John Wright now sits exclusively as an arbitrator, adjudicator, mediator and dispute board member on major international infrastructure projects, following a distinguished career as a London construction solicitor. His expertise has long been recognised in leading directories. John is a chartered arbitrator; past chair of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Board of Trustees; and past co-chair of the International Bar Association International Construction Projects Committee.
What drew you to a career in construction law?
As a junior lawyer dealing with general commercial disputes, I was asked to assist in a construction arbitration and shortly afterwards to work on a piece of High Court litigation involving a building collapse. I found the work technically fascinating and hugely rewarding; I have never really wanted to do anything else since.
Why did you decide to transition from private practice lawyer to construction arbitrator?
Having gained appropriate qualifications to enable me to sit as an adjudicator, mediator and arbitrator, being admitted to the FIDIC list of adjudicators was a major step. With my close interest in decision making I gradually found that my appointments as a third-party neutral were sufficient to enable me to practise this full-time. I had a first-class team at Goodman Derrick who could continue giving clients excellent service, and the move made perfect sense.
Which aspect of your practice do you most enjoy?
Although each aspect of my practice has its own challenges and rewards, I enjoy sitting as a dispute board member immensely. It combines the attributes of a mediator, in bringing the parties together in solving problems onsite, and those of an arbitrator, in determining any disputes. Best of all, you get to see a real-life project from start to finish and build up a real rapport with those involved. If disputes do arise, then the knowledge you have acquired of the project significantly enhances the quality of the decision-making.
You have developed a construction practice at more than one firm. What challenges did you face and how did you handle them?
Establishing a practice starts with demonstrating a deep knowledge and understanding of the area. In my case, a fruitful source of work came from other lawyers, some with conflicts, who clearly considered me to be a safe pair of hands for their clients. Likewise, construction professionals were also crucial for recommendations. The next exciting challenge is hiring the right colleagues who will develop and grow the practice with you. In that way your firm becomes one of the established players.
How did your roles at the IBA and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators enhance your work as a construction lawyer?
Although my roles as co-chair of the IBA’s International Construction Projects Committee, and chair of the Board of Trustees at CIArb, were very different, they both without doubt significantly raised my profile in the construction community. Through the IBA I have been privileged to get to know many immensely skilled construction lawyers and experts whist engaging in a superb educational forum. At the CIArb my leadership and diplomacy skills were tested in an environment significantly different from law practices. Both are great organisations and I have been very fortunate to be closely involved in their work.
How do you anticipate the use of dispute boards developing over the next five years?
I expect projects increasingly to involve dispute boards from the outset. Their use has been hampered by a lack of understanding but now several organisations are doing sterling work in disseminating knowledge and educating parties to a construction project. While confidentiality must be maintained I would like to see more statistics becoming available on the use of dispute boards on projects so the parties can assess the likely benefits and weigh those against the cost. I believe the hard work being undertaken by practitioners in South America will lead to a significant increase in the use of dispute boards in the region. A somewhat longer-term project will be to gain inroads into the Middle East market.
You have enjoyed a long and successful career. Do you have a career highlight?
There have been many but the one I remember most vividly is successfully achieving a settlement late on the second day of a mediation where the parties, who started off many millions of pounds apart, had only really intended to explore the issues to see if a settlement might be achieved later in the litigation process. It was an extraordinarily tough two days but it was exhilarating finally to achieve a settlement in very challenging circumstances.
What advice would you give to a younger practitioner starting out in construction law?
Obtain detailed knowledge and understanding of the industry and its participants. Ensure that you learn your trade through a respected and seasoned practitioner or team. Maintain the utmost integrity and the highest professional standards. Join, and become involved in, respected professional organisations. Earn the trust and respect not only of your clients and colleagues, but also of other practitioners. Above all, work hard and remember the adage, “You get out what you put in.”