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Women in arbitration: Judith Gill QC: part 1/2: arbitration over litigation, practice and procedure

To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2017, Practical Law Arbitration has been carrying out a series of interviews with prominent women in arbitration.

In this, the fourth in the series, we interview Judith Gill QC, a partner in Allen and Overy’s arbitration team. Judith acts as both advocate and arbitrator and is currently the President of the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), the first female to be appointed to the position. She was only the second female solicitor advocate to be appointed QC and the first with an international arbitration practice.

In Part 1, Judith discusses her personal background and why she prefers arbitration over litigation, and comments on arbitration practice and procedure. In Part 2, she considers women in arbitration and the future.

Personal background

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What made you want to be a lawyer?

A major turning point in my life was when I undertook a course in law aged 16 – an O-Level for those who know the English system from those days. I don’t think I had ever felt so motivated to learn a subject and found myself heading off to the library in my free time to develop that understanding. Of course, like many of us who become lawyers, I was driven by the idea of righting the injustices in the world. I also benefitted in those early years from the support of a wonderful teacher who greatly encouraged me to pursue a career in the law. After university and a year at the College of Law I joined Allen & Overy in September 1983.

What made you choose arbitration (as opposed to litigation)?

I felt that I could make a difference and be more creative in the context of arbitration. In those days there were few opportunities in court for solicitor advocates to deal with cases of substance, and arbitration provided a much stronger platform for advocacy. I also found the procedural red tape articulated in the White Book at that time somewhat inhibitive, and was drawn to a process where the culture was more towards fashioning the procedure to the needs of the client and the dispute. Litigation has changed to reflect this more in recent times, but in the 1980s the difference seemed to me at least quite stark.

What aspect of arbitration do you enjoy doing most?

Reading awards in which my clients have prevailed! More seriously, I have always enjoyed the role of advocate. Each arbitration presents its own challenges, both in terms of articulating submissions that will persuade and devising effective cross-examinations. It is these challenges that I find most demanding but also most rewarding.

Can you talk us through a typical day?

Not really! It very much depends on whether I am in a hearing, but even if I’m not it is very hard to describe a typical day because each one is different. I need to balance the different roles of advocate, law firm partner, team manager, mentor, strategic advisor, business developer, conference speaker, training provider so identifying a “typical” day is not easy.

How do you manage your time?

I think the greatest challenge is being realistic about what you can achieve in a given period of time. Like many people, I work best when under a degree of time pressure, but of course it is important not to take too much on and to prioritise how you spend your time. There is no magic formula for managing your time – it just requires planning, good organisation and learning from your mistakes.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently? If so, what?

I think if I had known then how much I would enjoy living and working in Asia I might well have moved out sooner. Other than that I am not really the type to dwell on what might have been. I have had a very rewarding career and been blessed with a wonderful family, and I am very grateful for that.

Arbitration practice and procedure

Can you tell us about your role as president of the LCIA? What does the role entail?

As President of the LCIA, my primary role is to oversee the functioning of the LCIA Court and the application of the LCIA Rules and those of its related entities. That involves working closely with the excellent casework teams in London, Dubai and Mauritius to deal with various aspects, including appointment of arbitrators, determination of costs and fees, and applications for expedited formation or an emergency arbitrator, as well as other tricky issues that arise from time to time in the course of LCIA cases. In my role as President, I am also of course an ambassador for the LCIA and support as many of its events as possible, including the bi-annual symposium at Tylney Hall.

How do you think the arbitral institutions compare? Which ones in your experience have been the most efficient and where do you think improvements could be made?

There are many similarities between different arbitral rules regarding the ways in which arbitrations can be conducted and one also frequently encounters the same individuals appearing as arbitrators for different institutions. Many institutions have an international outlook and reach, although certain of them are known for particular types of dispute or focus on particular geographical regions. That is not to suggest they are all the same – clearly they aren’t. Each institution will have its own particular focus, strengths and foibles. In my experience, one of the most important distinguishing features is the efficiency of the institution in administering cases. Some undoubtedly benefit from stronger institutional experience and efficiency than others, but for all of them the challenge is to provide a responsive and effective service to users, consistent with the aims and requirements of their respective rules. In my view, the LCIA excels in this regard.

Is there any particular case you have worked on that stands out?

I have been very fortunate to have an arbitration practice that is very varied and interesting. My stand out case is always the one I am currently working on.

Allen & Overy Judith Gill QC

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