Justice Talk with Ben Giaretta: The Ins & Outs of International Digital Arbitration

In our second installation of the Justice Talk series, we dive into international digital arbitration with expert arbitrator, Ben Giaretta.

We discuss how the rapid adoption of technology is affecting the career growth of digital arbitrators, how we see this industry evolving in the next few years, and more. Check it out.

Ben Giaretta C.Arb: an expert on the intersection of law, business, and technology

If you’re looking for an expert in international commercial arbitration, look no further than Ben Giaretta, C.Arb.

He is currently the Chair of the London Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and a dispute resolution partner at Fox Williams LLP. He’s had years of experience handling dispute cases for multiple industries such as oil & gas, renewables, construction, mining, and technology, to name a few.

As someone who is at the forefront of international arbitration, we asked his thoughts about the industry, how technology is affecting its trajectory, and the secret to his success.

Digital Arbitration’s Promising Future in the Global Market

When we asked Ben his thoughts about international arbitration, he gave us an interesting answer.

“International arbitration is a bit of a misnomer because in many ways it’s a collection of national systems and approaches,” he says. Despite efforts to try and make it “international”, Ben argues that people are still always rooted in their own national and cultural ways of doing things, even in an international arbitration setup. 

This is why digitization is so promising because it opens the idea that a truly international arbitration is within reach. “If we are predominantly operating in a digital environment, and not physically meeting in one place, then perhaps we can finally separate arbitration from individual approaches that are adopted within individual countries, often influenced by the approaches in the local courts,” he says. 

Steps to Professional Success

These innovations in digital arbitration are certainly something to be excited about. But how does one launch a career in arbitration? How did Ben do it?

Ben recalls his first appointment from an institution that gave him his first valuable lesson in the field of arbitration. “It was a dispute about a medical center in Singapore. The building had lots of doctors and individual consulting rooms housed within it, all separate from each other. This meant that there were around 55 parties to the case, and I’m afraid to say I was terrified of that number.”

He decided to decline the appointment, but this experience taught him how to be brave in the field of arbitration. “Be brave, because when you start out, it’s very nerve-racking. It’s all-new. And there’s a mental shift you have to do, from the comfort of what you know as counsel to the unknowns of a new role as arbitrator.” Ben says.

Aside from building the courage to take on the new challenge of arbitration, Ben tells us that casting a wider net has helped him launch his career. “When you work in a law firm as a counsel, you’re encouraged to become a specialist. This is especially true with big law firms where you’re encouraged to focus on particular disputes, clients, and subject matters. You don’t really have that luxury as an arbitrator. There are a few particular industries where expertise is a must, but most arbitrators have to turn their hand to almost anything and look for appointments from almost anywhere.

And with the world going global and digital at a faster rate than ever before, Ben says that marketing oneself internationally is key to growth. “You have to think about marketing yourself in different parts of the world and be ready to take on lots of different types of cases with different approaches.”

Humanity & Technology for Justice

In the face of globalization and digital evolution, technology has successfully augmented the capabilities of humans. Ben says that this is very much apparent now and may continue in the future.

“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. Four or five years ago, if I was going to do a video conference, I would go to a special room in the office; but now, you can do video conferencing from your laptop or your smartphone,” he says, by way of example.

Aside from video conferencing, AI-powered tools have also made it easier for arbitration practitioners to handle cases, especially in managing large amounts of evidence as well as in legal project management. However, Ben warns that despite technology’s ubiquity, human interaction is still very important. “While processes might increasingly be driven by AI, I also want to point out that being human in international arbitration is important because you are dealing with human problems. It’s also difficult to leave the work to digital analysis alone, because that way, we may lose sight of certain complexities.”

Ben also discussed how a touch of humanity is necessary to make the arbitration process effective and to deliver high-quality justice. “Probably the most important tip is to be human. As an arbitrator, You are not an automaton, you’re not there to simply churn out an answer.” Ben says.

“You’re dealing with different kinds of humans — humans as individuals, as parties, as companies, as legal counsels, and many more. You have to engage with them throughout a case which may go on for a while, maybe years.” Ben tells us as he discusses the human interaction that an arbitrator has while handling a case.

“A big part of an arbitrator’s job is project management, which is as much about managing the case and the process, as it is about managing the people involved. I think the only way you can run an arbitral proceeding successfully is by approaching things on a human level. You are a manager of people, as much as you are a manager of the case,” he expounds.

Ben illustrates this humanity in a simple example, “So if you set a timetable and one party can’t meet that, then you need to engage with them and listen to them on why they can’t meet the timetable.”

What’s Next for International Digital Arbitration?

Digital arbitration’s growth promises other possible innovations which Ben is excited about. 

“Video conferencing nowadays is remarkable. It will be surprising to have a case which doesn’t involve video conferencing in the future. Now, what comes next? Well, perhaps we will get into truly virtual hearings.” Ben opened when we asked about the future of video conferencing.

He expounds this more, observing how the “virtual hearings” we have now are not yet truly virtual, “I mean, we talk about virtual hearings now, but they’re not really virtual. They are hearings using video conferencing. “Virtual” means you are immersed in that environment. Perhaps the next stage in the development of international arbitration is to use virtual reality in hearings.

He explains how soon, it may be a rule in digital arbitration that participants engage in a simulated common environment wherein “everyone feels as if they are sitting in the same room”.

“It might seem a bit of a leap now, but the same could have been said 10 years ago about video conferencing being available on every computer and becoming the main form of communication.” Ben declares.

“Of course, [VR hearing] might be a step too far – it might be too much for many people to accept. But innovation will continue. Whether we take the further step of engaging in a virtual reality environment or not, more and more technology will be used, just as we have seen recently.” he tells us, gesturing at the screens we were using as we conduct the interview from four different time zones.

Aside from innovations that sound like they’re straight out of a sci-fi film, Ben also shared how international digital arbitration may see more efficient processes, platforms, and technologies. This may come in the form of a “platform which is adaptable to every single case.”

“Having automatic drafting of awards would be a very good thing. I still don’t know why, but we don’t have automatic award drafting in arbitration. And that’s actually a fairly straightforward thing to do. You’d have to ensure that all the communications are on one platform, and once it is, I believe it would be a relatively straightforward job to draft a substantial part of the award via computer technology.” Ben says as an example of the processes and technologies which may revolutionize digital arbitration as we know it.

International digital arbitration is poised for more innovations in the coming years — and Jur is proud to be a leader in this movement.

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