William Wood QC is “always top of the list”, according to peers. He is “hugely experienced and has a great manner with parties”.
Bill Wood is a London-based QC who is now one of the world’s leading commercial mediators. He was WWL’s 2018 Mediation Lawyer of the Year. After 20 years fighting litigation and arbitration cases as a member of the London commercial bar, he trained as a mediator in 1999. Over the next 10 years, his mediation practice grew steadily and is now overwhelmingly his main professional focus. He mediates a broad range of mostly commercial cases including construction, financial services, insurance, pharmaceuticals, telecoms and competition, as well as environmental and human rights cases.
What did you find most challenging about entering mediation?
Entering mediation just is tough, in and of itself. My recollection is that there was only one thing that was harder and took longer than getting my first mediation and that was getting my second. I think anybody who does this job will tell you how difficult the early steps are. You are bedevilled by what I call “the Party B problem”. You can win the affection of one firm, by using your contacts, or lobbying or whatever it may be. But in the early stages when Party A, your friendly firm, contacts Party B and puts forward your name they will be met with blank looks and you hit a dead end. We all look for the tipping point at which Party B’s response in a significant number of cases becomes not “Bill who ?” but “Oh yes him.” It takes time.
How has your work as a barrister enhanced your approach to mediation?
My litigation experience drives my practice as a mediator. I can vividly recall the unwinnable cases which were bizarrely successful. However painfully, I can recall the surefire winners which were lost when an expert witness went rogue, a crucial witness had an attack of amnesia or a judge simply took a violent dislike to my client or me (or occasionally both of us). I have seen in my own clients the distraction, dislocation and damage that so often affects those caught up in litigation. I have seen victories time and again prove pyrrhic. Others may work differently but I use that archive of experience all the time in my discussions with the parties in my mediations.
What effect do you think the UN Singapore Convention will have on the global uptake of commercial mediation? How do you think the Convention will affect the enforceability of mediation settlements?
I think the most important aspect is simply the recognition of mediation as a respectable and grown-up dispute resolution technique. It seems to be a case of, “Now that you have matured you can have your own convention, just like your big brother arbitration.”
I am less sure that there is actually a problem around enforceability to solve, or a widespread concern about enforcement that needs to be to allayed. And if signatory countries ratify the convention on the basis that parties have to expressly opt into the enforcement rules (as they have the choice of doing), it will be interesting to see how many parties do so. Certainly one can envisage that the potential paying party in a mediation will feel reluctant to agree supercharged enforcement rules.
What is the most interesting mediation you have been a part of?
I have just completed the main phase of a lengthy mediation process between the parties to a 25-year utility contract. Relations had broken down and they found themselves in court within the first two years of the contract. They were incurring a fortune in legal fees and getting nowhere with the substance of the issues. For the past 18 months I have been running a series of meetings working at the legal, financial and engineering levels to improve relationships, recalibrate the contract and achieve some further investment in technology. It offers a real and genuine win-win. It has attempted, and we all hope it has achieved, a genuine change of culture and atmosphere, and not just the ending of a legal battle. We are not home and dry yet but it is very different to the usual run of case and hugely exciting.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
“Shut up and listen.” Or as I sometimes put it, “Don’t just do something, stand there.” Never force the pace in a mediation, never be afraid of silence. You have to let the parties build their own achievements, their own adventure and keep your own adrenaline under control.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
The work we do is entirely fulfilling and I am extremely lucky to have stumbled into it and to be making a living. So the only accomplishment I look for is to get to work tomorrow morning and do a half-decent job with the parties I find there.
“Leader of the field” William Wood QC is applauded for his “superb, excellent approach” and “great international work”. He is “extremely clever – the first rank of legal ability”, with “a compelling manner and enormous credibility”. He always “goes above and beyond for clients”
Bill Wood is a leading international mediator based in London. He was the 2018 Mediation Lawyer of the Year and is the ADR representative on the Civil Justice Council (England and Wales).
Bill was educated at Oxford and Harvard before going to the London Bar in 1980. He became a QC in 1998 and spent over 25 years as a commercial litigator. He is based at leading London set Brick Court Chambers.
He began to mediate in 1999 and now practises as a full-time commercial mediator handling some 80 cases each year, many of them (prior to lockdown) in overseas jurisdictions.
He mediates a wide range of large-scale commercial disputes centred on banking, financial services, oil and gas, and insurance, as well as professional negligence, construction and engineering, IT, competition and regulation, employment and discrimination, human rights, intellectual property and planning disputes. He has mediated in Hong Kong, Paris, Geneva, Barcelona, Dubai, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Mexico, Singapore and New York.
He is a member of the faculty of themediatoracademy.com and writes on mediation matters for The Lawyer, Counsel, Insurance,Day and The Mediator Magazine, as well as lecturing and consulting on mediation matters. He is a fellow of the International Academy of Mediators, He sits as an arbitrator and arbitrates (and mediates) for the ICC. Bill lives in Oxfordshire