#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Dato’ Jude P. Benny, JPB Arbitration Chambers
This week’s #10QuestionsWithMaxwell features a prominent figure in the ADR space. He is none other than Dato’ Jude P. Benny.
Dato’ Benny is one of the founding partners of Joseph Tan Jude Benny LLP (JTJB) and has since been the architect of the firm’s growth. Over the years, he has developed the firm’s shipping and admiralty practice into one of the largest in Singapore, and the first to have a global network covering Greece, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Over his 33 years of practice, Dato’ Benny has acquired extensive experience as both arbitration counsel and arbitrator in a wide area of commercial law. He sits on the panel at International Chambers of Commerce (ICC), Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), London Chamber of International Arbitration (LCIA), Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA) and numerous other arbitral institutions.
In this interview, Dato’ Benny shared with us JTJB’s journey developing shipping and admiralty practice into one of the largest in Singapore, his onward plans for JPB Arbitration Chambers, his secrets behind reaching the level of his success and more.
Read his full interview below:
Q: Congratulations on Joseph Tan Jude Benny LLP (JTJB) being recommended by The Legal 500 and Chambers Asia Pacific for Shipping and Dispute Resolution practice areas. Could you share a little about the firm’s journey developing shipping and admiralty practice into one of the largest in Singapore?
A: When Joseph and I came together 33 years ago, we had very distinct areas – mine was shipping and his was conveyancing. At JTJB, I wanted to grow the shipping practice because I came from Drew & Napier LLC, where I was already in shipping. I wanted to roll on with the connections I made.
Over the years, we managed to bring in excellent individuals into the firm, like Danny Chua from Khattar Wong. Bringing in good people into the firm allowed us to deliver on the promises we made to our clients. However, there’s only so much one person can deliver, so we had to bring in more people who were able to deliver the promises we were making. Slowly, it just kind of snowballed.
It’s actually very easy to market yourself to people and say that you can do everything they need. They might work with you once, but to sustain that growth, you need to consistently deliver. If not, people will lose faith in you. Obviously, you need luck as well, and need to put in the work. By saying you can deliver and then actually delivering on it, the work will continue to come to you. It’s actually a very simple formula.
Q: Since the founding of JTJB in 1988, the firm has set up multiple offices globally. What would you say is your most memorable experience / achievement?
A: I think that’s the most unique aspect of JTJB. We were going overseas even before almost any other local law firms. We were clearly punching above our weight because we were only a 20-man law firm which was trying to have a global reach.
For me, the most memorable experience was going into Greece. It was a major breakthrough. Opening an office in Greece was a little out-of-the-box for a local law firm. However, it was so logical for a shipping law firm because Greece has the biggest concentration of ship owners and operators. When we went in there, we were knocking heads with all the biggest shipping players from London. It was interesting to observe people’s reactions but we did what we did and it got us so much of attention worldwide.
Q: How did you decide to set up JPB Arbitration Chambers at Maxwell Chambers Suites?
A: Although I have since stepped out of the partnership with JTJB, I am still a consultant in the firm that I founded. Arbitration by agreement, was to be my own practice. I believe old lawyers don’t die, they just become arbitrators (haha). My decision clearly was to transition myself from counsel work to eventually a full arbitration practice, so it just made sense to open my office here at Maxwell Chambers Suites because it was being positioned as the arbitration hub. It was a logical transition for me.
Q: With the ever-changing ADR landscape, could you share with us your onward plans for JPB Arbitration Chambers?
A: My onward plan is to try and grow my arbitration practice as an arbitrator. To that end, it’s also about leaving the stakeholders, meaning the people who appoint me for their arbitration cases, with a good impression of the way I manage an arbitration hearing, or an arbitration reference (as they call it).
Q: What is one key trend you are seeing in the ADR space?
A: People might not openly talk about this, but one key trend that I’m seeing is that there is an increasing divide between the foreign law firms and arbitrators, and the local players. It seems like the foreign law firms and arbitrators are moving in one space where they are appointing each other and the local players are playing in another field. I feel there should be more inclusivity.
Q: Even with your extensive experience in arbitration practice, what do you find most challenging being an arbitration counsel and arbitrator?
A: The big challenge as an arbitration counsel is trying to read an arbitrator, wondering where the arbitrator is going with his thinking and then trying to alter your course to meet that, or try to change his thinking early on. Arbitrators unlike judges, tend not to have that poker face. So, you actually have an opportunity to try and read an arbitrator more than a judge.
Vice versa, as an arbitrator, I try to constantly keep an open mind and give every opportunity for parties to be heard so that nobody feels that they were not given every chance to say whatever they wanted, of course within reason. For me, the challenge as an arbitrator is to keep an equilibrium and make sure to give parties opportunity to ventilate and try to convince me. It’s a challenge because I’m only human and my mind can go in a certain direction.
Q: You received an abundance of accolades throughout your years in practice. What do you think are the secrets behind reaching the level of success you have?
A: I think my level of success is very moderate. There are far more successful people who have built more successful practices. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the successes or the little successes that I have because it has given me a very satisfying career in the law. If you ask me what it is, I think I have an approachable and friendly nature. People want to work with someone whom they feel comfortable with. You follow that up with a very professional approach to your work and that, quite simply can be a winning formula.
Q: What advice would you give to a young lawyer trying to get into the work of arbitration?
A: In arbitration cases, the counsels will usually need to turn in their written submissions. My advice is to know what your key points are, know what your case theory is and know what are the problematic issues you need to tackle. You should take the bull by the horn and be brief, and to the point. That will focus the reader. You should understand that if you are trying to win the case, you should convince the arbitrator, not making him read a whole book. The longer the written submission doesn’t mean that it’s better.
Q: To get to know you more on a personal level, share with us 3 fun facts not many know you!
A: One, I used to spend many years racing go-karts competitively and in the region.
Second, I built Singapore’s first permanent go-kart track, called Kartright Speedway.
Third, I have a set of drums at home that I like to play as a stress reliever.
Q: Lastly, describe Maxwell Chambers in 3 words.
A: Home of Arbitration.