Stavros Brekoulakis is a professor at QMUL and a member of 3VB with over 20 years’ experience under all major arbitration rules. He is described in WWL as “standing out as a first-rate arbitrator and academic; an expert in construction and commercial disputes who is regularly engaged in matters arising out of major infrastructure projects around the world”. WWL listed him as one of the 10 most highly regarded future leaders, and describes him “very thorough and professional” and “held in the highest regard”. He was nominated twice for GAR’s “Best-Prepared and Most Responsive Arbitrator” Award.
HOW DOES YOUR LEGAL BACKGROUND AND EXPERIENCE ENHANCE YOUR PRACTICE IN INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION AND APPROACH TO PROCEEDINGS?
I think the fact that I have significant working experience and legal training in both civil and common law gives me helpful insight in a wide range of substantive laws across different legal traditions. It has also given me a better understanding of managing arbitrations from an international perspective or under a more adversarial or inquisitorial style, depending on the wishes of the parties and the needs of the case. Furthermore, the fact that my professional affiliation is with a university and a set of chambers, rather than a law firm, enhances my availability in terms of both time and conflicts. I also think that my academic work and reputation appears to inspire confidence in my arbitration work as a thorough and independent arbitrator. I think it is no coincidence that the majority of my appointments are as a presiding and sole arbitrator.
YOU ARE HIGHLY REGARDED FOR YOUR EXPERTISE IN HANDLING MATTERS CONCERNING THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY. TO WHAT EXTENT IS ARBITRATION THE PREFERRED FORM OF DISPUTE RESOLUTION IN THIS SECTOR?
Complex international construction projects are rarely completed without giving rise to disputes, the vast majority of which are submitted to ADR and eventually arbitration. The reasons construction parties tend to choose ADR and arbitration owe as much to the (perceived or real) inefficiencies of national courts as to the (perceived or real) advantages of out-of-court dispute resolution. For example, with few notable exceptions such as the Technology and Construction Court in the UK, most national courts lack construction-specialist departments or judges with construction expertise and experience. Arbitration, on the other hand, allows construction parties to appoint arbitrators with the necessary specialised knowledge and understanding of complex construction projects. Importantly, arbitration allows construction parties to “design and build” (to stay in tune with the construction theme) the dispute resolution procedure in a way that addresses a number of procedural challenges in construction arbitrations, including the typically large volume of documentary evidence, the most effective use of (delay and quantum) experts and programme analysis. While the future of investor-state dispute settlement arbitration remains uncertain, construction arbitration will, in my view, thrive for the foreseeable future.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN THE LAW AND INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION IN PARTICULAR?
I have always found law fascinating because it can affect our lives on different levels. It regulates our commercial and social relationships and at the same time it shapes our basic conceptions of fairness and, eventually, our world views. But what inspired me to pursue a career in international arbitration in particular was arbitration’s “profound curiosity”, where parties, counsel and arbitrators from different, often diverse, cultures work together and eventually manage to arrive at an acceptable result. We may agree or disagree about specific points and decisions in the course of an arbitration, but – in the majority of cases – we largely accept both the arbitral process and final award. After working for more than 20 years in international arbitration, I still find this remarkable.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST INTERESTING DISPUTE YOU HAVE WORKED ON IN THE PAST FEW YEARS?
It is difficult to identify a single case, but in general I find construction disputes very interesting. I am fascinated by the technical complexity of big infrastructure projects and the challenging legal questions they give rise to in terms of delay and damages. I also find it rewarding to know that the resolution of a dispute, for example, in a major infrastructure project may eventually help the successful completion of the project and, thus, contribute to the greater social welfare.
WHAT WAS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED WHEN ENTERING THE WORLD OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION?
Maybe I was lucky but I never felt I faced any significant challenges in my career in international arbitration. I should say that, despite the well-rehearsed criticism that international arbitration is a closed system that is difficult to enter into, I always felt welcome from the very beginning. Of course, it takes time to build your name and reputation, but I believe that international arbitration is an open and fair field, which eventually rewards hard work and talent.