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Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Philip Jeyaretnam S.C.

Philip Jeyaretnam S.C.

Dentons Rodyk & Davidson80 Raffles Place#33-00 UOB Plaza 1SingaporeSingapore048624
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Thought Leader

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Philip Jeyaretnam SC wins acclaim from market commentators across the globe this year for his excellence in the litigation and arbitration of international construction disputes, often in matters involving technical financing issues.

Questions & Answers

Describe your career to date.

I’ve always been focused on advocacy and its particular arts. How to persuade a tribunal, how to elicit favourable evidence from a witness, how to stand one’s ground in defence of a client. When I started in practice, I quickly had the opportunity to appear before a variety of judges – I had a trial before a district judge in the first month after my call, and appeared in the Court of Appeal within two years. Those were the days when senior partners didn’t really like going to Court and would send juniors down instead. So I learned quickly. One often learns the most when the situation is most challenging, which is one reason I have often relished acting for clients who really need help in a crisis – as in the public inquiry work I have done, such as the Nicoll Highway collapse inquiry and the SingHealth data breach inquiry. As Singapore has grown as an arbitration seat over the past two decades, my arbitration practice has grown too. Changes in the legal landscape always bring opportunity – the opportunity to master a new field, or to reach out to a different group of clients.

What qualities make for a successful arbitrator?

A good arbitrator has to combine patience with firmness. A good arbitrator keeps the arbitration moving and brings it to an expeditious conclusion, while making both parties feel that they have been heard and given a full chance to present their case. Some arbitrators are too accommodating, and the arbitration takes forever, while others jump in too quickly, without giving advocates enough room to develop their cases. Good arbitrators find the middle way.

How important is it for a lawyer to have a good grasp of engineering when working on construction cases involving related issues?

For myself, I have found that it is vitally important to understand the technical engineering issues that are often involved in construction disputes. For this reason, it is important that the engineering expert be engaged early, and that the lawyer then work with that expert to grasp the underlying engineering principles. Lawyers need to be humble so that they can learn, yet ultimately having learned as much as they can, approach the cross-examination with assumed confidence. Over the years, I have done numerous matters which have turned on cross-examination of the engineering experts, and one cannot allow oneself to be daunted. I recall cross-examining the leading expert on concrete in relation to a collapsed silo, and having read the expert’s leading text on the subject, being able to make significant and effective inroads favourable to my client.

You have represented clients in many jurisdictions. How do you respond to and handle cultural differences in the context of international dispute resolution cases?

Cultural differences are important in a number of ways. First of all, companies work differently in different cultures. It’s important to understand how a Japanese, Korean, French or American company works, whether one is representing them or against them. This is particularly so when it comes to what was authorised, or how claims were processed. Secondly, witnesses of different cultures behave differently, and one has to be attuned to this, both as counsel trying to probe weaknesses and as arbitrator trying to be even-handed and fair. Some cultures foster apology where others promote brazening it out. An astute arbitrator must be able to see through brashness, and sometimes not read too much into apologetic language.

What impact, if any, has the development of third-party litigation funding had on construction cases? 

Third-party litigation funding has had some impact in the construction field, but I expect to see a greater impact as it becomes more accepted. In Singapore, it is presently limited to international arbitration. Third-party funding is certainly a benefit to litigants who lack financial resources, as it allows meritorious claims to be pursued that might otherwise simply be dropped.

As the global vice chair and ASEAN chief executive officer at Dentons, what are your main priorities for the firm’s development over the next five years?

We combined with Dentons in 2016, and the past three years have seen Dentons Rodyk take a leading role in Dentons’ growth, as we have combined with major firms in Malaysia and Indonesia. Dentons truly is a new kind of global firm, all about connecting talent from anywhere in the world to opportunities across the globe. We will continue to build our presence in South East Asia and help Singaporean businesses as they expand abroad.

You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?

Every year is a new adventure, and every new matter is something I devote myself to. Practising law is not an academic exercise, but instead is about helping specific clients achieve their objectives – in my case, to win. I just want to keep on getting good new briefs, and doing my very best to win them!

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

The best advice I have ever received is the importance of learning from experience, reflecting hard on what works and what doesn’t, and continuously striving to improve.

Thought Leaders - Construction 2019

Q&A

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

Philip Jeyaretnam SC wins acclaim from market commentators across the globe this year for his excellence in the litigation and arbitration of international construction disputes, often in matters involving technical financing issues.

Questions & Answers

Philip Jeyaretnam SC is a leading commercial litigator and international arbitration counsel at Dentons Rodyk. In 2003 Philip was appointed senior counsel – at 38, one of the youngest lawyers to receive this distinction. He is a highly regarded construction disputes specialist in South East Asia, commanding a large direct client practice and being regularly instructed by international, foreign and Singapore law firms to advocate major disputes as lead counsel. 

Describe your career to date.

I’ve always been focused on advocacy and its particular arts. How to persuade a tribunal, how to elicit favourable evidence from a witness, how to stand one’s ground in defence of a client. When I started in practice, I quickly had the opportunity to appear before a variety of judges – I had a trial before a district judge in the first month after my call, and appeared in the Court of Appeal within two years. Those were the days when senior partners didn’t really like going to Court and would send juniors down instead. So I learned quickly. One often learns the most when the situation is most challenging, which is one reason I have often relished acting for clients who really need help in a crisis – as in the public inquiry work I have done, such as the Nicoll Highway collapse inquiry and the SingHealth data breach inquiry. As Singapore has grown as an arbitration seat over the past two decades, my arbitration practice has grown too. Changes in the legal landscape always bring opportunity – the opportunity to master a new field, or to reach out to a different group of clients.

What qualities make for a successful arbitrator?

A good arbitrator has to combine patience with firmness. A good arbitrator keeps the arbitration moving and brings it to an expeditious conclusion, while making both parties feel that they have been heard and given a full chance to present their case. Some arbitrators are too accommodating, and the arbitration takes forever, while others jump in too quickly, without giving advocates enough room to develop their cases. Good arbitrators find the middle way.

How important is it for a lawyer to have a good grasp of engineering when working on construction cases involving related issues?

For myself, I have found that it is vitally important to understand the technical engineering issues that are often involved in construction disputes. For this reason, it is important that the engineering expert be engaged early, and that the lawyer then work with that expert to grasp the underlying engineering principles. Lawyers need to be humble so that they can learn, yet ultimately having learned as much as they can, approach the cross-examination with assumed confidence. Over the years, I have done numerous matters which have turned on cross-examination of the engineering experts, and one cannot allow oneself to be daunted. I recall cross-examining the leading expert on concrete in relation to a collapsed silo, and having read the expert’s leading text on the subject, being able to make significant and effective inroads favourable to my client.

You have represented clients in many jurisdictions. How do you respond to and handle cultural differences in the context of international dispute resolution cases?

Cultural differences are important in a number of ways. First of all, companies work differently in different cultures. It’s important to understand how a Japanese, Korean, French or American company works, whether one is representing them or against them. This is particularly so when it comes to what was authorised, or how claims were processed. Secondly, witnesses of different cultures behave differently, and one has to be attuned to this, both as counsel trying to probe weaknesses and as arbitrator trying to be even-handed and fair. Some cultures foster apology where others promote brazening it out. An astute arbitrator must be able to see through brashness, and sometimes not read too much into apologetic language.

What impact, if any, has the development of third-party litigation funding had on construction cases? 

Third-party litigation funding has had some impact in the construction field, but I expect to see a greater impact as it becomes more accepted. In Singapore, it is presently limited to international arbitration. Third-party funding is certainly a benefit to litigants who lack financial resources, as it allows meritorious claims to be pursued that might otherwise simply be dropped.

As the global vice chair and ASEAN chief executive officer at Dentons, what are your main priorities for the firm’s development over the next five years?

We combined with Dentons in 2016, and the past three years have seen Dentons Rodyk take a leading role in Dentons’ growth, as we have combined with major firms in Malaysia and Indonesia. Dentons truly is a new kind of global firm, all about connecting talent from anywhere in the world to opportunities across the globe. We will continue to build our presence in South East Asia and help Singaporean businesses as they expand abroad.

You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?

Every year is a new adventure, and every new matter is something I devote myself to. Practising law is not an academic exercise, but instead is about helping specific clients achieve their objectives – in my case, to win. I just want to keep on getting good new briefs, and doing my very best to win them!

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

The best advice I have ever received is the importance of learning from experience, reflecting hard on what works and what doesn’t, and continuously striving to improve.

Global Leader

WWL Ranking: Recommended
WWL Ranking: Thought Leader
WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader
WWL Ranking: Recommended
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