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Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Thought Leader

Thought Leaders - Arbitration 2020

Q&A

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

George Bermann draws acclaim from sources as "an outstanding thought leader and invaluable resource" when it comes to commercial and investment arbitration proceedings. ​

Questions & Answers

George A Bermann is professor of law at Columbia Law School, teaching international commercial and investment arbitration, transnational litigation, EU law and comparative law. He directs Columbia’s Center for International Commercial and Investment Arbitration (CICIA). He is professeur affilié at the Law School of Sciences Po in Paris, and teaches regularly on the MIDS programme in Geneva and at Georgetown Law Center. Bermann is an experienced international arbitrator, in commercial and investor-state cases, and institutional and ad hoc arbitrations, as both party-appointed arbitrator and chair. He frequently serves as counsel and expert witness in litigation and arbitration.

What inspired you to pursue a legal career? 

Unsurprisingly, an absolute love of law, and knowing how important law is to an ordered society operating on the basis of principle.

What do you enjoy most about working on such an international level?

Having trained as a comparative law scholar, I would say that international arbitration represents the perfect vehicle for putting that training and experience to use – given the multinational laws, counsel, tribunals and arbitral seats that international arbitration entails. I also relish the opportunity to play multiple roles in the field: arbitrator, professor (as both teacher and writer), expert, and author of amicus briefs and the ALI Restatement of International Arbitration Law.

What role do you see third-party funding playing in arbitration moving forward?

I believe it will only continue to grow, as it largely represents a win-win for parties, counsel and of course third-party funders. The challenge is to make it available to small and medium-sized businesses, and of course ensure the needed transparency. 

If you could implement one reform in international arbitration, what would it be?

I do not know exactly what shape such a reform could take, but we should find ways to lessen the concentration of international arbitration activity in a small number of hands, particularly, but not only, in investor-state arbitration. Not only do international arbitrators often take on more cases than they can properly handle (or need, from either a financial or reputational point of view), and occasion undue delay, but they block access to arbitrator opportunities for young aspiring arbitrators and talented arbitrators whose skills are underutilised.

What steps can younger arbitration practitioners take to improve their chances of getting appointments? Is there an important role to play here for experienced lawyers?

There is no single strategy, but the greatest exposure comes from performing as counsel in international arbitration, where one’s talent in the field can be directly observed. This means, of course, going to a firm that heavily practises arbitration and gives you a relatively early possibility of performing it. Work at international arbitral institutions also affords valuable experience and opportunities in practice. I urge young lawyers not merely to network (not that that can be neglected), but also write and publish in a fashion that brings their voices to the attention of others. So far as experienced young lawyers are concerned, it’s all about mentoring. 

Does the rising backlash to globalisation threaten investor-state dispute settlement as we know it?

Yes, changes are inevitable, though they can range from incremental to radical. The range and depth of concerns suggests that changes need to be truly meaningful. I do not at all rule out the establishment of a multinational investment court, despite the many challenges presented. 

You have enjoyed an illustrious career so far. What would like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished? 

I have had marvellous experiences in many different capacities in the international arbitration field. All that I miss professionally is the opportunity to give international arbitration a more solid footing in the US, including the US government. Despite the Supreme Court’s high level of interest in the field, and its generally supportive jurisprudence, modernisation at the federal level, most obviously by an entirely new Federal Arbitration Act, is urgently needed. The Restatement goes some distance in lending coherence to US law in the field, but more is needed.

What advice would you give to younger lawyers hoping to one day be in your position?

Younger lawyers have no choice but to make themselves visible – including through participation in associational activities and serious writing in the field. To the extent that I have an important academic dimension to my international arbitration work, I urge young lawyers to know that international arbitration – commercial and investment alike – has a place in university legal education that will only grow over time. Above and beyond the joy of teaching, a university position can be an excellent springboard for a highly rewarding international arbitration career.

Global Leader

Arbitration 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

George Bermann draws acclaim from sources as "an outstanding thought leader and invaluable resource" when it comes to commercial and investment arbitration proceedings. ​

Biography

George A Bermann is professor of law at Columbia Law School, teaching international commercial and investment arbitration, transnational litigation, EU law, and comparative law. He directs Columbia’s Center for International Commercial and Investment Arbitration (CICIA).

He is professeur affilié at the Law School of Sciences Po in Paris, and teaches regularly on the MIDS programme in Geneva and at Georgetown Law Center.

Bermann is an experienced international arbitrator, in both commercial and investor-state cases, in both institutional and ad hoc arbitrations, and both as party-appointed and chair. He frequently serves as counsel and expert witness in litigation and arbitration alike.

He earned BA and JD degrees from Yale University and a master’s degree in law from Columbia. Following several years of law practice in New York with Davis Polk & Wardwell, he entered into law teaching, legal scholarship and arbitration practice.

Bermann is co-chair of the board of advisers of the New York International Arbitration Center (NYIAC); founding member of the governing board of the ICC Court of International Arbitration; co-author (with Emmanuel Gaillard) of the UNCITRAL Guide to the New York Convention; and chief reporter of the American Law Institute’s Restatement on the US Law of International Commercial Arbitration. He is co-editor-in-chief with Rob Smit of the American Review of International Arbitration and chair of the executive editorial board of the Columbia Journal of European Law. He is widely published through books and articles on international dispute resolution (including arbitration), private international law and EU law.

Bermann arbitrates in English and French, and in the full range of international disputes.

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