Young ICCA Skills Training Workshop: Working with clients - Understanding, involving and educating your client in international arbitration assignments
Post Event Report
by Margarita Garova
On June 5, more than 50 participants from various jurisdictions took part in the Young ICCA Workshop held in the Helsinki office of the law firm Castrén & Snellman. The moderator, Michelle Bock, counsel at WilmerHale, Frankfurt, introduced the speakers for the workshop: Dr. Patricia Shaughnessy from the University of Stockholm; Johannes Frände, senior legal counsel at KONE Oyj; Lisa Tomas, associate at the London office of Arnold and Porter and Giulio Palermo, associate at Lalive.
Michelle Bock introduced the first topic “Understanding your client”, which was then elaborated on by Dr. Patricia Shaughnessy. Dr. Shaughnessy spoke about the importance of making the client’s life easier by providing the necessary tools in each case. The way to achieve this goal is to work with the client’s story and commercial objectives, as well as to understand in depth the context of the client’s case (which does not necessarily entail legal aspects only). At the outset of a dispute it is vital that the lawyer determines the precise questions to ask his client. Establishing the commercial objectives pursued by the client at this early point is crucial for building up the right strategy as the dispute unfolds. The objectives can vary widely – whether preserving the commercial relationship with the opposing party or living up to the shareholders’ expectations – all of these need to be discussed and pinned down. The level of confidentiality that should be maintained throughout the dispute should also be determined with the client.
Lisa Tomas spoke about the importance of maintaining consistency in the lawyer’s position with the client and with the rest of his legal team. Hard conversations should be conducted at the outset; creation of unrealistic expectations should be avoided. There is nothing more embarrassing than a client pointing a finger at his lawyer at the end of a dispute due to overly ambitious expectations which the lawyer failed to fulfil.
The second topic introduced by Michelle Bock was entitled “Involving your client”. Johannes Frände discussed the significance of covering every possible angle of the dispute and preparing an action plan for the purposes of each particular case. Being consistent with the client’s legal team is also key. Having a good understanding of the facts of the case is vital, as is developing techniques for obtaining the client’s knowledge of what happened.
Here are some best practices in this regard: 1) identify the key contact person in your client’s firm – it might be an in-house lawyer, the CEO etc.; 2) obtain his or her idea of what happened, his or her business objectives and even personal opinions; 3) get in contact with the people who are acquainted with the facts and try to extract information from them as early as possible; 4) deal with the commercial reality of cost-benefit; 5) submit to the client a practical memo which is solution-oriented, not a 15-page scholarly work, i.e. desert memo.
In respect to point 1) bear in mind that the legal department of the client’s company might not often be the leading one in the firm’s internal structure. Work towards identifying which person or persons is ultimately responsible for the business and who is in charge of the in-house counsel. If there is no in-house lawyer, try to simplify as much as possible the information you submit to the client.
Other dos and don’ts include:
· Do not ask the client to give you every bit of information he might have, otherwise you risk being swamped with paperwork.
· Do ask the client to provide what the client himself deems important. The best way to proceed is to ask the client for the key documents and then after you have worked your way through them, ask for additional documents to supplement the key ones.
· Do discuss issues on the phone first as the emails of business people tend to be not as structured as the lawyers’ ones (often lacking space and proper punctuation).
· Do work out carefully your approach towards the witnesses on the business side.
· Do be humble. Adopt the following attitude: I am here to learn what happened from my client.
· Do make sure you obtain all the valuable resources from your client.
· Do not waive any privileges by not handling confidential information carefully.
· Do draft notes for the witness statements out of client’s meetings as early as possible. Do not wait two years into the case to do that.
· Do ask the fact witnesses the same set of questions and then compare the answers. Collect as many facts as possible.
· Do ask the client early on as to how much he is willing to pay for your services. Do give the client several options to choose from.
· Do set up the line of communication immediately.
· Do not evade. Be honest if the client asks you about his chances of winning the case. Be careful how you treat questions of this kind though as unless there was a full discovery there is no chance to predict the outcome.
The third topic “Educating your client” was developed by Lisa Tomas. She gave an insight into the intricacies of familiarising the client with international arbitration – what is it, how it works, and what the client should expect from this type of dispute resolution. It might be that the client has a question to which you cannot provide an immediate answer. In that case, be honest and say that you do not know, rather than coming up with a vague reply. Honesty is also the best policy when you make an analysis of the case for your client.
Another useful piece of advice is to identify the language in which the witness will give testimony. If he or she happens to be not sufficiently comfortable with English, do ensure a translation. Otherwise the witness will fumble with nuances which will ultimately undermine his or her credibility. The witness should not get too descriptive in his or her account either – this looks suspicious at the very least.
Johannes Frände explained how the educating process differs when the client is a state-owned enterprise. Lawyers should keep in mind that the dynamics in an organisation with a high state participation is different from one where the client comes from the private sector. In particular, identifying the decision-maker can pose certain issues and the lawyer should be prepared to deal with them.
The last topic introduced at the workshop dealt with: “How to be effectively involved in assignments as a young lawyer”. Giulio Palermo highlighted the importance of showing commitment in the work environment, in particular when being entrusted with assignments. Usually at the early stages of their career lawyers are mostly delegated with document review tasks, which is not the most exciting part of the job. However, it is crucial that the young lawyers take on the tasks with enthusiasm and eagerness so that they can gain the respect and credibility of their senior colleagues. Identifying the expectations of the senior counsel and getting to know his or her style of work is also an important step of the process of getting more challenging tasks.
In conclusion, as well as being highly informative and insightful, the workshop was conducted in an entertaining and cheerful tone, with a lot of real-life inspired wisdom from the speakers and participants alike. This contributed to the positive message that ran through the entire workshop – we can all learn from each other in our striving for perfection. The workshop was definitely a study in professional greatness.
One day before the workshop the event’s steering committee Mari Antila (Senior Associate at Roschier, Attorneys Ltd), Leena Kujansuu (Senior Associate at Lindfors & Co Attorneys at Law Ltd) Heidi Paananen (Senior Associate at Castrén & Snellman Attorneys Ltd) Helen Lehto (Associate at Hannes Snellman Attorneys Ltd) organized a reception at Roschier and informal drinks at Teatteri, in the very heart of the city. This proved to be a great opportunity for participants and speakers to meet informally before the following day’s workshop.
The workshop was organized together by Young ICCA and Young Arbitration Club Finland. Young ICCA participants were also offered a free place for Helsinki International Arbitration Day on 5 June 2014. The event was sponsored by law firms Attorneys at Law Borenius Ltd., Castrén & Snellman Attorneys Ltd., Hannes Snellman Attorneys Ltd., Krogerus Attorneys Ltd., Lindfors & Co Attorneys at Law Ltd. and Roschier, Attorneys Ltd.
 Margarita Garova is a Frankfurt-based foreign lawyer (Juristische Mitarbeiterin) at the arbitration group of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, holding a master degree in law from the University of Sofia and LL.M degree from King’s College London, University of London.
Michelle Bock, Counsel, WilmerHale, Frankfurt (Moderator)
Patricia Shaughnessy, Stockholm University, Stockholm
Lisa Thomas, Associate, Arnold & Porter, London
Giulio Palermo, Associate, Lalive, Geneva
Johannes Frände, in-house counsel, Kone Oyj, Helsinki
Interested in receiving event updates?
Sign up for Young ICCA Membership to receive email updates on all Young ICCA events and workshops.