A Law Student’s Arbitration Clerkship in Singapore

By: Ariana Green, Guest Contributor

I lived in Singapore during the fall of my third year of Berkeley Law, spending part of my time clerking at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre. Having spent almost four of my six pre-law school years living abroad (working as a journalist and on a Fulbright and a Gates Scholarship), I missed the adventure and discovery that comes with moving to a foreign country.

Life in Singapore as a lawyer-in-training exposed me to international law practice and also gave me a chance to travel the region and meet people from all over. Though I plan to join Cooley LLP as a corporate associate—doing transactional work for tech companies and startups—I want to be the kind of corporate attorney who understands dispute resolution. Many of the contracts I reviewed as a summer associate contained an arbitration clause, meaning that should a disagreement arise, the parties go to arbitration instead of seeking relief by way of the courts.

Arbitration is particularly suitable in situations where parties to the contract come from different countries, since arbitral awards have the potential to be enforced globally. Because arbitrations need not follow the same rules of procedure and evidence as trials, the process can be quicker. While court decisions are published and hold precedential value, arbitral awards are kept confidential. Arbitrations can therefore be a good choice for companies who do not want their dirty dispute laundry aired.

For disputes involving international parties, arbitration offers additional advantages. Courts in a given country employ local judges and apply local laws, but an international arbitration usually consists of one or more arbitrators appointed by each party, and the choice of applicable law should be indicated in the contract; it is frequently based on the law of the pre-selected location for the arbitration (for example, Singapore, London, New York etc.). Deciding on a jurisdiction and choice of law at the time the contract is signed provides clarity (ideally).

For law students who want to work abroad, I would highly recommend the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC). As a law clerk at SIAC, and separately, as a clerk for a senior arbitrator whose office was down the hall, I had an opportunity to get involved with high-stakes cases involving many millions of dollars, not to mention professional reputations.

At SIAC, I assisted in the scrutiny of arbitral awards—a process much like fact checking in journalism. I edited the awards for content and style. My colleagues included one other law clerk, from China, and the full-time attorneys at SIAC, who hailed from Singapore, Korea, India, London, Belgium, and Canada. Some of them had been law firm attorneys and judges. Each of them had had fascinating life and work experiences to share.

These lawyers, the so-called secretariat, provide support to parties and arbitrators, making the process smoother for everyone. The secretariat gets very involved in the details of each arbitration and makes sure parties comply with rules, meet deadlines, and receive cogent awards.

SIAC organizes events as a way to keep its presence in the community and further dialogue about arbitration. I went to several of their half-day conferences, on issues of enforcement and other topics. I met attorneys working in international arbitration and hailing from even more countries.

As part of my Singapore experience, I clerked for a very in-demand senior arbitrator. I followed a case, start to finish, on jurisdictional issues and had the opportunity to prepare a memo before the hearing, then to attend the hearing and conduct research for the award. This process resembles clerking for a judge, but with an international bent.

Throughout my time in Asia, I also made an effort to connect with people working on startups and in the tech scene, per my post-law school career plans. Free lunches at Google Singapore, hearing entrepreneurs’ pitches, and sitting in on mentoring sessions with new businesses made my semester varied and always stimulating.

In choosing to work at SIAC, I wanted exposure to dispute resolution so that I can be a better transactional attorney—one who understands what can happen if disagreements arise over the documents we transactional lawyers draft. My time in Singapore gave me that, and so much more.

 

Ariana Green is a 2013 J.D. candidate at Berkeley Law School. Her journalistic writing has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, Popular Science, and elsewhere. Her law-related writing appears in The Berkeley Technology Law Journal (2012). Starting in the fall of 2013, Ariana plans to represent emerging companies as a corporate associate at Cooley LLP in New York.