#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Gloria Lim, Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC)
As the Chief Executive Officer, Gloria works closely with the Chairman and the Board in formulating and fulfilling the vision and strategies for SIAC, and is responsible for the overall management and operations of the institution.
Gloria was previously the Director of the Legal Industry Division in Singapore’s Ministry of Law (MinLaw) and concurrently held the statutory appointment of Director of Legal Services, heading its Legal Services Regulatory Authority which oversees the regulation of all law practice entities providing legal services in Singapore and the registration of lawyers working in international law practice entities. As Director of the Legal Industry Division, she oversaw the development of Singapore’s legal sector, as well as the development and promotion of the international dispute resolution regime in Singapore.
Gloria headed the Singapore delegation involved in the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group II (Dispute Settlement) discussions from 2019-2021 and continues to participate as a member of the delegation as an industry expert. Gloria brings with her cross-sector experience in legal policy, alternative dispute resolution and community mediation in MinLaw.
Gloria graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and is called to the Singapore Bar. In 2008, Gloria was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Bronze) for her contributions as General Manager of the Community Mediation Unit. In 2016, she was awarded the Public Administration Medal (Silver) for her contributions as Director of the Legal Industry Division. She also holds a Graduate Certificate in International Arbitration from NUS and an LL.M from Harvard University.
In this interview, she shares her onward plans for the institution in the next 2-3 years, leadership lessons she has learnt, what she would say to her younger self, and more.
Read her full interview below:
Q: Newly appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of SIAC, what do you look forward to achieve in this role? Could you share with us your onward plans for the institution in the next 2-3 years.
A: SIAC has over the years built up a strong international branding, and we hope to continue to enhance its recognition as one of the world’s leading arbitral institutions globally. Apart from our headquarters in Singapore, we also have representative offices in China, India, USA and Korea. We were very encouraged that in the Queen Mary University of London and White & Case International Arbitration Survey released in May 2021, SIAC ranked as the most preferred arbitral institution in the Asia-Pacific, and 2nd among the world’s top 5 arbitral institutions. It is my mission to build on these good foundations, and continue to grow SIAC’s global presence as an institution, with a focus on providing our users with accessible, efficient, high quality case management services, leveraging technology wherever possible. We will be looking at expanding the SIAC teams and building our internal capabilities so that we can serve our users better.
In terms of outreach, SIAC will also continue to improve the content and training approaches for our SIAC Academy, with a view to creating meaningful platforms for the international dispute resolution community to convene, co-create, exchange ideas and develop thought leadership in the area of international dispute resolution. One key focus going forward would be initiatives to support the development of the next generation of arbitration practitioners and arbitrators.
Q: You have played an active role in developing the mediation landscape in Singapore since the early 2000s. How do you think the mediation landscape has evolved since?
A: My initial foray into mediation was when I was tasked to develop the Community Mediation Centres. That was in the early 2000s. We were still laying the foundations for mediation. The Singapore Mediation Centre was set up in 1997 to handle commercial disputes, and the Community Mediation Centre was set up in 1998 to handle community disputes. The Courts were also working on promoting use of mediation for certain types of disputes. At that time, the focus was largely on domestic disputes. As mediation was fairly new to members of the public, we had to do a lot of public education, to explain the mediation process and persuade them about mediation’s benefits. It took some time for mediation to become more prevalent, but I think it is fair to say that mediation has become an important mode through which many of our domestic community, social and commercial disputes are resolved today.
The impetus for developing Singapore’s international mediation framework came about a decade later, having learnt from our experience in growing international arbitration. In 2013, our Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Minister for Law, K Shanmugam convened an international expert working group to look into developing Singapore into a centre for international commercial mediation. The working group’s recommendations resulted in various important developments such as the enactment of a Mediation Act to strengthen enforceability of mediated settlement agreements, as well as the establishment of the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC), and the Singapore International Mediation Institute (SIMI).
The mediation landscape in Singapore today is vibrant. We have an active mediator community in Singapore, and there continues to be growing interest in mediation. The coming into force of the Singapore Convention on Mediation in 2020 has given mediation a boost by strengthening the international enforceability of mediated settlements. Commercial parties are now more willing to give mediation a try for their cross-border disputes, and we can see that from the Singapore International Mediation Centre’s growing caseload.
Q: What is the one major change you have seen in the ADR scene over the past years, apart from the increase in virtual/hybrid hearings?
A: The one major change is that ADR has become prevalent in international commercial dispute resolution. Processes like arbitration have become mainstream, and the preferred mode used by commercial parties to resolve their cross-border disputes. This can be seen in the exponential growth SIAC’s caseload has experienced over the past decade. Mediation, which has been used widely in domestic areas is now gaining a lot of attention and traction in the commercial space, particularly in light of the coming into force of the Singapore Convention on Mediation. The strong support that we have seen for the Singapore Convention by countries, shows that ADR processes that provide parties with time efficient, flexible and cost-effective solutions are increasingly relevant in this fast-changing global landscape.
Q: In your opinion, where does the future of ADR lie?
A: Arbitration will remain an important mode of dispute resolution, simply because of the widespread adoption of the New York Convention. With more countries signing and ratifying the Singapore Convention, mediation will likewise also gain popularity over time. In general, I would say that the future of ADR lies in ensuring that parties have a smorgasbord of options that they can use to resolve their particular dispute, and it may be that different ADR processes would be relevant for resolving different aspects of their dispute. Hybrid processes like arb-med-arb, which SIAC and SIMC have worked together to jointly offer, could also be relevant, as the “med” portion of the process, even if unsuccessful, could be useful in helping parties to resolve some issues and leave the most intractable issues to arbitration.
Q: Could you share some advice to aspiring individuals who might want to pursue a career in ADR?
A: ADR is about solutioning – finding the most appropriate way to help others solve their problems. I would encourage aspiring individuals to get involved in actual cases, see which mode of dispute resolution speaks to their strengths – whether arbitration, mediation or the whole gamut, and then seek opportunities to learn from seniors and practitioners who do it well. What is important is to have a desire to help, to seek to understand the needs of others, and most of all, be willing to take up the challenge of dealing with difficult situations.
Q: In many of our past interviews, many senior arbitrators have mentioned that one way for young lawyers to look for their first arbitral appointment is through arbitral institutions like SIAC. What are your thoughts?
A: One of SIAC’s objectives is to help young practitioners to grow. We believe that building a strong pipeline of talented new entrants to the field will spur the continued growth and development of international arbitration, open the way for fresh ideas and innovation, and support continued diversity and inclusivity within the arbitration community. In order to develop this pipeline, younger practitioners must be given opportunities and platforms where their talents can be discovered and developed. For these reasons, SIAC is supportive of giving younger practitioners opportunities for appointment and exposure. Through the YSIAC, we also want to continue to build platforms where the up-and-coming international disputes practitioners and arbitrators can come together, sharpen each other’s skills and grow their thought leadership. This is an important area for SIAC in the coming years.
Q: In reaching the level of success you have, if anything – what have you sacrificed along the way? Would you have done anything differently?
A: To me, success is not about position or status, but being in a position to add value and to bring about transformation and make a difference. I see it as a privilege to have been in the different roles that I’ve experienced, whether in the public or now, private sector. Any leadership role involves some level of sacrifice of personal time, and it requires a lot of understanding and support from family and loved ones, but I have found it worthwhile and meaningful. I have enjoyed my pursuits so far, and couldn’t think of anything I would have done differently.
Q: What’s a leadership lesson you’ve learnt that’s unique to being a female leader?
A: The qualities of being a good leader transcends gender. I have learnt that it is about authenticity and to lead with a view to bringing out the best in yourself and your team. To be a leader, you need to have a heart for people, and to care about their development, growth and progression. It is important to be willing to invest time in people, and I believe that it is unselfish leadership that will grow an organisation. Having good mentors and role models along the way helps as well in that leadership growth journey.
Q: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self?
A: I would say this not just to my younger self, but to all young professionals. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. The sky’s the limit. Value and nurture the relationships that matter, and invest your time and talent for the larger good.
Q: Lastly, share with us your fondest memories of Maxwell Chambers / Maxwell Chambers Suites.
A: In my former role in government, I was intimately involved in the development of Maxwell Chambers and Maxwell Chambers Suites. I was a member of the Project Steering Committee and chaired the Project Working Committee that looked into the expansion project for Maxwell Chambers Suites. My fondest memories are seeing the transformation of the building through the refurbishment process. As it was a conservation building, we learnt many things about conservation and we sought to preserve many of the historical elements of the building while modernising it for office use. We had to work closely with the architects and looked at the details for every nook and cranny of the building, and its environment – down to where the fire hydrants outside had to be situated! One of the most fascinating feats was the link bridge between the two buildings. It was pre-fabricated and then hoisted up into the air and fastened between Maxwell Chambers and Maxwell Chambers Suites overnight. For anyone visiting Maxwell Chambers and Maxwell Chambers Suites, I recommend that you must walk through the link bridge at the third storey. Consequently, the bridge leads to SIAC’s front entrance, and we welcome you to visit us en route!