Annet van Hooft is a distinguished name in the European arbitration market with extensive experience with IP disputes in the life sciences and technology sectors.
Annet van Hooft is an independent arbitrator and counsel based in Paris. After having practised for more than 20 years at major US and UK law firms in Brussels, New York and Paris, and having been a counsel at the ICC Court of Arbitration, Annet set up her own law firm focusing on international arbitration. She has a broad range of experience handling a wide variety of disputes (construction, energy, IP, corporate and life sciences).
As a young practitioner, were you inspired by any particular mentor?
I was lucky to start my career as a lawyer at Cleary Gottlieb. At Cleary, I worked with many different partners from all around the globe, which was a very enriching experience. One person who stands out is Maurits Dolmans, who on my first day in the office, announced to me that he expected me “to always disagree with him” and told me that in case I accidentally did agree with him “I would have to have really good reasons for doing so”. I have followed this approach since my first day as a lawyer (it lends itself to any type of practice) and find it very useful, as it allows you to keep an open mind and look at an issue from different angles.
How has the arbitration community changed since you started practising?
Over the course of my career I have seen a significant increase in the number of participants in international arbitration, be it clients or practitioners. When I started as a counsel at the ICC Court, the community was smaller and much less diverse. The ICC Court, for example, had almost no female members. We still have some way to go in arbitration (as in other fields) but we have made progress over the last decade.
What are your views on calls to increase the efficiency of arbitral proceedings?
Efficiency in arbitration is very important and calls to increase efficiency have been a constant since I started practising. One of the difficulties in achieving greater efficiency is that it is a shared responsibility of the parties, their counsel and the arbitral tribunal. Of course, the arbitral tribunal must encourage the parties and their counsel to conduct the proceedings in an efficient manner, while also keeping in mind that the parties and counsel will generally have a more complete picture of the dispute than the arbitral tribunal.
One of the main focuses of your practice is disputes relating to intellectual property. What are the main challenges you face practising in this area?
I very much enjoy disputes relating to intellectual property, as they often involve fascinating complex and novel technologies and inventions, and require an understanding of various areas of law, including IP, arbitration and, very often, competition law. The main challenges are to get a really good understanding of the novel technology, and the interplay between the different relevant areas of law.
What steps can younger arbitration practitioners take to improve their chance of getting appointments? Is there an important role to play here for experienced lawyers?
A great way for young practitioners to improve their chances of getting appointments is acting as arbitral secretary. Another good route, although not available to all aspiring arbitrators, is to work for an arbitral institution. This will give you a lot of insight in all things that could (potentially) go wrong in proceedings, and give you an opportunity to see how some of the best-known arbitrators conduct arbitration proceedings. There definitely is a role to play for more experienced lawyers as well, for example by more often giving a chance to promising, less experienced arbitrators, in particular when there are already experienced members on the tribunal.
Why did you decide to set up your own firm?
I received my first appointments as an arbitrator when I was an associate at Jones Day and I discovered that I enjoyed working as an arbitrator very much. I then went on to make partner at Bird & Bird and develop their arbitration practice, which was a great experience. I was very regularly requested to act as arbitrator, yet could virtually never accept any nominations because of conflicts of interest. I found this more and more frustrating and arrived at a point where I felt I had to make a choice: either put a cross on my career as an arbitrator, or leave Bird & Bird to fully develop my practice as an arbitrator.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own firm?
Do not hesitate! By the time you start thinking about your own practice, you are probably ready for it. Acting as arbitrator is an activity that can be done very well within a small structure. This is not to say that you should take your decision lightly, or without having gained sufficient experience elsewhere. Every choice has, of course, its own advantages and disadvantages, and you need to consider carefully whether it would be right for you.