Janet Walker is a leading international arbitrator based in Toronto, London and Sydney. She has served as sole, presiding and co-arbitrator in ICC, HKIAC, ICDR, DIAC, SIAC and ad hoc arbitrations in a variety of seats. Her matters cover a range of industries including construction, heavy equipment, M&A, shareholder, distribution, intellectual property, environmental, finance and employment. She is professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School and author of Canadian Conflict of Laws.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO SPECIALISE IN ARBITRATION?
It seemed the natural next step for me, as a specialist in private international law and comparative procedure, to seek to combine these two fields in a career in international arbitration. In those days, arbitration was not so much a field of study as a chance to put into action the ideas that had fascinated me. I had served on many high-profile cross-border cases as a consulting and testifying expert, and from the first arbitration onwards I was captivated by the challenge. Since then, each new case, each new conference and each new encounter, has been an occasion to learn more. Throughout my career, I have consistently been motivated by the strengths of those with whom I have worked. It has been a real privilege to work with some of the best and brightest in the field to resolve challenging issues of real significance for the parties.
WHAT QUALITIES MAKE FOR A SUCCESSFUL INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATOR?
There is a remarkable range of skillsets needed to excel as an international arbitrator. Some skills go without saying: a keen interest in commercial and comparative law; a willingness to travel and the ability to make oneself at home on the road; a capacity for working well with counsel and other members of the panel. Some skills, though, are less obvious: the imagination to navigate procedural tangles and to generate consensus on efficient approaches to the process; the capacity to instil calm in tense moments; an organisational sense; and the drive to see the process through to timely completion of a solid award. Most people find that some of these skills come naturally, but few come to the role endowed with all of them. And so, in the end it is the love of the work that is probably the most important quality, and the continuing interest in learning and improving one’s skill and judgement.
WHAT EFFECT IS THE GROWING INFLUENCE OF REGIONAL ARBITRATION CENTRES HAVING ON THE MARKET?
Regional arbitration centres are attuned to the particular needs of the parties who are local to them. They are challenging the traditional institutions, and the arbitrators and counsel who use them, to adapt their practices to meet a greater range of interests and expectations in the arbitral process. This competition keeps us all alive to the diverse needs of parties around the world. There is no doubt that the good reputation enjoyed by established institutions that provide strong support for arbitrations is hard earned and well deserved: a lot goes into a well-functioning arbitral centre. But over time, as the many newer centres advance, they are raising the bar for all institutions in meeting the needs of users.
The newer centres are also serving to spread awareness of international arbitration among businesses in the region as they enter the world economy. From the start, even as these centres build their caseload, they are raising the level of debate about international arbitration in government and in the profession. In some places, this will be a game-changer for international arbitration in the region and beyond.
HOW IS THE INCREASING DESIRE FOR TRANSPARENCY IN INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION CHANGING THE PRACTICE?
As we advance further and further into the information era, our fascination with transparency seems only to increase. The more we know about individual arbitrators, about the operation of the institutions, about recent developments and current trends in arbitral practice, the more we want to know. From time to time, we hear the nostalgic cries for simpler times: calls to eliminate document production, to reject new guidelines and soft law instruments, etc. Despite their charm, these calls can sometimes miss the point: we are all, individually and collectively, more accountable. Businesses are more accountable to their owners and shareholders; counsel are more accountable to their clients; institutions are more accountable to the users who select them; and arbitrators are more accountable to the members of the business community who appoint them.
The increase in accountability challenges us to become more efficient and, at the same time, maintain or improve the standards of our work. As long as we can see through the promotional haze of our market-driven industry, the greater transparency in international arbitration will help everyone to make good choices: in seats, institutions, arbitrators and processes.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHANGE THAT YOU HAVE SEEN IN RECENT YEARS IN ARBITRATION?
The biggest change that I have seen in recent years is the increase in the level of involvement expected of arbitrators. Most parties expect arbitrators to be more proactive in managing the case from the start. It is rare these days to go from Procedural Order No. 1 to the pre-hearing case management conference without procedural rulings and teleconferences along the way. In my experience, being available to the parties for this purpose is the best way to keep the process on track for the main evidentiary hearing.
LOOKING BACK OVER YOUR CAREER, WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING ARBITRATION YOU HAVE BEEN A PART OF?
This has to be one of the most difficult questions to answer. I cannot think of a single arbitration that has not had interesting features – and I am often surprised, when considering procedural issues, to be reminded of a case that I had nearly forgotten, whether large or small, in which a similar arose. And it is equally the interactions between the people with whom I have had the privilege to work – arbitrators, counsel, parties administrators – that have made the arbitrations interesting. Perhaps, one day, I will have an answer to this question but, for now, I am happy to keep working on it.
Janet Walker is hailed “a very strong arbitrator” who ranks highly among peers thanks to her impressive experience as sole arbitrator, co-arbitrator and chair.
Janet Walker, CD, BA(Hons) MA, JD, DPhil (Oxon), is a chartered arbitrator based at Int-Arb Arbitrators, London; at Arbitration Place, Toronto; and at Sydney Arbitration Chambers. She is professor of law and past associate dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, a member of the Ontario Bar, and a licenced legal consultant of the New York State Bar.
Janet has served as sole, presiding, and co-arbitrator in ICC, HKIAC, ICDR, DIAC, KCAB, SIAC and in ad hoc arbitrations in a variety of seats. Her matters cover fields such as construction, heavy equipment, M&A, shareholder, distribution, intellectual property, environmental, finance and employment. She is a member of the panels of AIAC, ACICA, BVI, CIETAC, HKIAC, ICDR, KCAB, Shanghai, Shenzhen, SIAC and Ukraine, and she has a good working knowledge of Spanish and French.
Janet is vice chair of ICC Canada and has been a member since 2001. She is a founding member of the Toronto Commercial Arbitration Society (formerly Arbitration Roundtable of Toronto), the CIArb Canadian Branch (formerly founding chair of the Toronto Chapter), Young Canadian Arbitration Practitioners (founding adviser) and ArbitralWomen; and she is a member of the LCIA, IBA, ICCA and the Worshipful Company of Arbitrators. She is recipient of the CIArb Canada Award for Distinguished Service.
For 20 years, Janet has authored Canada’s main text on private international law, Canadian Conflict of Laws, and she is general editor of works on civil litigation and complex litigation. She was adviser (common law) to Canada’s Federal Courts committee (2006–2015) and CIArb academic adviser (2014–2015).
For more than 20 years, Janet served as consultant and expert witness in cross-border and complex litigation, and in law reform working groups for the American Law Institute, ABA, IBA and the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, including its international arbitration legislation project. She advocated successfully for the adoption of the 2006 Model Law in Ontario, and was a member of the executive organising committee of ICCA 2018 Sydney.
Janet served four years as co-director of the CIArb Oxford Diploma course, and currently teaches in the Stuttgart Masters in Construction Law programme. She is International Association of Procedural Law secretary general, ILA Canada past president, and she coached the Osgoode Vis Team (2001–2014), including in the year that they prevailed in Vienna. Janet was Leverhulme professor at University College, Oxford; Hauser global law professor at NYU and NYU/NUS in Singapore; and visiting professor at universities in Tunisia (2001–2014) and in Australia, Israel, Italy, Croatia and China. She is a member of the Max Plank Institute Luxembourg scientific advisory committee.
Since 2010, Janet had been recognised in leading indexes, including Who’s Who Legal (Canada and Thought Leaders), Chambers and Partners and Best Lawyers. Leading members of the international arbitration community have said: “I know well the talents that mark a first-rate arbitrator. Professor Walker possesses them all”, “Janet is held in very high regard by the International Arbitration Community as a preeminent arbitration practitioner and scholar,” and “Professor Walker was responsive to the parties' queries and submissions at all times, diligently conducted the proceedings through carefully crafted procedural decisions and spearheaded the issuance of an award which ultimately led to an efficient resolution of the parties' dispute”.