Albert Jan van den Berg
Office:
Avenue Louise 480/9
1050
City:
Brussels
Country:
Belgium
Tel:
+32 2 290 3913

Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders Global Elite

Professor Albert Jan van den Berg is a partner at Hanotiau & van den Berg (Brussels). He is a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC and Tsinghua University Law School, Beijing. He is emeritus professor of law at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. He is presiding and party-appointed arbitrator in numerous international commercial and investment arbitrations. He was president of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration; president and secretary-general of the Netherlands Arbitration Institute; and vice president of the London Court of International Arbitration.

Describe your career to date.

It all started when I became the private assistant to Professor Pieter Sanders, who sparked my passion for the New York Convention, which became the topic of my second doctoral thesis. I worked in the Netherlands and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (1982), as counsel and arbitrator, before founding Hanotiau & van den Berg in Brussels in 2001. At that time a boutique practice was still an unusual setup in the arbitration field, and to establish ourselves outside the arbitration hubs of London and Paris was somewhat daring. However, the firm has been a great success and I have never looked back. My current practice consists of my various appointments as arbitrator in both investment treaty cases and commercial matters, as well as acting as counsel in court proceedings regarding the setting aside and enforcement of arbitral awards. In this respect, successfully obtaining the set-aside of the Yukos Awards as lead counsel for the Russian Federation before the Hague District Court in 2016 was certainly one of the highlights. I also actively continue teaching, including regular courses at MIDS in Geneva; Georgetown University in Washington, DC; and Tsinghua University in Beijing.

What do you enjoy most about working in arbitration?

The unique intellectual challenge of each new case is a real thrill. There’s nothing more satisfying than immersing myself in the facts of a matter, in order to get a handle on what really happened.

Arbitration also allows me to become intimately acquainted with different industries, nationalities, laws and customs in the context of a particular dispute. Another joy is working with, teaching and

learning from wonderful practitioners and students from all over the world.

How has the market changed since you started your career?

In the course of my career, arbitration has become far more widespread as a method of dispute resolution. As a result, the market is more competitive, diverse and truly international. In these fast-moving times, it is more important than ever to keep abreast of new developments and technology.

Graduates now come equipped with specialised master’s degrees and set out in their careers with a strong background in the field. I find the new generation of practitioners to be highly engaged, with curious minds and a lot of creativity.

I also find that there is more focus on the procedural aspects of an arbitration, and corresponding regulation of those aspects by arbitral institutions. The emphasis on procedure also has an impact on the selection of arbitrators, since arbitrators should have strong case management skills.

How are differing interpretations and applications of the New York Convention affecting the arbitration field?

I find inconsistent interpretations of the New York Convention troubling. This lack of harmonisation renders arbitration more unpredictable and damages its usefulness as a mode of dispute resolution. All the more reason, in my view, for a revised convention.

How does Hanotiau & van den Berg distinguish itself from the competition?

At HVDB we are a mini United Nations. We are one of the most diverse firms, with

at least 14 different nationalities among around 23 lawyers. This diversity is our core strength, as it brings perspectives from many different legal backgrounds. We encourage independent thinking, and we are not satisfied with anything short of excellence and accuracy.

How do you see your practice developing over the next five years?

The next five years will bring many interesting developments in Europe and internationally, which makes it difficult to predict. That said, I envisage an increasing focus on commercial arbitration.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own firm?

Develop a strong base in commercial arbitration. Be bold, and don’t be afraid to show up with a small team. Arbitrators are not impressed by the number of partners that turn up at the hearing.

Looking back over your career, what is the most interesting matter you have been a part of?

While every matter is interesting in one way or another, I would have to say that the most stimulating of all is my current representation of the Russian Federation before the Dutch Courts related to the set-aside of the Yukos awards. Aside from being all-encompassing in terms of legal complexity and factual nuance, this case emphasises the need for courts at the seat to take their supervisory responsibilities seriously, and not to be afraid to undo bad awards.

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Arbitration

Professor Albert Jan van den Berg is a partner at Hanotiau & van den Berg (Brussels). He is a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, and Tsinghua University Law School, Beijing. He is emeritus professor of law at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. He is presiding and party-appointed arbitrator in numerous international commercial and investment arbitrations. He was president of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration; president and secretary-general of the Netherlands Arbitration Institute; and vice president of the London Court of International Arbitration.

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO A CAREER IN LAW AND TO FOCUS IN INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION?

I was scheduled to take over my father’s successful trading business, which he started. Midway, I started to like law, particularly the international dimension, inspired by my comparative law professor, Kisch. I informed my father that I wanted to be successful as he was but from my own efforts. Although he was disappointed, he supported my decision. Kisch then directed me to David, a French professor of international commercial arbitration, who became my thesis director for my first doctorate in law. David then directed me to Pieter Sanders, who not only supervised my doctoral thesis on the New York Convention, but became my role model. I became Piet Sanders’s private assistant, editing the yearbook, and worked at TMC Asser Institute, setting up the international commercial arbitration department. 

WHAT QUALITIES WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THAT ASPIRING ARBITRATION PRACTITIONERS HONE?

An arbitrator needs to have a mix of different skills. The best way to learn these is to be a litigator. One must also know several languages (especially English, French and Spanish); know and respect different cultures; and have management and diplomacy skills, in addition to patience and endurance. It also helps if Mother Nature gave you some skills – on my part, a slight photographic memory, a liking for numbers and insatiable curiosity. Since a high degree of professionalism is required (this is a 24/7 job), staying in good health and realising that this is a service industry are important.

BEING ONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF WHAT IS CONSIDERED AS THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ARBITRATION BOUTIQUE, WHAT PRACTICES WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

I manage by exception. I give as much responsibility as my team can carry but I also make myself always accessible for the little questions. I emphasise keeping the human factor (paying attention to personal circumstances, including health; personal interaction, hence no internal emails or phone calls – walk to your colleague instead; fruit salads rather than junk food; exercise). When my team comes to work, it should be that they are looking forward to being there and doing the work. If not, it is time to look for another job.

BEING WELL KNOWN AS AN EXPERT ON THE NEW YORK CONVENTION, AND WITH THE CONVENTION BECOMING 60 YEARS OLD, HOW DO YOU ASSESS THE PAST DECADES OF IMPLEMENTATION AND WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR THE CONVENTION?

Having monitored the implementation of the convention through my editing of the Yearbook since 1976 and maintaining the website www.newyorkconvention.org (there are now more than 2,000 court decisions from 70 countries), interpretation and application have discrepancies and have evolved even beyond the ordinary meaning of the text. There is a continuous need to harmonise these interpretations – the very same reason for my doctoral thesis published in 1981, which is why a new edition of my book will be coming out soon.

I foresee a new treaty in the future. And in the meantime, diverging interpretations will result in an increase in refusals of enforcement.

DIVERSITY IN INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION HAS RECEIVED A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF ATTENTION. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT CAN BE DONE TO ACHIEVE GREATER DIVERSITY IN ARBITRAL TRIBUNALS?

I have always practised what I preach: most of my team are female arbitration lawyers. When drawing up lists of prospective arbitrators, whether for clients, for parties or as a co-arbitrator, I always try to ensure that the names of female arbitrators are put forward. There are so many qualified female arbitrators that choosing between them is actually difficult!

Biography:

Who's Who Legal Arbitration: Lawyers

Albert Jan van den Berg is a founding partner in Hanotiau & van den Berg (Brussels, Belgium). He has been sole, presiding and party-appointed arbitrator in numerous international arbitrations (ad hoc, AAA/ICDR, CRCICA, DIAC, DRCAFTA, ECT, ICC, ICSID, LCIA, NAFTA, NAI, OHADA, PCA, SCC, SIAC and UNCITRAL), relating to, inter alia, airports, aviation, banking, broadcasting, construction, defence projects, distributorship, electricity and gas supply, fashion, futures and options, gambling, information technology, insurance and reinsurance, investments, joint ventures, licensing, media, mining, nuclear power, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, post-M&A, post-privatisation, professional associations, real estate, sales, satellites, shale gas, solar energy, sports, telecom and turnkey projects. He frequently acts as counsel in international commercial arbitration.

Professor van den Berg is on many panels of arbitrators, including: the American Arbitration Association (AAA); the Arbitral Centre of the Federal Economic Chamber, Vienna; the Arbitral Tribunal for Football, World Cup Division for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Geneva; the Asian International Arbitration Centre, Kuala Lumpur; the Centre for Arbitration and Mediation at the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce; the Centre for Arbitration and Conciliation at the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce; the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC); the CPR Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution; the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC); the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; the Indonesian Board of National Arbitration (BANI), Jakarta; the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), Washington, DC; the Netherlands Arbitration Institute (NAI); and the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). He is an arbitrator on the Arbitral Tribunal concerning the Bank for International Settlements (Hague Treaty of 20 January 1930).

Professor van den Berg was president of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) and remains its honorary president. He is also former president and secretary-general of the NAI and former vice president of the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA). He is a member of the international commercial expert committee of the China International Commercial Court of the Supreme People’s Court; the CIETAC international advisory board; the Commission on International Arbitration and ADR of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Paris; LCIA; the HKIAC international advisory board and nominations committee; the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration council; the advisory board for University of Geneva’s Master of Laws in International Dispute Settlement (MIDS); the board of trustees of the Institute of International Commercial Law at Pace University School of Law; and the executive committee of the Asian Academy of International Law. He is professor emeritus of law (arbitration chair) at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, and is a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Centre in Washington, DC; and Tsinghua University Law School, Beijing. He is a faculty member of the faculty of the MIDS in Geneva. He was general editor of ICCA Publications, including the Yearbook: Commercial Arbitration. He has also extensively published and lectured on international arbitration. He founded and maintains the website www.newyorkconvention.org. His legal education includes law degrees from the University of Amsterdam (1973), University of Aix-en-Provence (1974) and New York University (1975), as well as PhD degrees from the University of Aix-en-Provence (1977) and Erasmus University (1981).

Professor van den Berg was named Arbitration Lawyer of the Year by WWL in 2006, 2011 and 2017; and the Best Prepared and Most Responsive Arbitrator by Global Arbitration Review in 2013.

WWL says: Albert Jan van den Berg is a "world-class" arbitrator and "excellent strategic lawyer" who is in high demand for some of the most significant arbitrations worldwide.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Arbitration which can be purchased from our Shop.

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