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Women in arbitration: Wendy Miles QC, Part 1/2: “to do” lists and the changing world of arbitration

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

In this, the second blog post in the series, we interview Wendy Miles QC, a partner in Debevoise and Plimpton’s London office. Wendy is a Vice President of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Court of Arbitration, and is a representative on various professional bodies, including the ICC Commission on Arbitration and ADR, where she co-chaired the Task Force on Costs Allocation in Arbitration. She is also Vice Chair of the IBA Arbitration Committee and co-chair of the gender diversity initiative Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge.

In Part One, Wendy talks to us about her background, how she manages her time, and aspects of arbitration practice and procedure. In Part Two, Wendy discusses the changing landscape for women in arbitration, what the future holds in the world of arbitration, and gives her career tips for junior lawyers starting out.

Personal background

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

At secondary school I debated at quite a high level and law seemed to be a natural progression from there. It was only while I was at law school and read Helena Kennedy QC’s book, Eve Was Framed, that I began to appreciate the vocational element of the law and grew to become passionate about making a difference as a lawyer.

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

Arbitration really chose me. I started as a litigator (barrister and solicitor) in New Zealand and moved to London for international disputes experience. I rapidly learned that arbitration was a field where I could continue to act as counsel and advocate in major, and important, international disputes.

What aspect of arbitration do you enjoy doing most?

The hearings, the problem solving, the teamwork and the clients all give me great pleasure.

Can you talk us through a typical day?

No day is typical, but the nature of an international practice means the first morning task is to clear the emails from other time zones overnight. In the course of a day I spend about equal time at my desk drafting, analysing and reviewing evidence or submissions, and working with the members of the team one-on-one and in group meetings. With partnership there is also law firm management, and in any business a good part of the day is spent on business development and other broader projects including articles, speeches, task forces and committees.

How do you manage your time?

I have a hard copy daily “to do” list and try to tick off as much as possible before I leave each evening. My inbox is usually also cleared on a daily basis and works as a form of second to do list. I often work at night because it is generally quieter and I have more time and space to draft and think.

Did your antipodean background hinder, assist or not have any effect on the development of your career?

It certainly assisted, at least in the establishment and development of my profile in arbitration in London. The small but incredible network of New Zealand arbitration specialists in London, New York, Paris and Auckland is incredibly strong, welcoming and supportive, and it offered me many wonderful opportunities. Secondly, being a non-UK national, based in London and qualified in English law meant that I could be appointed in London-seated, English law governed cases where UK nationals were excluded by nationality restrictions. By training as a solicitor and barrister, and undertaking court work after obtaining my practicing certificate, meant that I developed strong advocacy training at an early stage. That has enabled me to slip easily into the dual barrister/solicitor role required of counsel in international arbitration.

Would you recommend young lawyers to move firms often or to stay put?

Ideally, one should move as little as possible and grow within a stable home. But when opportunities arise, it is important to recognise them and act strategically.

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

So far, I would have done everything exactly the same. I think regrets are a terrible waste of time and life; every experience builds and enhances the journey. In terms of my initial training in New Zealand, my early practice in New Zealand, my year travelling and working in India, and then the last almost 20 years of practice in international arbitration in London, I would not change a thing. My friends, marriage, sons and the rest of life all came along when they came along and we managed to work it all into the tapestry of the journey.

Arbitration practice and procedure

What do you see as the key areas of change or development in arbitration?

Arbitration as a whole is facing some important changes.

International commercial arbitration has been affected by the political backlash against investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in certain quarters, and the demand for greater transparency and accountability in relation to ethics and conflicts of interest have driven change and improvement in the system as a whole, despite the concerns arising predominantly in the context of state parties or state assets. The legitimacy of the ISDS system, at least within the EU, has been under attack with the promotion of an investment court.

More broadly, commercial users of arbitration have become much more pro-active in recommending initiatives to improve time and cost efficiency in proceedings. This has resulted in a proliferation of emergency arbitrator rules, expedited rules procedures, guidelines and “soft” laws, all intended to improve the process.

Can you tell us a bit about your role as vice president of the ICC Court? What does the role entail?

All members of the ICC Court play a critical role in scrutinising every single final award approved by the ICC, approving all terms of reference, extensions of time and arbitral appointments, and deciding challenges. The 17 vice presidents assist the president to chair the two three-member special committee meetings held each week in Paris, and the monthly plenary sessions of the whole court. The president and vice presidents also conduct the business of the Bureau, which deals with policy and other matters of court business.

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?

I have worked as counsel in cases administered by the ICC, London Court of Arbitration (LCIA), Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC) and International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR). I think they compare comfortably with one another. All have excellent staff (sometimes the same staff members move between organisations) and superb leadership. I obviously work most closely with the ICC and hold its unique scrutiny process in extremely high regard.

As an arbitrator, I have handled cases administered by the ICC, LCIA, PCA and ICSID. Again, all have been excellent. ICSID and the PCA both offer an arbitral secretary service. As chair in an ICSID arbitration, I had the privilege of working with one of the ICSID administrators and the service and support in that secretarial role was second to none.

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

I have had the privilege of working on many wonderful cases so far in my career. But the Abyei arbitration will always stand out. Every aspect of the case, from its provenance, its parties, its procedural rules, its ceremony, its hearing and live webcasting to the gathering of evidence in refugee camps in southern Sudan, government libraries in Khartoum and Addis Ababa, Catholic mission libraries in Rome, English national archives in Kew and Durham and libraries from Oxford to Washington DC, was unprecedented and extraordinary. The outcome was good for peace at that time and permitted the creation of the new state of South Sudan. The current crisis is alarming and calls for another new, novel and unprecedented approach.


Debevoise & Plimpton Practical Law Arbitration Wendy Miles QC Claire Lipman

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