#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Peter Yuen, Fangda Partners
Mr. Yuen’s practice spans a number of areas including international and regional arbitration, China-related commercial arbitration and complex commercial litigation. Peter regularly acts for clients in complex commercial disputes before the Hong Kong courts and is experienced as coordinating counsel in cross-border multi-jurisdictional disputes, particularly in matters involving court proceedings in China. He has also established a busy practice in regulatory and corporate compliance and has conducted a considerable number of corporate internal investigations in Hong Kong and China.
Although Mr. Yuen’s professional career to date has focused on counsel work, he also accepts arbitral appointments and sits as arbitrator. He is on the panel of BAC and the Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration and on the list of HKIAC arbitrators.
In this interview, Peter shares his first brush with arbitration, about Fangda International Arbitration in Singapore, his new passion these days and more.
Read his full interview below:
Q: How did you become interested in pursuing arbitration?
One evening while I (as a first seat trainee) was busy paginating trial bundles for two associates I shared a room with, a dashing gentleman with a full set of white hair came in. The two associates immediately dropped what they were doing, all eyes transfixed on this gentleman…not a word spoken as if they had just been graced by the presence of a superior being. One of the associates was spoken to by this gentleman, then he turned around, looked at me and asked “who are you?”. I duly announced my station. Not a word, the gentleman walked out. The relief in the air was distinctly felt. I then asked, in my usual ignorant tone “who was that?” “The great Jan Paulsson” one of the associates exclaimed. That was my first brush with arbitration, and I thought to myself – I want to be as cool as that guy, so international arbitration became the obvious choice.
Q: What is one of the notable cases you have handled and your experience in it?
As Counsel, it would be one that I was facing a team of advocates from a major international firm in which almost all (and I do mean all) significant Hong Kong contract law issues arose and thoroughly argued. It was a very tough (but ultimately rewarding) win.
As arbitrator, it would be the one in which I had to ignore all of the witness evidence from both sides as none of the witnesses was credible. It was not an easy award to write.
Q: What are the key principles you apply when handling cases?
(a) Be humble – you don’t know it all, and it pays to LISTEN to your clients.
(b) Be diligent – every piece of paper tells a story!
(c) Be strategic – you don’t need to win every battle, some of them are simply not worth fighting but always stay focused on winning the war.
Q: What are some changes you wish to see in arbitration?
It used to be said (at least when I started doing arbitration) that one of the advantages of arbitration is the saving in time and costs. This ceases to be the case a long time ago I am afraid. Parties are often arguing points and/or producing pages and pages of written submissions with bundles of exhibits which don’t really matter at the end of the day. Parties need to step back and evaluate from time to time their position with these three words in mind – Why (i.e. why are you making this argument or taking certain issues or adducing certain factual or expert evidence), How (i.e. how are you going to make good the point, or prove a certain factual / expert issues, how easy or difficult is it to do so convincingly at trial?), and What (i.e. to what end? What would you get out of it? What does this mean to achieving your end game, and more importantly what the risks and cost consequences are). I genuinely believe if practitioners pay more attention to these questions, the dispute will be much more focused, and much time and costs will be saved.
I also think arbitrators can be more pro-active during the arbitration and actively try to get the parties to focus on narrowing their issues with reference to the keys questions I mentioned above.
Q: Fangda Partners set up Fangda International Arbitration in Singapore. What made you decide to set up a dispute resolution branch in Singapore?
Fangda’s arbitration practice has always had a strong international angle, drawing strengths from our solid PRC base and expanding globally via Hong Kong. For our international arbitration practice, Singapore and wider Southeast Asia have always been jurisdictions of tremendous interest, largely driven by our clients who view Singapore as an important part of wider Asian arbitration offering, in addition to Hong Kong.
In the last couple of years, our clients’ interest in Singapore has grown stronger, in particular in the context of various geopolitical and policy changes in Hong Kong, in the mainland, and beyond.
As a practice head, I tend to anticipate rather than react, and with that in mind, taking up arbitration tenancy at Maxwell Chambers in Singapore earlier this year seemed like an important step to me in order to be able to cater to the shifting disputes landscapes in the PRC, in Hong Kong, and globally.
I am happy to observe that in the first couple of months of our Maxwell tenancy, we have secured several referrals via Singapore for our PRC-based teams, as well as a large-scale Singapore seated SIAC arbitration. We have deepened our relationship with best friends firms and counsel in Singapore, readying to offer trusted Singapore law connections to our client base, and we have commenced fruitful collaborations with Singapore legal community with respect to inbound PRC matters that require solid PRC law input. I am optimistic about our tenancy’s performance in the coming years, not least because the Maxwell Chambers team has been tremendously welcoming and forthcoming in accommodating our needs in Singapore.
Q: What advice would you give to young practitioners who want to enter the ADR field?
(a) Ask yourself – do you really want it? The practice of dispute resolution is not for everyone. You need to invest the time, lose some sleep and be prepared to argue points that you might not like and/or don’t believe in.
(b) Find your niche area(s), and focus on developing your areas as your career progresses, with a view to becoming the thought leader in your chosen areas.
Q: How does a typical day look like for you?
Answering questionnaire like this one….?
Seriously, I don’t have a “typical day” and I actually try to avoid having one. Life is so much more interesting without one.
Q: We heard you are an art enthusiast. Who are some of your favourite artists?
I was but no longer. Solo camping (with my collection of camping cars) is my passion these days (so long as the camp site has wireless reception).
Q: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self?
Ignore me (the older self), never look back and never speculate what life might or might not have been. Stay true to yourself and stay on course.
Q: Describe Maxwell Chambers in 3 words/phrase.
As a Hong Kong guy, I have three words when I think of Maxwell:
(a) Envy – A one-stop-shop housed in such a magnificent building is simply adorable.
(b) Professional – I am so pleased so have met so many of the excellent and well-trained staff at Maxwell.
(c) Competition (?) – Haha. No, I meant Comradeship. I believe there is so much synergies to be had, and common values and experience to be shared, between Hong Kong and Singapore practitioners and Maxwell is the perfect place for that to happen.