Barton Legum is a partner in Dentons’ Paris office and head of the firm’s investment treaty arbitration practice. He has 30 years’ experience in litigating complex cases before international courts and arbitration tribunals. He is a member of the board of the Arbitration Institute at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, and a conciliator for investment disputes before ICSID. Bart formerly served as chief of the NAFTA arbitration division in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the US Department of State, winning every case. Bart is an editor of the Investment Treaty Arbitration Review, and regularly publishes and speaks on matters relating to international dispute resolution, arbitration and public international law.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT INVESTMENT TREATY ARBITRATION?
The intellectual challenge. These cases invariably present complex interactions between international and national law, between government priorities and sophisticated business operations, between policy and practice.
HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS THE CHIEF OF NAFTA ARBITRATION DIVISION ENHANCED YOUR WORK AS AN ARBITRATOR?
Two main ways. First, understanding how governments work. Every government, of course, functions in a unique way. But there are a number of common features. Understanding well how one government functions has given me a useful perspective for cases involving sovereigns and state entities, whether commercial or under investment treaties.
Second, understanding better the policies behind specific investment treaty provisions. During my tenure at the State Department, the US comprehensively revised its model free trade agreement investment chapter and its model bilateral investment treaty. That process included a thorough review of each provision and whether it and the text as drafted served the underlying policy. That process, along with the policy debates within the government around positions to be taken in pending arbitrations, gave me a deeper understanding of investment policy than I could have achieved in private practice.
WHAT QUALITIES DO YOU NEED TO SUCCEED AS AN ARBITRATION SPECIALIST?
Anticipation, empathy and sensitivity to other cultures. Anticipation because in arbitration there is only one chance to prove your case. Anticipating how the case will evolve, and what the tribunal will find important, is crucial. Empathy to understand how witnesses, experts and arbitrators will react to your lines of question or argument. And cross-cultural sensitivity to adjust skills developed in one legal culture to resonate with the tribunal before you.
HOW HAS YOUR WORK AS A CHAIR OF THE ABA SECTION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW INFLUENCED YOUR ARBITRATION WORK?
A key role of the section chair is leading meetings, including council meetings with 50 lawyers in the room and an agenda timed to the minute. The challenge is to keep the agenda on track but still ensure that every speaker has a meaningful opportunity to express their views. That experience translates well to arbitration.
AS THE GLOBAL CO-CHAIR OF THE DISPUTE RESOLUTION AND LITIGATION PRACTICE, WHAT ARE YOUR MAIN PRIORITIES FOR THE PRACTICE’S DEVELOPMENT OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
Dentons today has some 10,000 legal professionals around the world. About a quarter of the firm’s practice is litigation and dispute resolution. This is a large ship to steer. Our priority is to accelerate the already substantial cross-border litigation and dispute resolution work that the firm does.
YOU ARE BOTH A VERY ACTIVE ARBITRATION SPECIALIST AND EDITOR OF SEVERAL PUBLICATIONS. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE TWO ROLES, AND HOW DO THEY COMPLEMENT ONE ANOTHER?
The works that I edit are ones where individual authors provide the content. Once the right authors are on board and the first edition completed, the later editions are not so time-consuming. But I also find it enriching to bring these useful tools to life. On complementarity, I have high standards for anything that I publish. Studying a topic to the point where I am comfortable publishing on it enriches my practice and, hopefully, those of readers as well.
YOU HAVE ENJOYED A VERY DISTINGUISHED CAREER SO FAR. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE THAT YOU HAVE NOT YET ACCOMPLISHED?
If indeed my career has been distinguished, it is because of the time and care taken by my mentors to transmit skills to me and my generation of practitioners. I owe a great debt to those women and men who served that role. The only way to repay it is to transmit, in turn, what I have learned to younger generations. That is what I hope to accomplish.
Bart Legum is held in high esteem by peers, who say he is a "totally excellent, smart, thoughtful and effective practitioner".
Barton Legum is a partner in Dentons’ Paris office and head of the firm's investment treaty arbitration practice. Bart has over 30 years' experience in litigating complex cases and has argued before numerous international arbitration tribunals, the International Court of Justice and a range of trial and appeals courts in the United States. His practice focuses on international arbitration in general and arbitration under investment treaties in particular.
He is a past chair of the American Bar Association’s section of international law, an international bar organisation with over 24,000 members from over 90 countries around the world. In September 2017, the president of the World Bank appointed Bart to the ICSID roster of conciliators for investment disputes.
Earlier in his career, Bart served as chief of the NAFTA arbitration division in the office of the legal adviser, United States department of state. In that capacity, he acted as lead counsel for the United States government in some of the first arbitrations under the investment chapter of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The United States won every case decided under his tenure.
He is the editor of The Investment Treaty Arbitration Review (4th ed 2019), an annual publication of Law Business Research. He is also a founding editor of International Litigation Strategies and Practice (1st ed 2005; 2nd ed 2014), a book published by the American Bar Association. Bart is often published on international dispute resolution topics and frequently speaks at conferences on international arbitration and litigation.