Young ICCA Soap Box Debate: Integration, robotration and the lure of an Australian staycation

18 April 201814:00 - 17:00(AEST)

Post Event Report


By Edwin Trynes, Intern at P.R.I.M.E. Finance and Alexandra Einfeld, intern at the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration.


On 18 April 2018, Young ICCA held its second Soap Box debate on “Thoughts on International Arbitration from Down Under” in Sydney, Australia. This entertaining event sponsored by LALIVE and the Australian Centre for International Arbitration (ACICA) closed the 2018 ICCA Congress and was attended by approximately forty young practitioners and students.


The debate started with an introduction by Young ICCA Vice Co-Chair Jim Morrison (Consultant to Allens, Sydney), who gave some insight into the history of the soapbox debate, assisted by a symbolic soap in lieu of the traditional wooden crate. Historically, a Soap Box speech was often associated with a "public rant" by a usually "colourful character" about an issue or gripe she or he may have. They stood on soap boxes, usually in Hyde Park, and spoke loudly to try and draw a crowd to listen to them. Gathering passers-by in Hyde Park would often intervene.


This debate followed the Chatham House rules. The views that were argued by the debaters were imposed on them and do not reflect neither their nor their affiliated firm and/or organization’s views.


Motion 1: “There is no space in international arbitration for common or civil lawyers anymore, only international arbitration lawyers”


Debating in favor of this arguably very loaded statement was Young ICCA Mentoring Programme Coordinator David Kim (Partner at Lee & Ko, Seoul), with Alexandra Johnson (Partner at Bär & Karrer, Geneva) arguing against and Young ICCA Co-Chair Nhu-Hoang Tran Thang (Associate at LALIVE, Geneva) moderating. Starting off strong, David made his argument with a Big Mac analogy: Consistency, predictability and efficiency are the hallmarks of a good burger. If McDonalds can internationalize their Big Mac, why could arbitration not do the same?


Alexandra’s response warned against shutting out lawyers from arbitration by insisting on this “new” type of international expertise. Arbitration should be inclusive and expand to include new traditions. It is not a one size fits all approach, not everyone likes but foremost, not everyone needs a Big Mac.


The debate divided the audience, who had some feisty input. A clear winner could not be determined, with views varying widely in the audience as well.


Motion 2: “Lawyer vs Machine – arbitration should become robotration”


The second debate brought the audience into more uncertain terrain, facing the potential replacement of legal manpower with machines. Debating in favor was Eric Z. Chang (Principal at Chang Law, Los Angeles), with Edwina Kwan (Senior Associate at King & Wood Mallesons, Sydney) opposing him and Young ICCA Co-Chair Tolu Obamuroh (Associate at White & Case, Paris) moderating. Eric argued based on facts and studies, demonstrating that if lawyers and Artificial Intelligence (AI) went head to head, the robots would win hands down.


According to Eric, a study comparing AI with 20 experienced lawyers had both groups review five Non-Disclosure Agreements in 4 hours. While the lawyers took 92 mins in average with an accuracy of 85%, the machine needed 26 seconds and had an accuracy of 94%. As Eric spoke to our brains, Edwina addressed the issue through notions of equities and what humans understand “justice” to be. Robots do not reason like humans do, and have no appreciation for concepts such equity and are only as good as the human inputs and data that they rely on. Moreover, the notion of receiving justice via a non-human algorithm may not be acceptable to parties, however “correct” the awards might be. Arbitration is centered on human interactions and human reasoning and this cannot be fully addressed by machines.


While both sides did not agree on the details, common ground was found in acknowledging that AI would be playing a role in the legal profession. What exactly that role will be was left for further food for thought and debate amongst the participants.


Motion 3: “Breaking into international arbitration Down Under – pack your bags if you want to make it big”


The third debate took the audience on a world tour that led back to Perth. Taking the stand for the big departure was Julian Wyatt (independent arbitration practitioner, Geneva and Sydney) while Ariane Owen (Senior Associate at Allen & Overy, Perth) argued for the staycation, with Jim Morrison moderating. After a heartwarming letter from young Jim to the panelists, Julian took the audience out of Australia because that is how one makes it BIG in arbitration. The international experience is an asset that can only be acquired abroad but of course to make it BIG, one must also be GOOD! So pack your bags.


As the audience was abroad, Ariane brought everyone back to Perth, an Australian hub for international arbitration. Travelling is an option, and a good one at that. But coming back is better! How is BIG measured? Surely not only by the amount of Air miles that one has. Ariane made the point that since, statistically, the competition is reduced in “isolated” places, you can make it BIG faster in Australia. Also, Perth is very beautiful and now has a direct flight to London, so why not stay? The general conclusion of the third motion was that both positions are reconcilable. It is good to leave and gain international experience but equally rewarding to come home again.


To celebrate the end of this successful and entertaining debate, joint networking drinks hosted by over twenty young arbitral organizations and sponsored by LALIVE, Aarna Law and FTI Consulting were held at Zeta Bar, providing the participants and speakers with a further opportunity to network and celebrate the end of the Congress.


The organizing Steering Committee for the debate was composed of Alexandra Einfeld (ACICA), Edwin Trynes (P.R.I.M.E. Finance), Deborah Tomkinson (ACICA), Garðar Víðir Gunnarsson (LEX Law Offices, Young ICCA Co-Chair), Tolu Omaburoh (White & Case, Young ICCA Co-Chair), Jim Morrison (Allens, Vice Young ICCA Co-Chair) and Nhu-Hoang Tran Thang (LALIVE, Young ICCA Co-Chair).


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