“Brenda is a true leader in arbitration”
“She is smart and highly experienced in multiple jurisdictions”
Brenda Horrigan is an independent arbitrator based in Singapore. After nearly 30 years in practice with major US and international firms out of offices in Washington DC, Moscow, Paris, Shanghai and Sydney, Brenda recently set up her own practice focusing on international arbitration. She has broad experience across numerous industries and arbitral rules, and served for the past two years as the president of the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (ACICA).
Describe your career to date.
I started my career as a transactional lawyer, working in the US, Moscow and Paris. I was pulled into involvement in my first international arbitration following the Russian financial crisis of 1998, when many of the deals were going into dispute and transactional work was diminishing. I’ve been focused on international arbitration ever since.
What do you enjoy most about working in international arbitration?
I really enjoy the diversity of all aspects of the practice – diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, relevant laws, subject matter, languages, institutions and everything else. No two cases are the same and that is exciting. There is more that we can be doing as a community to improve some aspects of diversity, particularly around gender, ethnicity and cultural background, but progress is being made in those areas as well.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a global practice?
Pre-covid-19, I would have said (as both an advantage and a disadvantage) the need to travel. With covid-19 restrictions now in place, I would have to say (again both as an advantage and a disadvantage) the lack of travel! The in-person interactions, both on individual cases and within the community more generally, are very important – but we’ve been surprisingly good as a community at coming up with creative ways to continue those interactions virtually. Particularly with webinars and hybrid events, we have seen the ability to connect with a much broader audience base, many of whom would not otherwise have had the opportunity to participate.
To what extent has covid-19 had an impact on commercial arbitration? Are parties willing to be flexible in procedure and approach to get it over the line?
In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, there were some delays and postponements as parties and tribunals tried to contend with the new normal. As time has gone on, however, I think most parties and most tribunals are accepting that flexibility is necessary and that accommodations can and should be made. Particularly with time zone complications, it can be necessary to have more (and shorter) hearing days, staggered timing or other concessions, but parties generally seem to be trying to make it work.
What do clients look for in an effective arbitrator?
Some of the traits are obvious – independence, impartiality, attention to the case and timely reactions. Importantly, though, I think that parties most want an arbitrator who will adapt the procedures of the arbitration to fit the specific facts and circumstances of the case, but also be rigorous in establishing and maintaining a realistic procedural timetable that meets the parties’ needs and in helping the process move forward in an efficient and time-effective manner.
How effective are virtual hearings and arbitration proceedings compared to their in-person alternative? Do you see them becoming the ‘new normal’?
Again, I think that it depends in large part upon the case in question. Virtual hearings work very well for many procedural issues and are likely to continue in that fashion even after in-person hearings become more feasible. Some merits hearings can also be handled well virtually, although highly complex cases with numerous fact and expert witnesses may be easier to handle in person. This is particularly true where time zone complications come into play. However, as long as equality of arms is preserved, it may be that some form of hybrid arrangement (for example, where certain witnesses, or categories of witnesses, are heard virtually) may become the new normal.
What challenges did you face when setting up your own practice?
Most things have gone quite smoothly, and people have been incredibly supportive. However, physically moving to a different country during active covid-19 restrictions was a bit of a challenge, with lots of inter-dependant moving pieces that kept shifting.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Find work that you love, and then have fun doing it. Not every day will be exciting or enjoyable, but almost anything can at least be made interesting with the right mindset. And often, the things that seem at the time to be big setbacks are actually great opportunities in disguise (see above re my entry into arbitration as a result of the Russian financial crisis …)