#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Abhinav Bhushan, 39 Essex Chambers
Prior to joining the chambers, Abhinav was the Director for the ICC International Court of Arbitration, South Asia. Before being promoted as the ICC Court’s first Indian Director and moving from Paris to Singapore in January 2016, he was also the first Indian Deputy Counsel of the ICC Court. As Deputy Counsel he gained first-hand experience working on arbitrations arising out of common law jurisdictions, in particular working with parties from the United Kingdom, India, Singapore and other regions of Asia. Abhinav is a regular contributor to various publications on developments in international arbitration and Indian arbitration law. He is also an avid promoter of arbitration-related training opportunities for lawyers, corporate counsels, judges and other important stakeholders.
In this interview, he shared what inspired him to take on practice in international arbitration, joining 39 Essex Chambers, skills and traits he would encourage in the next generation of arbitration lawyers, his proudest achievement in his career, and more.
Read his full interview below:
Q: How has it been since taking on your current position at 39 Essex Chambers? Could you share your onward plans for the chambers?
A: Since I started with 39 Essex Chambers in late August 2021, to say it has been busy, would be an understatement. 39 Essex Chambers, unlike other English barrister sets, has significant presence in Asia with offices in Singapore & Malaysia and members living in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and Hong Kong. So, I have had to hit the ground running and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The onward plan is of course to build further in Asia! I am truly honoured to become a part of 39 Essex Chambers and work with some of the most exceptional lawyers in the world. With great support from the Government of Singapore, Members of Chambers & CEO, Lindsay Scott, our Singapore office, which has been around since 2012, will continue to focus in increasing our accessibility and providing cohesive advocacy and arbitral services to our clients in Asia. Asia and the rise in its economic activity creates an excellent opportunity – and I can’t wait to be a part of this growth story.
After spending close to a decade at the ICC, I now also look forward to sitting as arbitrator.
Q: What inspired you to take on practice in international arbitration?
A: The practice of the law has always been very attractive to me. I enjoyed my time at the Bombay High Court as a litigator, but nothing has challenged and excited me like the practice of international arbitration. The thrill of engaging in nuanced legal discussions regarding concepts and laws from jurisdictions across the world, instead of just one is something that I truly value.
I have always had a fondness for engaging with people of diverse backgrounds and advocating for what I believed in. International Arbitration gives you all that and more!
Q: In your opinion, in which jurisdictions will the future of international arbitration lie?
A: East & South!
We are witnessing a change, where the economy and investments are moving from the West to the East and from the North to the South. Today, Asia attracts more than half of total FDI in the world and this trend is likely to continue for the next few decades.
Investments in turn gives rise to disputes, and these disputes are seated in pro-arbitration jurisdictions, which are only increasing in the East and the South. The Government of Singapore with its thoughtful and pragmatic efforts has created an efficient arbitral ecosystem for international parties to “resolve in Singapore.” The rise of Singapore and it’s ranking as one of the top seats of arbitration in the world, is therefore well-deserved and unsurprising.
However, we have only scratched the surface so far, and I expect Singapore to grow from strength to strength, in the coming years.
Q: If you could introduce and change one thing about the arbitral system, what would it be?
A: On introduction: I have always dreamt about introducing a consolidated Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot fund (VIS Moot Fund) for those universities and students who are unable to afford the competition. As anyone who has been to the Vis will admit, the moot can truly be life changing. I have met so many young students who have started their careers in arbitration through the moot. I hope to someday be able to contribute to an initiative that provides that experience to every student who wishes to have it.
On change: Acceptance & Enforceability of arbitral awards is one of the fundamental pillars of arbitration. I wish I could change how awards are enforced in some jurisdictions. As an idealist, I would love to see consistency in enforcement but as a realist, a change is required where the stakeholders, particularly in developing jurisdictions, need to be sensitised about arbitration in general, and the enforcement of awards in particular.
Q: What skills and traits would you encourage in the next generation of arbitration lawyers?
A: In the race to do well, remember to be patient and to work hard. There is neither a short cut to success nor instant gratifications for things one does. Everything is on a simmer but in the end, the meal (if cooked right) is delicious! I have always maintained that while the international arbitration space is extremely competitive – if you stay the course and work hard, it is a space where opportunities will find you.
Q: Looking back in your career, what has been your proudest achievement?
A: My proudest achievement is to contribute to the evolution of arbitration and its practice in jurisdictions that did not have a developed arbitration bar or userbase: through trainings, master classes, arbitration literature, and assisting the next generation of arbitration lawyers.
Q: Contrary to the previous question, what is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career thus far?
A: Apart from being a first-generation lawyer, and some of the personal challenges that come with it; conducting education regarding arbitration and removing the myths that surround it have been most the challenging (and exciting) for me.
As someone who interacts with the clients of arbitration, I realise that there is never a dull day. It is never ending and requires a certain temperament to engage and spread that message on a daily basis, hoping that your message is clear and explained in a manner that the client would like to know or hear. This is particularly tricky when clients in less developed jurisdictions have had a poor experience with ad-hoc arbitration, for instance.
Q: Please tell us three things that others may not know about you.
1. I love mountains.
2. I aspire to compose verse in “Urdu”.
3. One day, I hope to write a blog or have an Instagram account on food and travel.
Q: If you weren’t in your current profession, what profession would you be in?
A: I am still battling with the thought whether I’d be a better Astro-photographer or a professional hodophile? Perhaps, both.
Q: Lastly, share with us what you like most about Maxwell Chambers or Maxwell Chambers Suites.
A: Maxwell Chambers is iconic. It’s a fixture of the arbitration world, and a physical reminder of the stunning progress Singapore has made in the field.