#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Prof Lawrence Boo


Interview Series - Prof Lawrence Boo

#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Prof Lawrence Boo

Maxwell Chambers launches a brand new social media project, #10QuestionswithMaxwell, seeking to understanding more about our interviewee through their insights on the ADR industry, their memories of Maxwell Chambers and more.

Our first guest is none other than Prof Lawrence Boo, Head of Chambers at The Arbitration Chambers and Board of Directors at Maxwell Chambers. Prof Boo shared with the team about the changing landscape of arbitration, his advice to young lawyers trying to get into the field of arbitration, his early memories of 28 Maxwell Road (used to be the Traffic Police HQ) and more.

Read his full interview with the team below:

Q: What do you think makes a good or successful arbitrator?

A: I think there is a difference between a good and a ‘successful’ arbitrator. You can be a “successful” arbitrator by getting many appointments but get a reputation for being a good ‘marketeer’ or known to be willing to rule in favour of the appointing party. Is that good? I don’t think so.

One who is independent, impartial and a strong sense of justice; willing to respectfully listen, having a perceptive mind and the ability to make prompt sound and independent decisions. Such people will get the opportunity to receive arbitration appointments. Of course some domain knowledge of the subject matter would be useful.

Q: How has arbitration changed over the years you’ve been in practice?

A: Quite beyond what I had imagined. In my early days, I saw mostly ad hoc shipping and building construction cases with single counsel or 1 – 2 person lawyers representing. Now I see a lot more cases administered by institutions involving large legal teams in disputes concerning joint ventures, shareholders disputes, oil and gas, investor-state disputes. The amounts at stake are in multiples higher than before.

The advancement in technology has also changed the way we conduct our cases. Now, it is much more professional with a big knowledge playing field; information is easily accessible online and facts ferret out. Voluminous bundles are replaced by hyperlinked electronic versions with no duplications; easily sorted by Excel sheets. Transcripts are ‘live’ and arbitrators are no longer having to take notes of evidence. What a joy! No cartons of documents to check-in on flights, no heavy files, just you, laptop and portable monitor.

Q: What current trends are you seeing in the ADR landscape?

A: There is a clear move from ad hoc to towards institutional arbitration. The ICC and SIAC are the ones to watch. They are the most organized and professionally managed institutions that I have worked with. They set the standards and the trends in international arbitration practices.

In terms of the downstream practice, I expect that there will be a greater use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) which may take some part of the decision-making from humans. As technology improves and more data are being collated and curated, and the data are in the right place and used within the correct parameters, AI does a better job than us, humans. The role of expert witnesses may be more affected and they may need to find a new role within the system. For arbitrators, it will still be some way before its role could be overtaken by AI. The human perception and judgment is still a critical aspect of adjudging a matter.

With the experience brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, of remote hearing (by the hearings are ‘real’ and not ‘virtual’), I expect that many of the cases may continue to be conducted remotely. While there may be preference for in-person hearings, costs, convenience and time-saving may persuade many to do so remotely.

Q: If you could change one thing about the arbitral system, what would it be?

A: One thing I wish to see is greater diversity. By that I do not mean more female arbitrators, a view that is currently very popular. Diversity in nationality, ethnicity, languages, culture, age as well as gender.

I do not think it is fair to push gender diversity the manner I see it being done now. In fact, I see it as being unfair and rather condescending to say we need to create more opportunities by, for example artificially populating the board or committee with 50/50, male/female members just so as to gain acceptance and support. Such affirmative actions are in my view not healthy and is unfair to the female professionals as a whole. The process should come naturally.

One peeve I like to say is that a woman chairing a panel should be entitled to be addressed as “chairman” (unless she herself prefers otherwise for whatever reason) for that is the position/office she is entitled to be addressed.

I think I might have digressed from the question asked – oh yes, I would like for arbitral awards to be shorter. For myself, I have since 2 years ago resolved to try to write awards within 100 pages. I did of course exceed that at times, not by much, but I will always try.

Q: What’s been your most memorable experience as an arbitrator?

A: Every case is memorable. Some cases are memorable for good reasons and some for bad reasons.

One positive memorable case was the scene of more than 50 to 60 lawyers all seated before me, waiting for the hearing to be called to order. It was such a sight that made me ask myself – who am I that I should deserve this attention. I then realized the daunting task ahead – that it is not just another case, for whatever decision I would come to mean a lot more to them. It’s a reminder of the solemn duty entrusted upon me and I must undertake to do so with a deep sense of responsibility. That scene now plays in my mind whenever I sit, telling me that no matter how many or few lawyers there are, each party expects me to give them a fair hearing and to do my best to adjudge the case.

Haha, I will refrain from sharing the negative experience.

Q: What advice would you give to lawyers looking for their first arbitration appointment?

A: First, please recognize that the first appointment is the most difficult to land on. So keep calm and your expectations low. So many have told me that they have been proposed but not accepted and I would congratulate them. I say, see it positively, “your name has now been seen by at least two law firms and their parties, you are in circulation”.

Do not represent yourself as what you are not or hold yourself out as having domain knowledge when you don’t. Your first appointment is very important or that may be your last. Choose a niche area or domain of knowledge, expose yourself to institutions and get your peers to know you. Don’t worry too much that your seniors are always the ones getting the recognition because you will be a senior one day.

Be patient, don’t push your way too hard, it puts people off. Smart people don’t need to say so, others will notice and will know. Don’t overrate yourself, always believe that there are people better than you.

The best bet for any young aspiring are the institutions. I know the ICC and SIAC does appoint young professionals to small cases to give them an opportunity to try their hand so get to know the secretariat members of these institutions. If you are any good, you will be noticed. If you are not, take heart, stay with what you are currently good at.

Q: What do you do during the weekend?

A: Church and golf. I love the game of golf. I used to only play at most twice a month due to travel commitments for hearings and teaching for the last 10-15 years.

One positive thing about this pandemic, with no travel I now play golf more than before; sometimes twice or thrice a week! I never thought I could!

Prof Boo playing golf at sunset.

Q: Where’s the first place you want to visit after the pandemic?

A: Visit my younger daughter in Melbourne! And play golf there. It’s been too long.

Q: Share with us your fondest memories of Maxwell Chambers. 

A: Actually my fondest memories of Maxwell Chambers have its beginnings before Maxwell Chambers came about. Let me explain.

I grew up in a shophouse in Tanjong Pagar. My grandfather owned a provision shop and I used to deliver goods to people here in this very building (now Maxwell Chambers Suites) when it was the quarters for the officers of the traffic police. So when The Arbitration Chambers moved in here, it brought much memories to the days I ran about here delivery groceries to the families living here. I was very very thrilled to be back to my ‘kampong’, my roots!

As for the current Maxwell Chambers, I love the circular hearing rooms (rotunda wing) it has very good acoustics. I miss the gym though, yes it was at level 2, but unfortunately it closed down as it was under-used and there was a need for additional space. Maybe we should have a gym in Maxwell Chambers Suites?

Q: 3 words or phrases that comes to your mind when you think of Maxwell Chambers. 

A: Premier, State-of-art and ‘You will fall in love with it’


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