Robert Wachter FCIArb co-heads the international arbitration practice at Lee & Ko. After finishing at the top of his law school class, Robert began his career as a law clerk to the Hon Samuel P King, senior US district judge for the District of Hawaii. After the clerkship, he joined O’Melveny & Myers, where he was promoted to counsel as a member of the firm’s project finance group. He moved to South Korea in 2004 and transitioned his practice to dispute resolution. For the past 10 years, he has practised in international arbitration exclusively.
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.
I started my career as a law clerk in the US federal courts. That experience convinced me that I did not want to become a litigator. Cases lasted too long. Motions practice made the schedule too unpredictable. And there was too much discovery. So I became a transactional lawyer instead, and moved to San Francisco, but could not endure the monotony of negotiating standardised contracts. I lost interest, and almost left the practice of law altogether. I moved to Korea in 2004 for a change of pace. I found myself in the right place at the right time, as international arbitration was just starting to flourish here. I suppose I became an international arbitration lawyer by accident. I have spent the past 15 years in Korea, except for two years in Vienna.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING IN ARBITRATION?
The work is fun and engaging, and the community is collegial. I recall that my mentor at O’Melveny always said that the practice of law should be fun. As a junior lawyer at a big firm, it was hard to relate to that advice. I could see that he loved his work, but I could not share his enthusiasm. Having found my niche in arbitration, in hindsight I realise that he was right. I never imagined that the practice of law could be so much fun. It is a great blessing to be fully engaged and to enjoy one’s work.
ON WHAT SORT OF MATTERS ARE CLIENTS COMING TO YOU MOST FREQUENTLY?
Lee & Ko is a huge firm, and most of our cases are generated from our corporate practice, so there is always great variety, and we always have a large caseload. Having said that, we have definitely seen a trend towards more IP licensing and life sciences cases in recent years. We are also representing the Korean government in two recent ISDS cases – another recent trend.
HOW HAVE ATTITUDES IN KOREA TOWARDS THE USE OF ARBITRATION IN THE FIELD OF IP CHANGED DURING YOUR CAREER?
I doubt there has been any meaningful shift in attitude. Korean licensees are naturally comfortable litigating disputes in the Korean courts because they have a better feel for how the courts will handle damages and audit issues. They perceive that outcomes in international arbitration can be more unpredictable – in ways that are more likely to benefit licensors. In contrast to licensees, Korean licensors have embraced arbitration. One reason for the increase in cases is that Korean companies are creating more IP, and are more frequently on the licensor side of the transaction.
WHERE DOES THE FUTURE OF ARBITRATION LIE, AND WHAT ARE THE MAJOR TRENDS YOU EXPECT TO OCCUR OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
There is no perfect dispute resolution system, but some systems are better than others. Arbitration will only thrive if it is the best option available. Our community needs to heed criticism and constantly strive to improve. Clients’ needs must come first. The system needs to be more efficient, delivering timely and well-grounded awards that inspire user confidence. The trend towards greater transparency is encouraging, and especially the trend towards publishing more awards. I think there has been too much emphasis in the past on blanket confidentiality for matters that need not be regarded as confidential. I expect a trend towards the even greater use of tribunal secretaries, which I regard as a positive. I hope we reverse the trend toward greater standardisation and commoditisation of procedure, which I regard as a negative.
AS CO-HEAD OF THE INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION AND CROSS-BORDER LITIGATION GROUP AT THE FIRM, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE KEEPS LEE & KO AHEAD OF THE COMPETITION?
Efficient time management is always a challenge, and I think this is one of Lee & Ko’s key relative strengths. We keep internal deadlines and we finish drafts early. This leaves more than enough time to conduct additional legal research, and for clients to thoroughly review and provide feedback. We usually have plenty of time to revisit our memorials with fresh eyes before we finalise and submit them, and we rarely need to ask for extensions.
WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE?
This is an odd question for me. My mindset is so oriented towards the future that I give little thought to what we have accomplished so far. We have a great team: young, enthusiastic, motivated, and intelligent – a team on the move. I am proud of our team, and I would like to think that I have made an important contribution to our identity.
Robert Wachter is "driving the growth of the fastest-growing arbitration team in Korea" and has a "diligent and thorough approach as counsel". He is also "sensible and easy to work with as opposing counsel".
Robert Wachter FCIArb is the co-head of the international arbitration practice at Lee & Ko.
After finishing at the top of his law school class, Robert began his career as a law clerk to the Hon Samuel P King, Senior US District Judge for the District of Hawaii. After the clerkship, he joined O’Melveny & Myers LLP, where he was promoted to counsel as a member of the firm’s project finance group. He moved to South Korea in 2004 and transitioned his practice to dispute resolution. For the past 10 years, he has practised in international arbitration exclusively. He has acted in cases brought under all of the major arbitration rules, including the ICC, KCAB, VIAC, Swiss Chambers, SIAC, LCIA, SCC, JCAA and UNCITRAL rules.
Mr Wachter has significant experience in both common law and civil law jurisdictions. In addition to his experience in Korea, from 2011 to 2014 he worked at Graf & Pitkowitz, in Vienna, Austria, before returning to Korea to join the international arbitration practice at Kim & Chang. Mr Wachter has also lectured as an adjunct professor at Seoul National University, the Supreme Court of Korea (Judicial Research and Training Institute) and Ewha Womans University.
Mr Wachter has worked extensively in a broad range of industries, including the life sciences, technology, construction, automotive, shipping, energy and telecommunications sectors. He particularly enjoys cases that require an understanding of scientific, engineering and technical issues. He regularly participates in conferences and seminars on international arbitration and is presently working on two investment treaty arbitration cases brought against the Republic of Korea.
The “excellent” Robert Wachter is "clearly a star and one of the leaders in the field" according to sources who also impart that he is a “pleasant practitioner to work with”.
Robert Wachter is co-head of the international arbitration and cross-border litigation group at Lee & Ko. He has acted as counsel, arbitrator or arbitral secretary in more than 100 international arbitration cases brought under all of the major arbitration rules, including the ICC, KCAB, VIAC, Swiss Chambers, SIAC, LCIA, SCC, JCAA and UNCITRAL arbitration rules. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb). He has been named to the KCAB panel of international arbitrators, the SIAC panel of arbitrators, the HKIAC list of arbitrators, and the VIAC panel of arbitrators.
Mr Wachter is the only senior arbitration practitioner in Korea with significant work experience in each of the Asian, European and North American regions. He has represented corporations, trusts, and governmental entities in a wide range of contract disputes arising under shareholders agreements, joint venture agreements, M&A contracts, construction contracts, public-private partnership (PPP) contracts, and long-term energy and industrial supply agreements. He has worked extensively in a broad range of industries including the life sciences, software, construction, automotive, shipping, energy and telecommunications sectors. He has experience as counsel in commercial, construction and investment treaty arbitration proceedings.
Mr Wachter graduated first in his law school class at the University of Hawaii. He began his career as a law clerk to the Honorable Samuel P King, senior United States district judge for the District of Hawaii. He worked at the San Francisco office of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, where he was promoted to counsel in the real estate and project finance group before moving to Korea in 2004. He has lived and worked abroad as an expatriate since 2004, and has extensive experience in both common law and civil law jurisdictions.
From 2011 to 2014 Mr Wachter worked at Graf & Pitkowitz in Vienna, Austria before returning to Korea in 2014. He worked in the international arbitration practice group at Kim & Chang before he joined Lee & Ko in 2015 to take over as the co-head of the practice.
Mr Wachter has lectured as an adjunct professor at Seoul National University School of Law, the Supreme Court of Korea (Judicial Research and Training Institute), and Ewha Womans University. He also regularly participates in conferences and seminars on international arbitration. He has published numerous academic articles about international arbitration and Korean law. He is also a co-founder of KCAB Next, a new networking and professional development group organised in 2018 under the auspices of KCAB International.
Mr Wachter has been recognised as a leading international arbitration practitioner by Chambers and Partners, The Legal 500, WWL: Arbitration and WWL Thought Leaders: Arbitration.
Lee & Ko is one of the two largest law firms in South Korea. In recent years the firm’s international arbitration practice has steadily moved up in the rankings, and is now ranked as a top-tier firm in South Korea by The Legal 500, Benchmark Litigation and Legal Times (Korea). Lee & Ko’s international arbitration caseload makes it one of the largest practices in North East Asia.