#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Michael Lee


Interview Series - Michael Lee

#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Michael Lee

Our next guest is needless to say, a veteran in international arbitration. With over 30 years experience of practising commercial litigation in the English High Court and international arbitration, as well as coordinating and overseeing overseas litigation, he has served as a member of the tribunal in over 150 international arbitrations administered under the rules of various international arbitration institutions.

He is none other than Michael Lee, an arbitrator at Twenty Essex. Michael shared with us one memorable case he handled, what he would say to his younger self, his favourite Singaporean food and more!

Read his full interview with the team below:

Q: What inspired you to pursue international arbitration?

A: As a disputes partner at a major international law firm (Norton Rose), I found that more and more of my cases were concerned with international arbitration. Before I left Norton Rose I was managing the Paris office and became more interested in and involved with international arbitration. Whilst in Paris, I was the UK member on the ICC Court and when I finally left Norton Rose, it was a logical step to join a set of English barristers chambers, 20 Essex Street, which had a strong international arbitration identity. When my chambers (now called Twenty Essex), opened an office in Singapore, I received appointments as arbitrator in Singapore and took the opportunity to move here 6 years ago, an opportunity I am glad I took.

Q: Without sacrificing confidentiality, could you share with us one memorable case you handled?

A: I think one of my most memorable cases was a party appointment in an ad hoc arbitration concerning a long-term power take off agreement in South America. The Tribunal was composed of a Dutch professor, as chair, a Brazilian co arbitrator and myself. The facts were interesting, requiring a decision whether there had been exceptionally heavy rainfall in the country, and there were hearings in Paris, New York and London and a deliberation in Sao Paolo, so you could say it was truly a global arbitration.

Q: Tell us what is the one major change you had seen in the ADR scene.

A: Apart from the arrival of virtual hearings, I think the biggest change in the international arbitration scene which I have seen in the 20+ years I have been sitting as an arbitrator is the increase in length and complexity of procedures and the consequent degree of lawyering (at times over lawyering) of cases. A prime example of this is in relation to production of documents and the use of Redfern Schedules. I sincerely hope that Alan Redfern, who has recently retired, will be known for more than his contribution to the arbitration process.

Q: What’s your arbitration style?

A: I am not sure I have any particular style although others may disagree. I try to be courteous to the parties both during the arbitration process and at the hearing, but firm when this is called for. I think it is very important that the tribunal is properly prepared when it goes into the hearing and I endeavour to do this. Doing a summary of the arguments before the hearing helps. During the deliberations, courtesy is always important. If I am chair with arbitrator who are experienced and whom I know, I tend to let my co arbitrators give their views before expressing mine. If the co arbitrators are less experienced, or there is an imbalance, I will take the lead.

Q: What advice would you give to a younger lawyer looking to get into the field of arbitration?  

A: I think I would make 3 suggestions any one of which, or all of which, can assist someone wishing to get into the international arbitration field. In no particular order, these are:

Joining the arbitration team of a firm with an established reputation for international arbitration. At first, some of the tasks you will be given may seem pretty boring (document production!) but as you gain more experience, you will be involved in strategy discussions and tactics which are usually interesting;

Join one of the international arbitration institutions e.g., SIAC, ICC, HKIAC or LCIA as a stagiaire or case counsel. There you will gain experience of the administration of an arbitration which will be invaluable should you then move on to private practice;

Work as an assistant to an arbitrator or as a tribunal secretary where you will see arbitral life from the other side of the table.

Q: What would you say to your younger self?

A: I assume you mean in relation to my professional life! I am not sure I would do things much more differently than I have done. I think I might have tried to get into international arbitration at an earlier stage than I did. I might have done a postgraduate degree in an arbitration related subject. I might have moved to Singapore earlier than I did. I am always fascinated by stories from my friend Andrew Moran QC, who was an officer in the Royal Navy for a short time before becoming a lawyer and I often wish I had done the same.

Q: After the pandemic is over, what is the one thing you would do?

A: There is a one-word answer to this which is the same that many other people would give: travel! My family are all in the UK and apart from a couple of weeks last summer, I have not seen them in the flesh since the pandemic began.

Q: What do you do during the weekend? Share with us your favourite past time / hobby!

A: Most of the things I do in my spare time are impossible at the moment due to the travel restrictions. I like to travel in the region, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and etc. One of my favourite places to go for a weekend is Rimba off the east coast of Malaysia. As soon as travel is possible, I shall head up there. Otherwise, I ski and sail when I can. Now that travel is not possible, good food and wine are high up the list.

Q: Tell us your favourite Singaporean food. Or what is one dish you can’t get enough of?

A: Nasi goreng, peranakan food, and anything at Khanasama Serangon Road.

Q: Share with us your fondest memories of Maxwell Chambers (or Maxwell Chambers Suites).

A: When we were on the second floor of Maxwell Chambers, there was a friendly vibe and people would see each other more frequently than has been possible in Maxwell Chambers Suites so far because of the layout and the fact that so many people work from home. That should change hopefully when the new normal comes. Apart from that, the unfailing courtesy and helpfulness of the ladies on reception is great. And thank you for the zongzi!


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