#5QuestionswithMaxwell Green Edition: Peter Chow


#5QuestionswithMaxwell Green Edition: Peter Chow

In this #5QuestionsWithMaxwell interview, we feature Peter Chow, an independent arbitrator and arbitration counsel. 

Peter has substantial experience with high-stakes, complex international disputes globally, including those related to energy & natural resources, oil & gas, infrastructure & construction, and technology projects, shareholders, private equity investments and other commercial disputes. Prior to practising as an independent arbitrator and counsel, Peter was a partner at King & Spalding (Singapore) and Squire Patton Boggs (Hong Kong). He has held various leadership roles, including head of Asia disputes practice, global head of Greater China disputes practice, and head of office, as a partner at various international law firms.

In this interview, Peter provides some recommendations for arbitrators to adopt greener practices in their arbitration work and more. 

Download the PDF version of his interview or read his full interview below:

Q: What sustainability practices have you incorporated into your role as an arbitrator?   

I work practically paperless. I also take notes electronically on MS Word or MS OneNote. As far as possible, all my communications are by electronic means. I typically include a note in my procedural directions that I do not require hard copies of submissions and attachments submitted by the parties during the course of arbitration proceedings. I also do not require hard copies of hearing bundles.  

In my practice as counsel, I used to travel extensively – at one stage, on weekly basis. However, the pandemic and the widespread use of remote communications have resulted in greater acceptance in meeting by video conference instead of in person. Since becoming an independent arbitrator, I have had more control over when and where I travel to.   

I believe that sustainability does not mean no travel altogether, or that all hearings should be done remotely. There will be situations where travel is necessary. In some cases, in-person hearings are more effective for substantive hearings, particularly if they involve longer hearings. Personally, I find that face-to-face meetings are more effective for networking and for tribunal deliberations in more complex matters.  

For me personally, sustainability does not mean cutting out all non-sustainable practices. But it does mean taking a moment to think through whether some things can be done in a more sustainable and efficient manner, and to try to incorporate them where practical to do so.  

Q: What are your future sustainability goals as an arbitrator? Are there specific measures you plan to implement to promote greener arbitrations? 

I have not set any specific goals. But I am mindful that there are better ways of doing things, and I am constantly learning from others practical ways to avoid unnecessary waste and to work more efficiently.  

Admittedly, I first went “sustainable” for practical reasons rather than altruistic motivations. For example, I travelled a lot as counsel and it was impractical to carry hard copies of documents, especially when I worked on different cases. Moreover, sometimes unexpected queries came up which made more sense for me to access e-documents directly rather than relying on associates who might be located in different time zones. I was merely finding practical ways to help me to do my work more effectively and efficiently.   

As an arbitrator, however, I now have more flexibility on when and where I travel to. I seek to maximise my trips by accomplishing several objectives at one go, thereby reducing the number of trips overall. For example, wherever practical, I may make brief deviations or combine leisure with my work travel. 

I hope to engage more with fellow arbitrators and other arbitration practitioners on sustainability issues, and learn from them how to promote sustainability which can translate to cost-effectiveness. For example, tribunal members can decide whether we really need 100-volume hearing bundles in hard copies and displayed in the hearing room. In practice, very few documents are actually referred to in hard copies during a hearing; to save time, most documents are displayed on-screen during cross-examinations. 

Q: What essential technology devices do you rely on during hearings? 

I use a Microsoft Surface Pro as my primary device. It allows me to review and highlight documents in different colours.  Also, I jot down comments on MS Word or PDF documents using Surface Pen.  When comparing documents, I use split-screen or toggle functions or use another device (in my case, MS Surface Go) as a second screen.  When on a flight, I find it easier to use my MS Surface Go which is a smaller device.   

If the hearing is held at a hearing centre, there is usually no need for a second device, since the parties will have arranged for all necessary equipment and screens. For remote hearings from my home, a second device is handy for live transcripts. Maybe a third one as well for video screen. 

Q: In your opinion, what are the primary challenges hindering the adoption of greener practice in arbitration proceedings?  

I think one major impediment is under-estimating our own tech capability. Many years ago, I attended a hearing at Maxwell Chambers. I brought along all my trade tools – printed hearing bundles in my suitcase, my trusted printed notes with handwritten comments for cross-examinations, working documents, my trusty lever arch files. For good measure, I went into the hearing room a bit early to familiarize myself with the locations of all the hearing bundles. My opposing counsel was John Savage from King & Spalding (this was before I joined K&S). He sauntered into the room with his iPad. John conducted a very effective cross-examination using nothing but his notes on his iPad. I was very impressed with his tech use. I decided there and then to trade up my tools. Well, maybe not throw out all the hard copies immediately at one go – in case my tech devices decided to go on strike on me mid-hearing. But it didn’t take long before I became more confident with my tech skills and in the technology available. Even voluminous bundles are easy to collate and flag with colour-coded e-bookmarks. 

For many years as counsel, I had resisted using e-bundles because I preferred looking at paper hearing bundles and highlighting them with different colours and using different colour tags. Looking at paper bundles spatially also helped me to visualise doc locations. The paper-to-device transition was really mind-over-matter. Now that I have gone paperless for a number of years, I cannot imagine going back to hard copies again.  

But having said that, we need also to appreciate that different people work differently. Arbitrators and counsel who ask for hard copies aren’t necessarily environmentally unfriendly. They could be contributing to sustainability in other ways. Besides, there are different levels of awareness and personal convictions. Perhaps what is more important is for us to take the time individually to think through this sustainability issue and become a bit more aware. Step out of our comfort zone from time to time, not be afraid to make small changes, and gradually incorporate bigger ones into our work space. 

Q: Given your extensive experience in construction and energy & natural resources disputes, what are your thoughts on the role of renewable energy and carbon offsetting in mitigating the environmental impact of arbitration proceedings? 

As counsel, I have done work for oil and gas companies for many years. These companies are transitioning to cleaner energy – although not as swiftly as some would have liked. Reality is, it is not practicable to expect all companies to transition to renewables completely overnight. In some countries, there is a heavy reliance on LNG, for example, as this is considered a transitional fuel, providing a pathway towards renewable sources of energy in the future. The stakeholders are conscious of the environmental impact and are actively taking measures to engage more in combating climate change.  

The renewable projects that I have been involved in are mainly commercial for-profit projects. As end-users, we don’t have much control per se over the use of renewable energy in arbitration centres. But we can encourage service providers, including hearing centres, to adopt sustainable practices. For example, we can encourage the use of service providers and suppliers who promote renewable energy or who can demonstrate ESG credentials. Maxwell Chambers, for example, is one arbitration centre that stands out in its commitment to embrace sustainability. 

 I have read that the carbon footprint of an average international arbitration proceedings can be significant, and that a high percentage of carbon footprint is due to air travel. I get it that in many cases, air travel is unavoidable. But some airlines do offer carbon offset programmes where travellers can contribute to projects to improve the lives of people in regions where technology or means are unavailable yet to transition to more energy efficient ways. Obviously, this is a personal decision. 


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