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Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Robert W Wachter

Robert W Wachter

Lee & KoHanjin Building63 Namdaemun-ro, Jung-guSeoulKorea04532

Thought Leader

Thought Leaders - Arbitration 2020

Q&A

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

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".

Questions & Answers

Robert Wachter FCIArb is co-head of the international arbitration team at Lee & Ko, one of the two largest firms in South Korea. Mr Wachter began his career in the USA as a real estate transactional lawyer at O’Melveny & Myers. He moved to South Korea in 2004 and quickly transitioned to dispute resolution, finding himself in the right place at the right time, shortly after Korea relaxed restrictions on foreign investment and adopted the UNCITRAL Model Law.

What inspired you to pursue a legal career in Korea? 

When I was young, everyone around me predicted that I would become a lawyer – though I always denied it. At university I studied what I was most interested in, history, and it turns out that in the USA, many who study history go on to become teachers, academics or lawyers. In my case, I became a lawyer, but I found little joy practising law as a transactional lawyer in my home jurisdiction. Inspired by my expat friends and colleagues in San Francisco, I decided to become an expat myself. People thought I was crazy when I decided to move to Korea in 2004, without any family connections and without knowing the language, but everything worked out as well as I could have hoped. I did not find my niche as a lawyer until I moved to Korea and became an international arbitration practitioner.

What qualities make for a successful arbitrator? 

When I sit as an arbitrator, I try to be the type of arbitrator I hope for and expect when I plead a case as counsel. An arbitrator should be well prepared, thorough and open-minded. As counsel, I have to be confident that I can find a way to persuade the tribunal, even when I have to argue a weak case. That means that I want a tribunal that will hear an argument through, engage with me, and then give my arguments due consideration in the final award, explaining why they were persuaded – or why they were not. This is the type of arbitrator I aspire to be. 

As co-head of international arbitration at Lee & Ko, what are your main priorities for the firm’s development over the next five years? 

When I joined Lee & Ko in 2015, we had a much smaller team and a much more limited caseload. I could be directly involved in all of the major cases. That is no longer possible. My role has changed, and now I see myself as the player-coach – trying to help develop the younger lawyers to step up into leadership roles as soon as possible. We have a young energetic team, and I want to help our developing lawyers mature as soon as possible. We have grown to the point that we now have a solid construction practice, and my partners David Kim and Sanghoon Han will be taking the lead in further developing that practice. 

With the number of disputes involving Korean entities increasing, to what extent do you think Korea will become a new arbitration hub for Asia? 

Korea is already the leading international arbitration hub in North East Asia. We have a talented and hard-working international arbitration community. We have a solid institution in KCAB International, which has a broader vision than ever before, and now has the funding to sponsor many international conferences and other activities. We have an up-and-coming generation of enthusiastic arbitration practitioners in KCAB Next. We have a court system that is very supportive of international arbitration. And in Korea we have a solid client base of companies and other institutions that are also committed to international arbitration. 

What do you see as new and upcoming trends in international arbitration generally, and in Korea in particular? 

The arbitration community has been talking for years about how to reduce costs and improve efficiency. We have talked for years about expanding use of technology, including videoconferencing. But progress has only been incremental, and in many cases the use of new technology has only increased costs.

Now that the world is suddenly in the midst of a global pandemic, it seems that the coronavirus might be a catalyst that expedites change and transforms models for how to resolve disputes. Travel restrictions will force us to experiment more with video, notwithstanding the risks and limitations of videoconferencing. However, as more arbitrators and counsel become more comfortable using the technology, particularly technology that they can access from their own computers, this might cause us to rethink how to structure proceedings. We might move away from a model that assumes a single all-intensive in-person merits hearing as the end of the case towards a model where counsel and the tribunal communicate more frequently onscreen before the merits hearing. 

What advice would you give to younger practitioners hoping to one day be in your position? 

I always emphasise to our associates that three skills are essential to become an effective advocate: good writing skills, good speaking skills and good judgement. Many books have been written about how to improve writing and speaking skills, but developing good judgement comes with time and experience. Younger lawyers should focus on their writing and speaking skills.

Global Leader

Arbitration 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

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".

Biography

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.

National Leader

Korea - Arbitration 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Robert Wachter is “leading a rising team at Lee & Ko”, according to sources who laud him as an “excellent operator”. 

Biography

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 125 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 and VIAC panels of arbitrators; and the HKIAC list 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 US 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. Lee & Ko was added to the GAR 100 in 2019.

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