Loukas Mistelis is the Clive Schmitthoff professor of transnational law and arbitration; director of the School of International Arbitration at Queen Mary University of London; and founding partner of Mistelis & Haddadin arbitration and commercial law consultancy. He is an acknowledged authority in dispute resolution and high-profile arbitration academic and practitioner. He is listed in WWL: Arbitration (2006–) and The Legal 500 Arbitration Powerlist as a highly regarded individual.
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.
I am the first lawyer in my family and as such when I entered law school I was open to all opportunities. I was fortunate to work as a student assistant to two prominent arbitrators, one mostly commercial, and the other mostly in state-to-state disputes. Consequently, I have benefited from having studied and worked in many jurisdictions and from acquiring comparative and international law experience. I have studied in Greece, France, Germany and Japan, and have worked as an academic, arbitrator or expert in many other countries including Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Cyprus, Egypt, Guatemala, Italy, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the USA. This significant international experience, coupled with my knowledge of several foreign languages, informed and formed the arbitration lawyer I am today. As a student, I also had some experience in business, working in the export department of a major company in Greece. The result of this diverse and rich experience is that I can think outside the box, am well placed to work with various legal systems and have had experience as counsel, expert and arbitrator. I also have a strong understanding of several business sectors and a profound knowledge of arbitration procedures.
WHAT DID YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT BECOMING AN ARBITRATOR?
The challenges of being an arbitrator is what makes the profession exciting. As an arbitrator you have to be a quick learner: one dispute may be about the construction of a highway in an Eastern European country, the next one about a pipeline in the Indian Ocean, the third a shareholders’ dispute arising out of an M&A in Saudi Arabia, while the next a defence logistics contract involving several state agencies.
The other challenge is dealing with conflict of laws issues, and different substantive laws and transnational rules. Managing the process and dealing with party inequality and impecuniosity is also challenging, as well as the rare occasion of having to work with biased and partisan co-arbitrators.
On a personal level, the main challenge was that my professional home was the university, and not a law firm or chambers with support networks and marketing structures. As such I was a pioneer in the UK in breaking into arbitration practice from a full-time academic post.
HOW DOES YOUR TEACHING ROLE AT QUEEN MARY UNIVERSITY OF LONDON ASSIST YOU IN YOUR ROLE AS ARBITRATOR?
Practice informs my teaching and my teaching informs my practice. Queen Mary (QMUL) is a genuine international university and it provides me with an opportunity to interact with students and colleagues from all over the world. This international environment enhances some of the key skills needed by arbitrators: cross-cultural communication, comparative law sensibility, flexibility and inclusiveness. Last but not least, QMUL is at the forefront of policymaking in arbitration.
YOUR PRACTICE SEES YOU ENGAGED IN MATTERS ACROSS A DIVERSE RANGE OF SECTORS. HOW DOES YOUR PREPARATION FOR EACH OF THESE DIFFER?
I am a quick learner and naturally curious and eager to learn. And the more one learns the more eager you become to learn more, and the learning process gets easier. Having practised as an arbitrator for nearly 20 years I have now had multiple cases in various sectors and accordingly a good level of expertise: banking and finance, construction, corporate/shareholders’ matters, energy, investment, M&A, media, oil and gas, sales contracts, and transport. As such, the preparation is hard work and has to be combined with good time management, it is important to read submissions as soon as they are made and be on top of your files. The only other point is knowing your limits and being able to decline cases if there is no sufficient time to prepare adequately.
WHAT DISTINGUISHES YOUR PRACTICE FROM OTHERS IN THE MARKET?
My international experience as an academic, counsel, expert and arbitrator combined with being a polyglot is not only substantial but also rather rare. It enables me to understand legal submissions and arguments put forward by lawyers trained in different legal systems. I am also acutely aware through my longstanding research into corporate attitudes towards arbitration that the ultimate users of arbitration, private or corporate parties, are concerned with efficiency, costs and the time it takes to have a matter resolved. It is important not to lose sight of the parties’ needs and wants. Being also genuinely independent, and not connected with any law firm or chambers, allows me not only to appear but also to be an independent and impartial arbitrator.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT THAT PRACTITIONERS IN ARBITRATION HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING OF LEGAL SYSTEMS AND CODES OTHER THAN THEIR OWN?
It is absolutely critical. People naturally tend to “translate” foreign law concepts into their own, often making assumptions which are, to say the least, unsubstantiated and unfounded. One will have to immerse oneself into a foreign law system in order to understand its policies and philosophies. Practitioners with strong knowledge of conflict of laws and comparative law, and indeed also some foreign substantive law, make better arbitrators.
WHERE IN YOUR OPINION DOES THE FUTURE OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION LIE?
At a time when investor-state dispute settlement is significantly criticised and even attacked, commercial arbitration – both domestic and international – is doing very well. In addition, we more often see states and state-owned enterprises as parties to commercial arbitration disputes and I expect this trend to grow even more. It is also very encouraging to see that jurisdictions that were agnostic or even hostile towards arbitration and industry sectors that were hesitant to use arbitration (such as banking and finance) and new sectors (such as TMT, life sciences and blockchain) are slowly embracing arbitration.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PRACTITIONERS HOPING TO ONE DAY BE IN YOUR POSITION?
It is important to be cognisant of the fact that arbitration is not a linear career where you start very junior and expect to be promoted gradually (this exists if you are lucky enough to start in the arbitration department of a major law firm). It is important to have relevant knowledge via experience and a specialist LLM, but you also need some luck. It is important to keep your eyes open for all and any opportunities as it is difficult to predict which client may offer you an arbitration case, or which institution will appoint you while you have no experience. In other words, enjoy the journey and keep learning.
Loukas Mistelis has "a brilliant intellect" and is "superb as arbitrator, especially in investment disputes". One peer lauds his "amazing arbitration knowledge".
Loukas Mistelis is a former director of the School of International Arbitration and the Clive Schmitthoff professor of transnational commercial law and arbitration at Queen Mary University of London. He teaches international commercial arbitration, international investment dispute settlement, energy disputes and ADR on the LLM programme. He is also a senior fellow of the dispute resolution institute at MitchellHamline University School of Law. He practises as an arbitrator and expert in arbitration proceedings from his own boutique consultancy firm, Mistelis and Haddadin.
Professor Mistelis was educated in Greece (LLB, Athens 1991); France (certificate in international and comparative human rights, IIHR, Strasbourg, 1990); Germany (MLE, 1992, Hanover Law School, Germany); and Japan (certificate in Japanese international trade law, Keio University Law School, Tokyo, 1998). He is also a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He has been a member of the Athens Bar since 1993, and has guest-lectured at many universities, including Columbia, Hamburg, Hamline, Keio, Lisbon, Maastricht, Roma III, LUISS, NYU, NUS, Pepperdine, PUC São Paolo, Sciences Po and Warsaw. He is fluent in English, German and Greek, has a good knowledge of French and a basic knowledge of Polish, Russian and Spanish.
He is chairman of the court at the Cyprus Eurasia Dispute Resolution and Arbitration Centre (CEDRAC) and a Member of the International Board of the Tehran Regional Arbitration Centre. He has been on the ICSID panel of arbitrators since January 2014, as well as on the panels of many other arbitral institutions, including JCAA, KLRCA and CAM-CCBC. His extensive arbitration experience covers ad hoc and ICC, ICSID, LCIA, LMAA, Swiss Chambers, SCC, GCC Arbitration Centre and Moscow cases. Parties in these cases have been from Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, BVI, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Moldova, Nigeria, Russia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States. Subject matters have included foreign investment, sales contracts, share purchase agreements, distribution agreements, defence contracts, infrastructure and construction agreements, finance and project finance, counter-trade, mining, media, aeronautical engineering, joint ventures, natural resources and oil and gas transactions. He acts mainly as an arbitrator but also as a counsel and expert witness in arbitration proceedings.
His publications (in English, German, Greek and Russian) include eight innovative empirical surveys on corporate attitudes towards dispute resolution (2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019), more than 60 refereed articles and 14 books, including Mandatory Rules of Law in International Arbitration (2010);
Concise International Arbitration (second edition, 2015); The Role of Arbitration in Shipping (2016); CISG Commentary (second edition, 2018) Arbitrability in International Arbitration (2008); Pervasive Problems in International Arbitration (2006); Commercial Law: Perspectives and Practice (2006); Comparative International Commercial Arbitration (2003); and Foundations and Perspectives of International Trade Law (2001). He is also the editor of the World Arbitration Reporter - The International Encyclopedia of Arbitration Law and Practice (2010). He is a member of the editorial boards of Arbitration International, the International Journal of Arab Arbitration, the Journal of International Dispute Settlement and Global Arbitration Review; and is general editor of the Oxford International Arbitration series and European Investment Law and Arbitration Review.