#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Prem Gurbani, Independent Arbitrator
Prem has been in continuous practice since being admitted to the Singapore Bar in January 1978. He founded Gurbani & Co., a maritime and commercial law practice in Singapore, and was formerly a Consultant in the same firm.
Prem is involved in litigious and non-litigious aspects of maritime law and international trade including ship sale and purchase, ship financing, marine insurance, collisions at sea and carriage of goods by sea. He has been consistently named as one of the leading practitioners in Singapore for Shipping/Maritime by Chambers, Who’s Who Legal (Shipping and Maritime) and other legal directories.
In this interview, he shared how he came to specialising in arbitration, qualities that make for an effective arbitrator in today’s climate, the biggest change he had seen in the way arbitration proceedings are conducted, and more.
Read his full interview below:
Q: What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
A: I am not sure about being inspired. The truth is that I was never any good with the sciences, so my career would have had to revolve around what I was good at, which is talking, reading, and writing. I chose law.
Q: You have enjoyed a satisfying career. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
A: It’s true that I have had a completely satisfying career at the bar for 43 years and still on occasion agree to appear as Counsel. What I want to achieve is a standard as an arbitrator which is closer to some of the Gods of arbitration that I have met. I am definitely working on this and hopefully will get there!
Q: You founded Gurbani & Co in 1989 and it went on to be known in its area of practice. What advice would you give to practitioners looking to set up their own firm?
A: I set up Gurbani & Co in 1989 on a wing and a prayer, and to be honest, I am doubtful that what worked in 1989 and the years that followed will work now. The requirements of a modern practice are quite different. So, any maritime practitioner who aspires to set up a similar new practice will, in my view, have to gather a diversified and respected team to have a reasonable chance of success.
Q: How did you come to specialising in arbitration?
A: From the mid to late 90’s, I was being approached more and more with appointments. Eventually, it all came to a point where I was more of an arbitrator than Counsel. This led to my deciding to leave the partnership of Gurbani & Co in 2012 to become a consultant in the firm, and then to leave entirely in 2019 to concentrate on my arbitration practice in Maxwell Chambers Suites.
Q: What qualities do you think make for an effective arbitrator in today’s climate?
A: Some are actually under the impression that being an arbitrator is a lark. Quite the contrary, the responsibilities of an arbitrator are heavy, and a lot of hard work is involved. You have got to try and get things right as there is seldom a right of appeal.
Q: How do you think the role of an arbitrator will evolve in the next five years?
A: I do not think that the role of an arbitrator will change as such. What has and will continue to change dramatically is the adoption of technology in all aspects of the arbitration, both by the parties and by arbitrators. This has been brought upon us by the pandemic but will clearly remain after we are rid of it.
Q: Since you began your career, what has been the biggest change you have seen in relation to the way that arbitration proceedings are conducted?
A: How proceedings are conducted very much depends on the Tribunal, especially the Chair. Most proceedings are conducted in a collegiate spirit. However, I see an increasing level of formality creeping in, with attempts to introduce court like procedures which have no place in an arbitration.
Q: If you could change one thing about the arbitral system, what would it be?
A: Let me think. Alright, I would say as the Americans do, if it isn’t broken why fix it?
Q: If you were not in your current profession, what profession would you be in?
A: I come from a community known as the Sindhis, generally known to be businessmen. So, the answer is I would definitely be a businessman!
Q: Lastly, share with us your fondest memories of Maxwell Chambers or Maxwell Chambers Suites.
A: The occasion of the opening of Maxwell Chambers Suites in 2019 was a treat. I had the honour of meeting so many arbitration greats in just one night.