#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Yu-Jin Tay, Mayer Brown


#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Yu-Jin Tay, Mayer Brown

In this #10QuestionsWithMaxwell interview, we feature Yu-Jin Tay, President of Singapore Institute of Arbitrators (SIArb), Managing Partner of Mayer Brown’s Singapore Office and a Co-leader of the firm’s global international arbitration practice.

He has practised in Singapore, London, Paris and Washington DC and has over 20 years of international arbitration experience across a wide range of sectors including energy/oil and gas, natural resources, defence procurement, technology and manufacturing, construction and infrastructure and investment arbitration, involving the world’s leading arbitral seats and institutions. Since 2001, he has practised investment treaty arbitration and in 2013 was designated to ICSID’s Panels of Arbitrators and Conciliators. Yu-Jin was one among four Asian lawyers featured in Global Arbitration Review’s 2011 global 45 under 45 ranking and has been ranked among the top partners in Arbitration: Future Leaders for consecutive years. He is listed annually as leading individual in legal directories including GAR’s International Who’s Who (since 2010), in the Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, India and Asia-wide chapters of Chambers Asia-Pacific and Legal 500 (since 2008). In addition to counsel work, Yu-Jin sits regularly as presiding, sole and co-arbitrator in ICC, SIAC, HKIAC, LCIA, VIAC and ad hoc arbitrations. He is a Fellow and President of the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators. He is also a member of the specialist mediator panel of the Singapore International Mediation Centre. 

In this interview, Yu-Jin shares his ADR style and practices, advice to young ADR practitioners, his role in the development of Maxwell Chambers and more.

Read his full interview below:

Q: How did you become involved in international arbitration?

By accident.  I was on a state scholarship and ended up reading law in London to pursue a career in the public service.  My interests at the time were international relations, public policy and history but I also developed an interest in advocacy during my pupillage in London.  I returned to Singapore after six years and worked a few years in the civil service, after which I was headhunted to join what was then one of the world’s top international arbitration practices.  That was a turning point which led to opportunities to work in Paris and DC, after which, I decided to return to Asia nearly 20 years ago to focus on developing an Asia-focused practice just as arbitration was taking off in the region. 

Q: Share with us your arbitration and ADR style and practices.

As an advisor or counsel, it is said that I have a strong commercial understanding and a strategic approach.  This is probably the result of my interests as well as spending a lot of time with business people.  Over time, one acquires experience of a wide range of industry sectors and markets, as well as an appreciation of geopolitical complexities and cultural nuances which often are relevant.  This could mean that I spend time with clients to achieve solutions that may not entail an arbitral award or judgment.  As counsel, I also think that it is important to help a Tribunal chart a path through a case and focus on the dispositive issues that really matter.  As arbitrator, my style and approach depends on the profile of a particular case and may also be influenced by co-arbitrators and counsel.  As mediator, my wide experience helps me to identify interests and issues quickly.  I am also a fairly quick study of the relevant dynamics and am culturally sensitive, which has been helpful.

Q: Over your many years of experience, could you share one memorable case you have handled?

Like most others, my cases are memorable for different reasons but one that I keep coming back to is from the defence sector in Europe many years ago – maybe a Netflix series or movie should be made about it one day!  It has all the elements of a great drama (and thriller).

Q: What do you see are the new developments in the new ADR space?

There have already been so many innovations recently that some new developments may involve repurposing old tools.  We can probably expect a new version of the SIAC Rules to be out for consultation soon, as part of the SIAC’s periodic revisions of its rules to take into account contemporary trends and user feedback.  The Singapore courts are also making a concerted effort to incorporate arbitration user feedback as regards its arbitration-related caseload.  This reflects a court system that is committed to remaining at the forefront globally.  We can expect more dispute resolution-related thought leadership to emerge from Singapore.  With a greater willingness of parties to think about arbitration with mediation, I also wonder whether we might see a return of interest in neutral evaluation as well.  One possibility that has been on my mind is whether parties and counsel would welcome an optional stage in the procedure – probably relatively early on but, equally possibly, mid-way through the case – whereby the parties agree to take a break from the arbitration to go before a third party non-arbitrator for a neutral evaluation.  Like mediation, the procedure for the neutral evaluation can be customised to the case and it may be agreed that neither side is to refer to its outcome before the Tribunal.  The neutral evaluation could facilitate or be used in conjunction with a mediation.  It need not be time-consuming or expensive and can result in narrowing of issues even in large and complex disputes.  We may see a return of popularity of neutral evaluations in certain sectors before others.

Q: What advice would you give to young practitioners who want to enter the ADR field?

It is increasingly competitive and more than ever one needs to have the determination to succeed and stay the course.  There are many who will drop out.  This type of work generally requires a strong academic foundation.  Beyond that, be authentic, personable and play as a team.  Arbitration is a career that rewards those with rich cultural perspectives so diverse experiences are valuable – taking a path less travelled may not be a bad thing so feel free to take some risks.  If you are looking for a job – speak to as many people as possible to develop an understanding of the market.  If you are starting out, apprenticeships are still helpful.  I have hosted a lot of interns in my team this summer and am impressed by many of them.

Q: Not only are you the President of SIArb but also the Managing Partner of Mayer Brown’s Singapore office.  How do you manage your time?

I work harder.

Q: As a busy person wearing multiple hats, how do you find time for your personal commitments?

I do spend quite a lot of time with my family, which includes three young children (aged 10, 8 and 4).  My wife and I keep coordinated diaries so that I can consciously block time off to prioritise family, friends and particular commitments.

Q: If you weren’t in your current profession, what profession would you be in?

Possibly in the public service. 

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? 

1. I won a tiramisu competition decades ago with a simple family recipe and ended up on a Sunday morning television programme.  The all-expenses paid trip to Italy was a real treat.

2. I have been knighted a chevalier – you can have fun figuring out the context.   

3. I have been collecting art for decades.  I still serve on the board of a local museum and have recently been involved in organising a biennale.  It is a pleasant antidote to the day job.

Q: Can you share with us a memorable experience at Maxwell Chambers? 

As a Singaporean, I continue to be proud of the fact that we have Maxwell Chambers.  There was a lot of consulting in the early 2000’s leading up to the decision to establish Maxwell Chambers and the early years of promoting it.  My most personal memory of Maxwell Chambers is the small role that I played in advocating for it even as a young lawyer in Paris and the process that led to its inception.  It was not obvious at the time that a ‘one-stop shop’ like this would be so popular and Singapore is the first to conceive of it.


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