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.

The Record: This Week in Review

Ireland Prime Minister Apologizes to Women and Children of the Magdalene Laundries

The Prime Minister of Ireland formally apologized to approximately 10,000 women who had served in the Magdalene Laundries.  A 1,000 page report revealed government complicity in the slave labor of women and children in Catholic Church-run institutions.  The Irish government is discussing a compensatory package for the survivors in an effort to make amends.  

New Peace Framework Signed for the Democratic Republic of Congo

Eleven African countries have pledged to not tolerate or support armed groups fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Furthermore, they have agreed to refrain from interfering with the Congo’s internal affairs.  The Congo suffers from persistent violence and this framework is a small step towards reducing that violence.

SCOTUS: Plaintiffs Lacked Standing to Challenge a 2008 Amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

The U.S. Supreme Court has released its decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International, No. 11-1025. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the group of journalists, lawyers, and human rights advocates challenging a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act lacked standing because their alleged harms were too speculative. The challenged amendment expanded the government’s authority to intercept international communications involving Americans.

EU Poised to Temporarily Waive Carbon Payments for Intercontinental Flights

The European Union will likely suspend for one year the requirement that all intercontinental flights using EU airports pay for their carbon emissions. The move comes in response to objections to the law from outside the EU and hopes that a global deal to limit airline carbon emissions can be reached. The suspension could be extended beyond one year if there is “clear and sufficient” progress toward a global deal. Any progress on such a deal would likely require a new interest on the part of the United States government in addressing this problem.

Kenya to Hold General Election Next Week; UN Officials Warn of Potential Displacement Crisis

UN officials are calling on the Kenyan government and international organizations to redouble their efforts to prevent violence and displacement in the wake of next week’s general election. After the last general election (in December 2007) 1,100 Kenyans were killed and 600,000 were forcibly displaced. Although a new constitution adopted in 2010 included political reforms addressing the 2007 election violence, the UN officials warn that the reforms have not been fully implemented and ethnic tensions have recently been on the rise.

IMF Paper Calls for Euro Area Banking Union

A recent IMF publication calls for a single supervisory and regulatory framework within the Euro Area for integrating European banking systems.  The paper calls for a “single supervisory mechanism” to oversee all Euro Area banks, in addition to resolution and wind-up powers for dealing with insolvent financial institutions. While this proposal builds on the European Council’s 2012 agreement on a similar arrangement, the IMF calls for substantially more focus on banking sector re-capitalization.

Jack Lew Sworn In As New U.S. Treasury Secretary

On Thursday, Jack Lew officially became the new U.S. Secretary of Treasury. Secretary Lew previously served as Chief of Staff for U.S. President Barack Obama and as Director of the Office of Management and Budget under former U.S. President Clinton.

European Parliament Approves Bonus Caps for Bank Employees

The proposed legislation will limit the bonuses that E.U.-based banks can pay their employees to twice an employee’s annual salary. This legislation would apply equally to employees of E.U.-based banks who worked outside of the E.U. (for example, New York or Singapore). The measure still has to be approved by the 27 member-states of the E.U., and Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has voiced concerns about the proposed measures.

The Record: This Week in Review

New EU Law- The “Two Pack”

EU lawmakers have introduced a new law to strengthen the euro zone budget discipline and prevent another sovereign crisis debt. The EU commission will now have new levels of insight over member countries’ budgets.

Urgent Action Necessary to Protect the Arctic:

The UN Environment Program has stated that more effective measures need to be put in place to avoid damage to the Arctic. The most important recommendation to help the Arctic is the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions

UN Conference on Disarmament: North Korea v South Korea

North Korean diplomat, Jon Yong Ryong has received much criticism after he stated that South Koreas erratic behavior would result in its own destruction. Such a statement has been viewed as offensive by UN member states.

European Parliament Urges Stricter Reforms As Part of Basel III, But Talks Stall

The European Commission is considering stricter disclosure requirements for European banks as well as limits on the sizes of bonuses as part of the laws that will implement the international Basel III accords on banking regulations. There had been hopes of a deal being reached this week, but talks broke down Tuesday. They are expected to resume next week.

European Parliament Moves Towards Boosting Carbon Market

In 2008, a European carbon allowance cost €30 per ton.  Last year that price had dropped to €9 per ton.  Last month it reached a low of €2.80 per ton.  To support the carbon trading market—and the entire emissions trading scheme—the European Parliament’s environmental committee voted to allow the European Commission to reduce the number of allowances to be auctioned over the next three years.

US Business Groups Renew Push for Legislative Reform to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

Last November, the US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission released new guidance on how they would enforce the FCPA, which business groups have criticized for being too ambiguous.  While several lobbying groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, the American Bankers Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers, offered some praise for the guidance, they released a letter to federal regulators this week calling for legislative reforms to bring greater clarity to the act and provide for additional legal defenses.

Chinese Military May Be Tied to International Cyber Attacks

Mandiant, an American computer security firm, released a report this week that implicates the Chinese Army in a number of cyber attacks against American infrastructure and businesses.

G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers Pledge Not to Manipulate Exchange Rates

Two-day talks by G-20 finance ministers and central bankers ended on Sunday with the group strengthening its stance against exchange rate manipulation.  This is seen as an effort to lower fears of a global currency war and put pressure on Japan to stop publicly providing guidance on its currency’s value.

Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal Introduces Retroactive Legislation to Allow for Death Sentence

Bangladesh’s parliament has amended its laws so as to allow the state to appeal against the life sentence of an Islamist party leader. Jamaat chief Abdul Kader Mullah was given life for his alleged role in crimes in the 1971 war which resulted in independence from Pakistan. The amendment appears to be a reaction to violent protests that called for his execution. Human Rights Watch says the law is worrisome.

Moscow Unwilling to Back ICC Referral of Alleged Syrian War Criminals

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov indicated that Russia would not immediately back calls to refer the civil war in Syria to the International Criminal Court for the investigation and possible prosecution of alleged war criminals. Investigators recently urged the UN Security Council to act.

Afghanistan: “Human Cost of the Conflict Remains Unacceptable”

While the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan has decreased for the first time in six years, targeted killings by insurgents – particularly of women, girls and government employees – increased dramatically according to a UN report.

Tunisia Prime Minister Resigns in Shaky Post-Arab Spring Democracy

Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has resigned after failing to reach agreement on forming a new government. He had been trying to form a new coalition in response to the political crisis sparked by the killing of opposition leader, Chokri Belaid.

Former Head of State on Trial in Front of ICC

Ivorian ex-President Laurent Gbagbo has appeared at the International Criminal Court. He faces four charges, including murder and rape, in the wake of Ivory Coast’s disputed presidential poll in 2010. Defense lawyers argued that he was already under investigation in his own country and that the authorities there must be the ones to try him under the ICC’s principle of complementarity.

Protest in West Bank for Palestinian hunger Strikers in Israeli Jails

Protesters in the West Bank are marching in solidarity with hunger strikers in Israeli jails. One, Samer Issawi, has been on protest for 200 days and is said to be in critical condition. Many of the hunger strikers are under administrative detention, held without trial or charge by the military because it fears an immediate risk to security or to protect informants. UN as well as European governments have recently called on Israel to respect the human rights of Palestinian detainees.

UN Security Council Warns Yemeni Ex-Leaders Not to Interfere in Democratic Transition

The UN Security Council has warned Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and vice president that they could face sanctions if they continue to interfere in the country’s democratic transition. The statement also expressed concern about money and weapons being brought into Yemen. Mr. Saleh had stepped down in exchange for immunity in a deal arranged by the Council and elections are to be held in 2014.

Intellectually Disabled Prisoner’s Stay of Execution Sparks Legal Uncertainty

Warren Hill, Georgia prisoner who has been found by nine medical specialists to be mentally disabled, came within half an hour of being put to death on Tuesday night. The case has led to reactions from European leaders who called on the U.S. to strengthen its laws prohibiting the death penalty against intellectually disabled prisoners. The postponement is temporary and the Supreme Court has declined to hear his case, which leaves him in a state of legal uncertainty.