Alvin Yeo SC is “very knowledgeable and strong in the details as arbitrator” according to sources, who also commend his work as counsel where he possesses “excellent advocacy skills”.
Alvin Yeo, Senior Counsel, is the chairman and senior partner of WongPartnership LLP.
His main practice comprises counsel work for corporate, commercial and infrastructure disputes, both in litigation and arbitration. Alvin has also acted as arbitrator in disputes involving projects in various parts of Asia.
Alvin is a member of the court of the SIAC, the ICC Commission on Arbitration, the panel of disciplinary tribunal chairs of the Singapore Medical Council and the Supreme Court, and the appeals advisory panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). He is also the vice president of the LCIA Asia Pacific Users’ Council, and a fellow of the SIArb and the Asian Institute of Alternative Dispute Resolution. He is on the panel of arbitrators of the AIAC, ICDR, HKIAC, KCAB and SCIA.
Alvin graduated from King’s College London, University of London, and was admitted to the English Bar (Gray’s Inn) in 1987 and the Singapore Bar in 1988. In January 2000, Alvin became the youngest lawyer to be appointed Senior Counsel.
In 2017, Alvin was honoured with the Outstanding Contribution to the Legal Profession Award from Chambers Asia-Pacific and was listed as Lawyer of the Year for Arbitration and Mediation in Singapore by Best Lawyers 2017.
Described by Chambers Global as “the most impressive, as an advocate, out of all the Singapore firms”, he is acknowledged for his prominent international profile and regional recognition. Alvin is also recognised as a leading litigation and arbitration counsel in international legal directories such as The Legal 500, IFLR1000, Chambers Global, Chambers Asia-Pacific, Expert Guides, Who’s Who Legal and Best Lawyers.