Interview Series - Timothy Cooke

#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Timothy Cooke, Reed Smith

In this #10QuestionsWithMaxwell interview, we feature Timothy Cooke, a Partner at Reed Smith in Singapore. He is also a member of the Maxwell Steering Committee.

Timothy is an international arbitration barrister. He represents clients in arbitrations under the rules of the leading arbitral institutions with a focus on investment disputes in a wide range of sectors and across jurisdictions in Asia such as Vietnam, Indonesia, India and China. He has particular experience in complex joint venture and shareholder disputes, cases involving energy and natural resources, entertainment and media, and transportation. Timothy is also frequently appointed as sole, presiding and emergency arbitrator by arbitral institutions, fellow arbitrators and parties.

Timothy is consistently recognised as a leading individual, most recently by Chambers Asia-Pacific (2022) for Dispute Resolution: Arbitration – Singapore and by The Legal 500 Asia Pacific (2021) for International Arbitration. He has been recognised as a Litigation Star for International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution by Benchmark Litigation every year since 2017.

He is the author of the leading Singapore arbitration book, International Arbitration in Singapore: Legislation and Materials (Sweet & Maxwell, 2018), which has been cited with approval by the Singapore Courts and is independently reviewed as “an impressive comprehensive guide to the law and practice of international arbitration in Singapore”, “learned, succinct, and absolutely to the point” and “an invaluable resource” whose “breadth of coverage is truly remarkable”.

In this interview, he shares the most important qualities clients look for in an arbitrator, how younger arbitration practitioners can best position themselves in the current market, his favourite pastime and more.

Read his full interview below:

Q: What attracted you to a career in arbitration?

A: I started my career as a commercial barrister in England. I was interested in commercial disputes and I handled both litigation and arbitration. Therefore I was not focused exclusively on arbitration from the outset. I moved to Singapore in 2006 just at the time when arbitration work was on the rise and Singapore was establishing its reputation as a disputes hub. The timing was lucky.

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 is influenced so much by the parties and their lawyers and the tribunal, and to a lesser extent the nature and dynamics of the dispute itself. You might therefore expect there to be a wide variety of ways in which such a flexible procedure is exploited to suit different disputes. In some cases this is true, but if anything, arbitral proceedings over the years have become more uniform. The biggest change has undoubtedly been the advent of remote hearings in response to Covid-19. Whilst we will undoubtedly revert to in-person hearings in many cases, the use of video-conferencing as part of managing procedural efficiency is here to stay.  

Q: What do you find most challenging being an arbitration counsel and arbitrator?

A: The role of arbitration counsel changes over time, and so the challenges of junior arbitration lawyers may be quite different from those who are more senior. For example, getting advocacy experience as a junior arbitration lawyer is not easy, which is why in early years having a mixed litigation and arbitration practice can be beneficial. A more general challenge felt by counsel is the increased amount of doumentary analysis required in preparing cases. Disputes are far more heavily anchored to electronic documentation than they used to be. So much digital traffic is generated today that care is needed when managing document production and preparing evidence so that it does not overwhelm a case.

For those starting out as arbitrators, the biggest challenge is probably getting the first few appointments.

Q: How would you describe your day-to-day routine as an arbitration counsel and as an arbitrator?

A: My day-to-day routine is not especially enlightening and it varies wildly. The majority of my practice is mostly as arbitration counsel and I tend to hold only one or two appointments as arbitrator at a time. A lot of the day is spent working with my team on cases at various stages, attending client meetings and (at least before Covid) a fair amount of travel. In the last two years, we have had a lot of hearings in the evening to accommodate participants attending from places in different time zones.

Q: How do you like to wind down after a long day? Share with us your favourite pastime.

A: I play the piano every day – a great way to relax, though my neighbours might not feel the same way. We also have two English cocker spaniels at home, who have participated in many of my virtual hearings at home over the last two years.

Q: What do you believe are the most important qualities clients look for in an arbitrator?

A: Clients are generally most interested in relevant subject matter experience of an arbitrator and, to a lesser extent, a nominee’s experience with institutional rules. When assessing nominees proposed by an opposing party, there is often some cynicism on the part of clients that the opposing party’s nominee might not be independent or impartial, and so these qualities assume a greater significance. I am also starting to see some clients attach greater weight to diversity particularly in terms of considering female nominees.

Q: What steps do practitioners need to take in order to maintain their profile in the arbitration community?

A: Probably the best way to maintain profile is always to do the best job you can. Of course, attending conferences, giving talks and so on are also important, although there has been a shift away from this due to Covid in favour of creating and sharing content online. This shift is probably temporary however, and with Covid restrictions easing around the world, people are being drawn again to the value of personal interactions.

Q: Without sacrificing confidentiality, could you share with us one memorable case you handled?

A: One of my first ever cases involved a claim brought by a hairdresser against my client, a taxi driver, over the repayment of a loan for the purchase of a holiday caravan. Everything about the case was mundane and it appeared that core issue in the case was whether the money advanced was a gift or a loan. Then came the trial. The claimant hairdresser gave evidence and it swiftly became apparent that the parties had never discussed a loan. I am not sure the caravan even existed. Apparently my client had been paid £30,000 for a stash of drugs that he had failed to deliver to the hairdresser’s salon, which was a front. The proceedings descended into chaos as the hairdresser started insulting my client from the witness box in the most colourful language, and supporters of each party in the litigation who were sitting in the public gallery joined in the shouting. The judge dismissed the case on the spot and as everyone filed out of court a fight erupted, the hairdresser punched my client in the face and the police had to be called.

Q: How might younger arbitration practitioners best position themselves in the current market?

A: International arbitration has become an intensely competitive field. For younger practitioners, I would recommend obtaining as much advocacy experience as possible. There is no substitute for personally having to argue, explain, justify or defend your client’s position to an arbitrator or judge, be it a procedural posture, interim application or legal position.

Q: Lastly, what is 3 words that comes to your mind when we mention Maxwell Chambers?

A: First rate service.


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