Grant Hanessian is a partner in the New York office of Baker McKenzie. He acts as counsel and arbitrator in disputes concerning investment, energy, construction, financial services, intellectual property and other matters. He is US member of the ICC Court of Arbitration, chair of the USCIB/ICC USA arbitration committee (ICC US national committee), vice chair of LCIA’s North American Users’ Counsel, member of ICDR-AAA’s international advisory council and founding board member of the New York International Arbitration Center.
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE. WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO A CAREER IN ARBITRATION?
After graduating from law school, I initially worked on public international law cases representing migrant workers and refugees. Baker McKenzie then hired me to work on cases before the Iran-US Claims Tribunal in The Hague. From the beginning, I felt very comfortable with the flexible nature of international arbitration advocacy and the extensive written submissions. I worked briefly as a journalist before law school and I still enjoy trying to create a strong, consistent narrative for a case. Over the years, I have been privileged to work with several arbitral institutions on publications, rules revisions and other projects. I am currently serving as US member on the ICC Court of Arbitration and have become more active as an arbitrator.
TO WHAT EXTENT HAS MAINTAINING EXPERTISE ACROSS A BROAD RANGE OF INDUSTRY SECTORS BENEFITED YOUR PRACTICE?
Working with people from different industries and business cultures keeps things fresh and I think the variety of cases has made me a better advocate and prepared me to serve as an arbitrator. Obviously, having expertise in an industry reduces the learning curve in a particular case, but I think clients sometimes can make a mistake in turning to their usual domestic litigation counsel in an international arbitration. Cases can turn on the extent to which counsel understands and makes best use of international arbitration procedures, which can be very different from domestic litigation or arbitration.
WHAT DO CLIENTS LOOK FOR WHEN SELECTING AN ARBITRATOR OR COUNSEL?
These are, of course, different roles, but the best arbitrators and counsel share certain characteristics beyond doing the work necessary to convincingly present or fairly decide the case. These are both service jobs: clients and parties have choices; everyone prefers to work with people who are organised, responsive and respectful. The best counsel and arbitrators are active listeners – they fight confirmation bias –and seek practical, efficient solutions for the many issues that arise during a typical arbitration proceeding.
GIVEN THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF TREATY ARBITRATION (SEE ACHMEA), IS THERE A CONCERN THAT INTERNATIONAL COMMERCIAL ARBITRATION ALSO MAY BECOME A TARGET FOR PUBLIC CRITICISM?
International commercial arbitration does face a “legitimacy” challenge, particularly since many large cases involve state entities and industries that have societal and environmental impacts (eg, mining, oil and gas, pharma). There is significant movement towards more transparency in commercial arbitration, although arbitral institutions and tribunals will certainly continue to respect party agreements regarding confidentiality and privacy. The institutions are working to increase arbitral appointments of women, people of colour and others historically underrepresented in the field. The key difference between investment treaty and commercial arbitration is that while states may limit treaty arbitration as we now know it, there will always be international contracts and parties will always want an alternative to submitting their disputes to the national courts of counterparties.
HOW ARE CLIENTS RESPONDING TO THE RISE OF THIRD-PARTY FUNDING IN ARBITRATIONS?
Different clients have different interests and concerns, of course, but there is no question that third-party funding is firmly established and rapidly expanding. We seem to have reached a consensus that at least the existence and identity of a funder should be disclosed.
WHAT MAKES BAKER MCKENZIE STAND OUT FROM ITS COMPETITORS IN THE ARBITRATION MARKET?
Baker McKenzie has more first-rate arbitration lawyers in more places than any other firm, particularly in emerging markets. Our arbitration teams share a culture of excellence, local market knowledge and personal friendship – it has been a great ride.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR PRACTICE DEVELOPING OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
In recent years, I have begun to sit more frequently as an arbitrator and I am hopeful that will continue. As counsel, I expect that I will continue to work on a range of commercial arbitration cases, particularly concerning infrastructure projects, along with investment treaty work in Latin America, Eastern Europe and the CIS countries. My projects with arbitral institutions have always been interesting, and I hope to continue to be involved in those as well.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNGER PRACTITIONERS HOPING TO SUCCEED IN THE FIELD?
Make your own luck: seek opportunities to write and contribute to the profession. There are a great many “young arbitrator” organisations and bar association committees looking for people with energy and ability. Always try to do your best work.
Grant Hanessian is singled out for his considerable experience acting as counsel and arbitrator in contractual, investment treaty, construction and financial services disputes.
Grant Hanessian is a partner in the New York office of Baker McKenzie. He has more than 30 years’ experience as counsel and arbitrator in disputes concerning investment, construction/engineering, energy, financial services, intellectual property and other matters. He served as global co-head of Baker McKenzie's international arbitration group from 2008–2015, head of the firm's North American international arbitration group from 2003–2018 and head of the firm’s New York office litigation department from 2001–2012.
Mr Hanessian is US member of the ICC International Court of Arbitration; chairman of the arbitration committee of ICC-USA and US vice president of the LCIA North American users’ council. He is a member of the ICC commission on arbitration; the ICC task force on financial institutions and international arbitration (co-leader of investment arbitration working group); the AAA-ICDR international advisory committee and its advisory committee on Brazil; the International Arbitration Club of New York; the Spanish Arbitration Club; and the SIAC Users Council. He is also a founding board member of the New York International Arbitration Center.
He is editor of ICDR Awards and Commentaries, Vol I (Juris, 2012) and Vol II (Juris, 2020) and co-editor of International Arbitration Checklists (third edition; Juris, 2016) and Gulf War Claims Reporter (ILI/Kluwer, 1998), and adjunct professor of law at Fordham Law School.
Mr Hanessian is recommended by Chambers Global and Chambers USA, in which he is described as “very knowledgeable and strategic in his offering of critical advice”, and an “elite lawyer” who is “very experienced, hugely knowledgeable and effective”, and "powerful advocate for clients”. The Legal 500 calls him “a great practitioner” with a “strong commercial profile”. He is also recommended by PLC’s Which Lawyer?, WWL: Arbitration and the Expert Guide to Leading Practitioners in International Arbitration (which rates him as the “best of the best” in international commercial arbitration).