[Special Issue] #10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Chuan Wee Meng, Singapore International Mediation Centre
This interview is released in conjunction with Singapore Convention Week 2021.
For the third #10QuestionsWithMaxwell feature for #SCWeek2021 special issue, we reached out to Chuan Wee Meng, Chief Executive Officer of Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC). Prior to joining SIMC, Wee Meng served as General Counsel of IBM Greater China and Nortel Networks Asia Pacific over a period of more than 20 years. Leveraging on his deep regional experience, he leads SIMC to promote mediation to resolve complex, commercial cross-border disputes in Asia Pacific.
In this interview, Wee Meng shared what the power of mediation is to him, key developments we can look forward to from SIMC in the next 2-3 years, one of his most memorable experiences throughout his legal career, and more.
Read his full interview below:
Q: What is mediation to you?
A: “An idea whose time has come” – mediation should be the most sought after form of dispute resolution as it saves time, costs, preserves relationships, is confidential and may provide solutions beyond what the courts or arbitration tribunals may order. Parties may also quickly move on with their lives. If one had a medical problem, one would want to be healed as quickly as possible. It should be no different for a legal dispute.
Q: Was there a specific reason / event that inspired you to be a mediator?
A: I was a court litigator – we were like gladiators fighting on behalf of our clients. At the end of the day, in some court cases, there was no satisfying resolution for the parties as the case was decided by a judge, and not by the parties. When I moved in-house as General Counsel of IBM China, I discovered the true benefits of mediation as a user representing IBM in commercial disputes. Now in the third phase of my career as a mediator, I see myself as a peacemaker to help both sides find a creative resolution they can live with, and move on with their lives. Mediation is a much more gratifying solution to life’s challenging situations.
Q: What do you think are the key ingredients to being a good negotiator/mediator?
A: Patient, active listening to help both sides understand themselves and each other better, drawing out the deeper underlying common interests to find resolutions, and enabling parties to look beyond the current conflict facing them.
Q: In your view, what is the power of mediation?
A: In finding creative solutions to address deeper interests that the law, whether in court litigation or arbitration, may not be able to fully address. All problems are more than just balancing the legal rights between parties – so a judgment or award are often limited in its scope and nature. Mediation also has the power to prevent further deterioration of relationships, which would not only affect our external relationships but might also cause irreparable harm to the parties themselves, whether we realise it or not.
After settling a case, one party remarked, “I may or may not have made a friend, but I have one less enemy.” That is wisdom.
Q: What would you say is your mediation style?
A: Facilitative mediation to support parties in a constructive way to explore creative solutions outside a court-based outcome. Parties need a trusted advisor to help them dig deep and discover their own and common interests. Within the safe confines of confidential private caucuses, resolutions may be explored and reached where direct negotiations had failed. As a neutral, I need to first earn that trust; then, parties will allow me to go beyond their positions, behind their facades, and address their true needs.
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Q: What is one major development you are anticipating in the new ADR space?
A: I believe it will concern the growth of “hybrids” in ADR, i.e., the blurring of hard lines, whether in space or in process. In space: this refers to the interaction between online and in-person mediation by having combinations of online and in-person elements; in process: this refers to the interaction between arbitration or litigation, and mediation. Commercial mediation is relatively young. As a flexible process, mediation is well suited to find and fill the gaps in the more traditional, structured processes like litigation and arbitration. Therefore, I believe mediation will remain complementary and not competitive to both litigation and arbitration. These fluid “hybrid” processes are the future of ADR.
Q: Could you share with us your plans for Singapore International Mediation Centre in the next 2-3 years? What are some key developments we can look forward to?
A: Thought Leadership: SIMC is committed to developing broad and deep partnerships to promote mediation as a viable ADR mechanism, and as a profession. This outreach is not only across geographies but also industries, including: construction & infrastructure, IP, TMT, international trade, investor-state disputes, professional services & employment, maritime, insolvency etc. We will also reach beyond the legal practitioners to engage business leaders and professionals.
Case Management: SIMC strives to provide best-in-class practices to manage the most complex commercial cross-border disputes with hybrid offerings, while remaining flexible to support parties impacted by the pandemic with heavily discounted fees under the Covid-19 Protocols in Singapore, and with our partners in Japan, India and other countries.
Capacity Building: We have been conducting Specialist Mediator Workshops in China, India, Korea, Japan and Singapore for senior lawyers, in-house counsel and business executives. We are grateful for the success of these workshops in building the capacity of business and legal professionals to mediate, and in promoting mediation as the first port of call. This community of strong and experienced mediators and mediation advocates will drive the growth of mediation across different countries and industries.
Q: Looking back on your career, could you share some advice to the young individuals who are looking to get into the field of ADR?
A: Being a good mediator requires many skills, most of which are life skills employed in everyday relationship building: earning trust, effective communication, exercising empathy, building rapport and so on. Being aware of and practising these skills in your daily interactions will make you a better person, and also equip you to be a more effective mediator. I would encourage joining the various SIMC workshops which will not only impart skills, but also provide opportunities to engage with experienced mentors and be part of an active community that “walks the talk”, practising mediation in their legal or professional careers.
Q: What is one of your most memorable experience throughout your legal career?
A: I am extremely grateful to my former firm, Tan Rajah & Cheah, that not only taught me what is law, but also what is right. I volunteered for a pro bono case to defend a storeman accused of stealing his employer’s products worth more than $100,000. He was facing significant jail time. During trial, his initial confessions were thrown out by the court – under cross-examination, they were proven to have been made under his manager’s coercion. Upon further cross-examination, the computer records of inventory balances were also shown to be highly unreliable. The judge was not convinced that the employer even knew how much of their inventory, if any, was actually missing. The judge finally acquitted my client without even calling for the defence. The storeman was with his family members in the courtroom – they were in tears at the verdict. I felt that something right was done that day.
Q: To get to know you more on a personal level, could you share with us 3 things people don’t know about you?
A: 1) I am a little nostalgic and enjoy the beauty of old buildings and things from the past. I used to work for leading technology companies and I would get excited by the latest technology. However, given that I had been on the inside-track, I think technology is sometimes a little overrated. New is not always better.
2) I enjoy movies. I believe a good movie can be the best combined version of a good novel, music and visual arts to move hearts and impart values, and all that in 90 minutes.
3) Lastly, I am a Christian lawyer who had the privilege to live and practice law for 20 years outside of Singapore, witnessing some of the best and worst business practices. If I may close by quoting from Max Ehrmann’s poem, “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” Thank you.
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