Interview Series - Chiann Bao

#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Chiann Bao, Arbitration Chambers

In this #10QuestionsWithMaxwell interview, we feature Chiann Bao, an arbitrator and a member of Arbitration Chambers. She is also a member of the Maxwell Steering Committee.

Chiann is a Chartered Arbitrator and a member of the panels of the major arbitration institutions worldwide. She has served as arbitrator in cases with a total value of several billion USD under both ad hoc and institutional arbitration rules.

She currently serves as a vice president of the ICC Court of Arbitration and is also a Vice Chair of the IBA Arbitration Committee. From 2010 to 2018 she served as the secretary general of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre and then as a Council Member. 

Chiann regularly speaks, writes and teaches on international arbitration and is an Advisory Board member of Kluwer’s Journal of International Arbitration. She is also a trustee and honorary senior fellow at the British Institute of International and Commercial Law. 

In this interview, she shares what makes a good arbitrator, the most memorable dispute she had been part of, advices to aspiring individuals who want to pursue a career in ADR, and more.

Read her full interview below:

Q: What do you think makes a good arbitrator?

A: A good arbitrator should not only be responsive and proactively engaged with the law and procedure, but he or she must also be self-aware of personal biases in order to adjudicate neutrally, leaving behind any conscious or unconscious biases that might hinder his or her ability to render an uninfluenced decision.

Q: Tell us your arbitration style.

A: It is hard to define my “style” per se as I would say that each arbitration will have a different prognosis. However, the tone I try to set for my arbitrations is one which strikes a balance between flexibility and firmness and in all cases requires civility. Given my multi-jurisdictional and multi-cultural background, I am also conscious of differences in culture and experience and account for this in my approach to each matter.

Q: Without sacrificing confidentiality, could you share with us the most memorable dispute you have been a part of?

A: Each case represents a building block of experience, the culmination of which forms trends and impressions I draw and learn from for the next matter. However, if I am to recall the most distinctively memorable case to date, it would be a New York based dispute involving the re-development of Ground Zero. Having the opportunity to do a site visit on the grounds of where 9/11 happened and then participating in a three-week hearing at a venue that overlooked the development of the site certainly impressed me deeply. 

Q: In your opinion, where does the future of international arbitration lie?

A: The future lies with a generation of diverse practitioners that will be more connected and more international than the current and certainly the previous generations. This in turn will lead to a greater democratization of international arbitration practitioners. With such opening of the field, I am hopeful we will see greater engagement and integration of the community.

This generation will also be fully immersed in technology. Without paper money and with the normalization of online instruction, gaming, and socialization, there will no longer be the steep learning curve of technology that many have resisted prior to the pandemic.

Q: Share with us a highlight or significant achievement in your legal career.

A: A recent achievement that might be worth sharing is my GAR “best lecture” award that I received for the Proskauer lecture on Iura Novit Arbiter. This was the first time I was nominated for a GAR award and I was truly honoured to see that others enjoyed the lecture as much as I enjoyed preparing and delivering it.

Q: In your perspective, how has COVID-19 changed arbitration proceedings? What are some significant challenges you have seen and how do you think they can be navigated?

A: COVID-19 has changed arbitration proceedings in the obvious ways – mixed-mode technology with hearings. Many skeptics have been converted and most practitioners are at ease when engaging with technology.

Time zone differences remain a key limitation to even greater reliance on technology for arbitration proceedings. Also, in the near term, there will be some jurisdictions that are slow to open borders. The idea of asynchronous hearings has been proposed as a potential solution to these challenges. While this may be a useful mechanism in theory, there seems to be a bit of reluctance by arbitrators and parties alike to adopt such an approach. Perhaps the best way to navigate such challenges is for arbitrators to raise procedural options for parties to consider. Even if such mechanisms are not adopted in those particular proceedings, simply circulating these ideas may prompt its use on a different occasion.

Q: What would you consider as the main driving factor(s) in your arbitration career?

A: Having started my career in the “traditional” international arbitration community, I now see that there are multiple “good places” to arbitrate and experienced arbitration practitioners can be found all over the world. I am driven by the possibility that arbitration might one day be truly international.

Q: What steps can younger legal practitioners take to improve their chances of getting appointments? Could you share some advice(s) to aspiring individuals who want to pursue a career in ADR.  

A: Most will advise that younger legal practitioners often get their first chance of appointments through institutions. I think that is probably true. So, I would advise getting to know institutions. This is not a simple email introduction or meal. Rather, be willing to roll up your sleeves and engage in work of the institution and the community in general. 

In terms of pursuing a career in ADR, I simply pass on the time-tested advice from others, and that is, ADR is simply a process. It can be learned, and most effectively by doing. So, if you are lawyer, be a good lawyer, and learn the substance. Each case brings new material from which you can learn and become more of an expert in a particular area. 

Q: To get to know you more on a personal level, could you share with us 3 fun facts about you that not many know about?

A: (a) My first job was at my parent’s candy/ice cream store, The Sugarplum Tree. My main responsibilities were to scoop ice cream into ice cream cones and fill candy jars. I can still make a pretty impressive ice cream sundae and identify whether a piece of chocolate is a nougat or a caramel or buttercream without referring to the chocolate box glossary.

(b) I ran the Oxfarm Trailwalkers 100K race with three other working mothers a few years back as part of a milestone birthday bucket list activity. Turns out we came in 2nd place in the all-girls category at 18:18.

(c) I love tabasco sauce or sriracha on almost anything. 

Q: Lastly, what is your impression of Maxwell Chambers?

A: Maxwell Chambers is iconic. Since it was established a short twelve years ago, Maxwell Chambers has set the standard for hearing centres around the world. In the pandemic Maxwell Chambers has created a virtual “town hall” for the arbitration community, not only in Singapore but internationally. 


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