Questions & Answers
Jane has substantial experience as counsel and arbitrator on significant construction disputes arising in Europe, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. Jane has been described as “The most competent construction advocate” with “unparalleled experience in dealing with quantum and delay claims” who is “Devastatingly good for complex cases”. “A superb lawyer”, Jane is also recognised as “A sophisticated advocate” whose “eloquence and grasp of the technical and financial elements of complex cases is remarkable” who has “First rate experience in some of the world’s largest and most complex construction disputes”.
Looking back over your career, what is the most interesting arbitration you have been a part of?
The substance of most construction arbitrations boils down to how quickly and cost effectively a contractor can dig a hole, pour concrete and/or weld pieces of metal together. Which is not the most interesting factual material! That said, I have been fortunate in managing to build a practice that is best described as extreme construction arbitration. So (covid-19 aside) I am often to be found meeting with experts and witnesses on construction sites; inspecting a water intake pipe in a subsidiary of the Amazon while surreptitiously watching out for anacondas, visiting southern Chile shortly after one of the largest earthquakes in history, having “snake training” before a hearing in the Great Rift Valley, driving across rural Vietnam or a site visit to an award-winning Italian vineyard: my practice takes me to some of the most beautiful places on Earth. But from my perspective, it is the people you meet – and the lifelong friends you make – while working on construction arbitrations that makes the arbitrations interesting. Be it engineers who have dedicated their lives to bringing reliable transport to rural Africa, project managers grappling with delivering one of the world’s most advanced power projects in extreme weather conditions, co-counsel working with you through the night (and the next night, and the night after that) to ensure our clients’ case is presented in the best possible light, or the opponent who says they don’t want to be opposite you again after a particularly good victory and becomes one of your dearest friends; it is the human element of arbitration that fascinates me.
In what ways does your qualification as an accountant enhance your practice as a barrister?
In construction arbitrations, we are almost inevitably fighting over money. So understanding how construction companies account for projects certainly helps identify where the big money is, and enables me to focus on the issues that really matter from a financial perspective. Being an experienced accountant without doubt gives me a significant advantage when cross-examining experts, many of whom were my colleagues when I worked at PwC, and who know I will have checked and rechecked every calculation in their reports, and will quite happily cross-examine them on the detail of their analysis if I have found an error. One of my favourite cross-examination answers was from an experienced quantum expert who said “well, if Mrs Davies Evans says my calculation is wrong, I believe her”. Not the answer my opponent was expecting, and very difficult to recover from in re-examination!
What advice do you have for practitioners who are keen to focus on mega infrastructure project disputes?
Be careful what you wish for!! It may sound glamorous to be working on megaproject disputes, with numbers being bandied around in the 100s of millions or billions of dollars. But in my view, these disputes are not the best place for a junior lawyer to learn their trade. Megaproject arbitrations can last many years (a decade is not unusual), with limited opportunities for juniors to have an overview of the entire case, or to appear on their feet in hearings. You will be one of many juniors in a team of 40 lawyers or more, a very small cog in a very large wheel. My advice is to start out working on smaller disputes, where you will be involved in all aspects of the arbitration: strategy, drafting and hearing advocacy. This will also enable you to build a wide network of colleagues and clients who will support you through your career. If you still want to work on a megaproject dispute, this experience should put you in pole position to step into a senior role in the counsel team, with opportunities to be intrinsically involved in the strategic decision making and delivery.
What is it about your role as arbitration counsel that you enjoy most?
Most definitely, the people you meet in construction arbitration. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit to enjoying that moment in cross-examination, when you have just got the answer on the transcript that destroys the other side’s case. It can take months (even years) of work as counsel to set up the line of questions that gets you to that point; seeing the client’s reaction when they realise that you have just brought them back from the brink of financial ruin, and/or vindicated what is often years of pain and stress for your client’s project team, is priceless.