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.