Marnix Leijten has specialised in international arbitration for 23 years. He is described as “one of the best international arbitration lawyers” and recognised for his “strategic insight” (Chambers, 2018). Vice president of the ICC’s International Court of Arbitration since 2015, Marnix is also co-chair of the ICC’s task force on emergency arbitration. The co-author of Arbitration in the Netherlands (Kluwer, 2019), he is a regular arbitrator and renowned speaker across the globe.
WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF ENTERING THE WORLD OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION?
For the most part, I have been very lucky. On the one hand, I was trusted by some clients to handle their demanding cases at a very young age, having been recommended by senior partners within De Brauw. On the other hand, the CEOs of two of these clients were on the board of ICC Netherlands and nominated me for the ICC Court at the age of 34 (having been pleased with the handling of their cases). At that time, in 2006, my presence considerably reduced the average age of court members – it did nothing, however, to improve cultural or gender diversity. The biggest challenge for me was to not feel intimidated by appearing before, opposite and in the midst of the world’s leading arbitration lawyers.
YOU HAVE BEEN A PARTNER AT DE BRAUW BLACKSTONE WESTBROEK SINCE 2004 – WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE FIRM THAT SETS IT APART FROM COMPETITORS IN THE MARKET?
We firmly believe in deeply submerging ourselves into the facts of cases, no matter how alien the subject matter may be to lawyers. Arbitration lawyers of all seniority at De Brauw must be curious and able to understand the detailed technical, economic, financial, political and psychological issues at stake for our clients. Clients tell us it is this drive that sets us apart. We do not simply outsource parts of the case to experts as is regularly done. It is the facts that determine the outcome of the vast majority of cases, not the law as such. Further, we are not hierarchical, and work together in flat, small teams.
HOW DOES YOUR WORK IN COMMERCIAL LITIGATION ENHANCE YOUR ARBITRATION PRACTICE?
Apart from arbitration-related litigation, I take cases in commercial litigation where my experience in particular industries, or with arbitration, can prove valuable. The reverse applies as well. I believe that litigators can learn from arbitrators, and vice versa.
WHAT ARE CLIENTS’ HIGHEST PRIORITIES WHEN LOOKING TO APPOINT EFFECTIVE COUNSEL IN AN ARBITRATION?
A deep desire to understand the business or investment that is the subject of the dispute. I believe profound legal knowledge is rightly presumed – it is the skill and drive to understand the case-specific issues that makes the difference. Hands-on partners, leading a small dedicated team without the inefficiency of hierarchy, is also considered key.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE GROWING ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN DISPUTES AFFECTING THE PRACTICE OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION IN THE FUTURE?
I believe technology has the potential to considerably enhance not only the efficiency of the process, but also its integrity and effectiveness in determining the truth. It is important for the users of arbitration to motivate, if not force, their counsel and institutions to embrace developments in technology and to invest in them. At De Brauw, we have put significant resources into innovating case management through the use of technology, and into enhancing the efficiency of the process of exchanging information with clients and experts and the preparation of submissions. We have a significant interest in being efficient and using technology, as associates should be focused on activities where they add value and grow.
YOU HAVE BEEN VICE PRESIDENT OF THE ICC INTERNATIONAL COURT OF ARBITRATION SINCE 2015 – WHAT DID YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE IN THIS ROLE, AND ARE YOU ACHIEVING IT?
I was, first of all, very keen to contribute to improvements in the ICC’s process with respect to transparency, time and costs of ICC arbitrations under Alexis Mourre’s leadership. The introduction of the expedited arbitration provisions, and amendments to the note to parties and arbitrators (on, for example, summary disposition and fee reductions for arbitrators, and the ICC itself in case of delays), have meant real progress. Second, the ICC Court’s unique and valuable scrutiny process is something I have sought to contribute to by chairing court sessions and writing reports on complex awards (for example, in investment treaty and energy cases). Most of all, I thoroughly enjoy learning from my fellow vice presidents, who are friends and eminent practitioners. Alexis has put together a very impressive team.
WHERE IN YOUR OPINION DOES THE FUTURE OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION LIE?
International arbitration is emancipating quickly. While in the past international arbitration was sometimes a somewhat elitist area of practice, concentrated in limited venues and dominated by senior men, this has rapidly changed and will continue to change. It can only remain successful, be truly global and deserve the trust of its users if it maintains this change. Arbitration is not rocket science, no matter how magical and mysterious it is sometimes portrayed to be. The more diverse in all respects its practitioners are, the more successful it will be.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU HAVE RECEIVED?
Don’t take yourself, or anyone else, too seriously.