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Justice Talk with Evan Slavitt: From Litigation to Arbitration and Beyond
5 min read
Most people are familiar with litigation from all the TV shows and pop culture references filled with exciting drama. However, not many know about arbitration wherein problems and disputes are settled in a more amicable way. What are the differences between the two? What works better in a commercial and business setting? And most importantly, what lies in the future? We spoke with Evan Slavitt, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of AVX Corporation and former litigation attorney, about his experience moving from litigation to arbitration and his opinion on the evolution of the legal landscape. Evan Slavitt: From Litigation to Arbitration Evan told us that when he started his career, he wanted to immediately gain valuable experience working directly in a court. This is why after graduating from Harvard Law School, he worked at the United States Department of Justice where he was both a trial attorney in Washington as well as an Assistant US Attorney in the District of Massachusetts. Later on, he moved to private practice as a trial attorney for another 25 years, but at this time, Evan was looking for something more in his career. “The problem with being a trial lawyer is it's a little bit like the CSI show — you show up, there's a dead body on the ground, you're just arguing over whose fault it was, and nobody's happy to see you,” Evan explains. “So I decided I wanted to try a job where I could actually make people's lives better and avoid problems, rather than just arguing over who killed the dead body. That’s about fifteen years ago,” he says, talking about the time he grabbed the opportunity to work with AVX Corporation as their general counsel. Evan says that the journey thus far has been delightful. “It's very different from being a trial attorney because if I'm extremely successful, nobody knows because the problem doesn't come up or the problem stays small. And it gives me a chance not just to be productive, but to look at different areas and come up with new ideas, so I've enjoyed it." Efficiency in Arbitration With his extensive experience in both litigation and arbitration, Evan says that he strongly prefers arbitration as a general counsel. He believes that when managed appropriately, arbitration can be faster, cheaper, and more confidential than litigation. “Arbitration is not a switch where you either have it or you don't. Arbitration is more like an article of clothing that you can pick out to fit your company's needs,” Evan tells us. “The key is to make sure that the arbitration clause matches the expectations,” he says. “If I want arbitration to be faster and cheaper, I have to do two things. One, I have to write an arbitration clause that really focuses everybody, including the lawyers down the road while also ensuring that I‘m adhering to my goal of getting a quicker and affordable resolution that is comprehensive but not exhaustive. And two, I have to make sure that both the trial counsel and the arbitrator who gets picked gets that message from me to keep things moving.” He also shares how he ensures that arbitration is done smoothly, “Trial lawyers have a tendency to turn things into trials because that's what they're used to. My job as a general counsel is to keep them on track to understand that as the client, I want things to be faster and I want things to be more efficient, even if it means that they don't do some of the things that they would do in exhaustive five-year litigation,” he explains. This type of efficiency is something that is definitely laudable but to push the envelope further, Evan believes that technology is critical. Technology in Arbitration “From my point of view, the technology in the legal landscape is always understood to be a tool and not a goal in and of itself.” Evan opines as he shares his thoughts on technology in the legal sector. “In other words, web meetings, or even web-conducted arbitrations, you don't do it just because you can, you do it because it either makes things faster, affordable, or more efficient,” he says. This is why whenever Evan sees a new innovation or tool in the legal landscape, he initially asks how it could make the process more efficient for him as a general counsel or for the company as a whole. By doing this, he eliminates tools that may be too complex to be truly useful. “And there have been a lot of new useful things that have come out,” Evan tells us, “For example, I used to sit at my desk for half an hour a day just signing documents as Corporate Secretary. Now with DocuSign, I can save time. That's just a small example of a legal technology tool that has made everything that much faster and more efficient.” With this, Evan says that he can now process documents in just two days rather than two weeks. Aside from this, he also shares another bigger example of how technology has helped him in arbitration. “We had an arbitration with the counterparties in Australia,” he starts, “Now, if we were going to do that the regular way, I would have had to pack up myself along with the witnesses from here in the US, and we would have had to fly to Australia in order to resolve this arbitration.” Obviously, this method would have cost more in terms of time and money. “Instead, we did a digital arbitration through a virtual hearing,” Evan shares, “As a result, my team became better prepared and were more efficient in using their time productively. In the end, digital arbitration helped us resolve the dispute much faster than we would have a decade ago.” With technology at play in arbitration, Evan said that regardless of who won or lost, they were all winners because of how efficient the procedure was. An Exciting Future Ahead Technology’s role in today’s legal landscape, especially in arbitration, is something that Evan is excited about. “I think COVID accelerated something that was going to happen over the next five years. But instead of it taking that much time, we made a lot of progress in a very short period of time because necessity compelled us,” Evan tells us. Despite the excitement though, Evan also warns about the possible pitfalls of technology. “One downside of technology is there's so much more information that is immediately available now, so the question is, how do you manage that?” he asks, “It used to be that when you had a dispute, there were maybe 20 or 30 letters that people actually wrote to each other. Now, there are thousands of emails and other means of communication to go through.” “Luckily, new technologies like artificial intelligence help sort and examine documents to manage these huge bulks of information,” Evan explains, hopeful that the pitfalls brought by the speed at which technology is accelerating the world would also be solved by technology. This type of AI technology is something that Evan says he’s excited about. “As a trial lawyer, the incredible advances in using AI to identify relevant documents in a huge morass of information and to organize those things — that has been a transcendent experience,” he shares. “I still remember going into warehouses with box after box of archives,” he recalls, “Now, the people that I work with can find relevant documents or hone in on a particular point, in less than a day rather than weeks.” Evan has also been sharing his valuable insight as both a general counsel and arbitrator with the Jur product team to help build the upcoming Jur Arbitration Platform. He shares that he’s hopeful about how the platform is shaping up.“I think that the platform is trying to move one step past the traditional convening authorities to make it much more effective and efficient. ” he says.  Evan’s outlook on technology in arbitration is infectiously positive with a hint of warranted caution — just the perfect blend for a future of justice filled with possibilities.

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Will Virtual Hearings Stay in the Post-Covid Era?
Global lockdowns have forced courts and arbitral institutions to adapt and adopt virtual hearings. With the world slowly inching back to the normal way of life, will virtual hearings still be here? To answer this question, we spoke with legal tech and arbitration experts, Sebastian Mejia, Sophie Nappert, and Ben Giaretta, on the prevalence of virtual hearings in a post-COVID world. Sebastian Mejia “What impressed me most about the virtual hearing process was how lawyers worked more effectively and efficiently.” For international lawyer Sebastian Mejia, virtual hearings will be here to stay because of how efficient it is. He shared with us an experience in handling a billion-dollar dispute wherein digital arbitration and virtual hearing were used. In his experience, he said that a hybrid model, one wherein physical and virtual modes are used, is the most efficient. Instead of simply doing the virtual hearing separately from home offices, Sebastian and their team worked in hubs from all over the world. “The virtual hearing process went very well. What impressed me the most was how lawyers worked more effectively and efficiently,” Sebastian said. Sophie Nappert “I think taking evidence online is completely possible. Actually, we've been doing it now for a year and a half.” International arbitrator and co-founder of ArbTech, a digitally inclined community of international arbitrators, Sophie Nappert is aware that there is apprehension in the legal community when it comes to virtual hearings.  “This is [one of the] reasons why arbitration, and the courts for that matter, have resisted for so long to take everything online, because even advocates like barristers and lawyers who plead would say, ‘I can't cross-examine, it makes no sense, there's a whole lot of body language, chemistry, and human interaction that you don't even have to speak and you convey information.’” Sophie says. However, she believes that taking evidence online is completely possible. After all, one could also misjudge a lie or truth in person, so doing it online can have little difference. The key here would be ensuring that the process is transparent and fair to ensure that the gathering of evidence during a virtual hearing would be accurate. Ben Giaretta “Video conferencing nowadays is remarkable. It will be surprising to have a case which doesn’t involve video conferencing in the future.” Ben Giaretta, an international commercial arbitrator and Chair of the London Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, believes that the pandemic accelerated our access to virtual hearings, thus, it will only continue to proliferate. “The pandemic has accelerated people's access to video conferencing. The fact that we now have this software on all our computers and phones is remarkable,” he says. In its wake, Ben believes that video conferencing will only continue to be part of every arbitral procedure and he believes that it will be part of more future cases. Even more boldly, he predicts that virtual reality may be implemented in the future to really push the boundaries of virtual hearings. The adoption of virtual hearings in a post-COVID era seems to be inevitable. Anyway, we were probably already headed there — the pandemic has only accelerated it. With that, we could expect that virtual hearings will be part of our new normal.
Justice Talk with Nick West: The Now and Next in the Legal Industry
The future is indeed uncertain, but with the proper preparation and learning from the best practices of the present, one can ensure its success. This applies to many things, including the adoption and implementation of legal tech. But exactly how can that be done? We spoke with Nick West, Chief Strategy Officer of Mischon de Reya on his experience in implementing innovation in the legal industry, and how he sees it evolving in the coming years. Nick West: On the science of law, technology and business “I was doing legal tech 15 years ago, back when no one was calling it legal tech yet,” says Nick West, the Chief Strategy Officer of Mishcon de Reya LLP. Nick took up chemistry in university and studied law with the intention to work on intellectual property, copyright, and trademarks. He then moved to McKinsey & Company in early 2000 wherein he did a lot of strategy work on emerging technologies, right at the beginning of web 2.0. Armed with his rigorous scientific background and expertise in business and tech, Nick led a career in legal tech. Aside from being a Partner and Chief Strategy Officer of Mischon de Reya and Founder of MDR LAB, an accelerator program for tech start-ups in the legal space. He is also an advisor of many illustrious organizations such as the Oxford Deep Tech Dispute Resolution Lab, King’s College London, and AIFC LawTech Advisory Council, to name a few. In his prolific career that afforded him his domain knowledge as a lawyer with the functional capability of strategy and technology, we asked Nick about his experience with legal tech now and how he thinks it will progress in the future. Foresight in Action  To look into the now and the next, we must first prepare in the past. We asked Nick about this and he shared with us a story of how Mishcon de Reya’s foresight helped them be more ready for today and the years to come. “Mischon did a piece of work, envisioning the next 10 years. We’re a London-based firm and we've always benefited from our location since it’s such an important place to litigate. However, the world is changing and becoming more globalized. Now, how do we adapt to a global infrastructure?” Nick says. In this effort, the team sought to achieve three goals to ensure that they are future-ready. “First, we need to make sure that our core technology stack is modern and fit for purpose for the 2020s. Next, running our business should be fit for the 2020s, meaning we need to know how to market in ways that are modern and digital. And finally, we need our people to be technologically equipped” Nick explains. “In this process, we realized the importance of data and data science, so we invested in our data team,” he says “We took decisions to be very forward-leaning with technology and work with new technologies as quickly as possible, whether they are new technologies like blockchain, or whether they are just new technology players in an existing technology space.” Through this, Nick was able to lead his team and firm to be a top player and industry leader in the legal technology space. One evidence of this is MDR Lab, Mischon de Reya’s accelerator program for legal tech start-ups, wherein Jur has had the opportunity to be a part of. The Now: Breaking barriers and norms “The biggest challenge is adoption, it always is,” Nick opens when we asked him about the most difficult part of legal tech implementation, “It's because behavior change is always the hardest thing to do. So it doesn't matter how brilliant the piece of technology is, there will always be people who don't want to pay attention and adapt to it.” However, the current pandemic has accelerated the rate of legal tech adoption. “COVID, in all of its awfulness, has honestly been a really good catalyst for change. Suddenly, everybody had to do things in a different way.” Nick says. An example of this experience is how digital signatures have become much more accepted. “We've been talking about digital or electronic signatures for years, and we've been using it for years, but not in a way that you could get everybody to use it all the time for all signatures because all people saw was risk,” he says, remembering how there were only specific documents back then wherein electronic signatures would be acceptable. However, e-signatures are now much more accepted in many documents, and Nick says that this is a welcome development. “It’s always difficult at first, but once you break through that barrier, there's no going back. Once it's done, it’s done and everyone's now comfortable with it,” he says. This practice of finding the right path to ensure tech adoption is something that Nick enjoys, “Every so often the path isn’t quite clear yet and you spend a lot of time working on it. That is something that I love doing. A good example of that is how we’re working with Jur.” The Next: Catering to a dynamic global market For Nick, the next chapter of legal tech innovation and adoption is not simply about the technology — it will be about the problems that the technologies will solve. “I tend not to look for the next big thing, but rather think about the dynamics,” he declares. “We at Mishcon are clearly well-made for large, complicated disputes, where we use a lot of brainpower to figure out the answer to a dispute. Our process works well for those larger disputes, but it's not very good for small routine disputes,” he says, “This is why I immediately got very interested in the concept of online dispute resolution.” However, just like the present, the future is still riddled with the same problem — adoption. And aside from people’s appetite towards innovation, Nick says that changes at the governmental level is a key factor. “We can agree to do whatever we like to resolve a dispute, but if that's not enforceable, then it's not worth doing. Which is why system change at a governmental level is important to innovate,” he explains, “However, I don’t think that’s  necessarily a problem, because we don't want our core court systems to be playing around with new technologies that are yet to be proven.” Nick painted an example of this in the real estate industry. “There’s a lot of talk on why the land registry, which is really the ledger of who owns what real estate assets, should be blockchain-enabled,” he says. “And the answer to that is because it works really well now. And you can't change it unless the existing incumbent government-backed provider changes, because you can't have an alternative land registry. You've got to have one land registry,” Nick explains. “We can argue about it but you can't have multiple different land registries, because then you will have a really complicated effort to make sure they all say the same thing. And so you know, changing stuff like that can only happen at governmental level, and that takes time,” he says, noting that although possible, innovation can really take time to happen. Ultimately, Nick says that legal tech and the industry should focus on client problems, rather than the technologies. “What is legal tech, exactly? It’s just enabling a business thing to happen. Which is why, the next big thing is what clients need from us,” he declares. With a future that is focused on problem-solving, Jur is proud to be a frontrunner in ensuring that technology is ready to answer the call.