Schiefelbein Global Dispute Resolution Conference – Wrap Up

Below is a wrap up of the recently held Schiefelbein Global Dispute Resolution Conference at Arizona State.   It was a great conference, and I hope that you find this information enlightening.  And note that we regularly post conference highlights on this web page, so feel free to send a write up to one of the contributors for posting.  Finally, I would be negligent in failing to thank my colleague Victoria Sahani and our benefactor Les Schiefelbein for their hard work putting this conference together.

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On Friday, January 18, 2019, the inaugural Schiefelbein Global Dispute Resolution Conference was held at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Phoenix, Arizona, United States.  The program was generously sponsored by Lester Schiefelbein, an alumnus of the law school from the class of 1971 and the founding principal of Schiefelbein Global Dispute Resolution.   Over 150 practitioners, academics, corporate counsel, law students and community members registered to attend the conference.

At the start of the day, Professor Lucy Reed of the National University of Singapore gave the inaugural Schiefelbein Global Dispute Resolution Lecture entitled “Ultima Thule: Prospects for International Commercial Mediation.”  Professor Reed compared Ultima Thule, the farthest object ever discovered in the solar system comprised of two smaller objects that collided and became stuck together billions of years ago, to the feuding parties that need come together in international mediation.  She further discussed several challenges when mediating international commercial disputes – cultural and legal differences, mediators’ lack of sensitivity to these differences, mediation’s lack of a track record, and more parties, lawyers, logistics, regulations, negotiating styles, and languages than their domestic counterparts – to name a few.  In her view, this wide array of challenges is the reason that success in domestic mediation does not necessarily translate to success as an international commercial mediator.

Yet, for mediation to truly succeed, she believes that training and actual experience are critical.  With regard to training, she argued that “we need to build a cadre of international expert mediators and mediation counsel” because she believes that the international mediation bench is shallow, in part because the challenges identified earlier make the transfer of domestic mediation skills more difficult than most mediators anticipate.  Thus, she argued, the opportunity in international mediation is ripe because the need for new practitioners is paramount.

Furthermore, she noted the lack of experience with mediation among in-house counsel.  Thus, in-house counsel are the key to mediation’s development.  If saving time and money are important, in-house counsel have to take the lead in putting mediation clauses in their contracts (when appropriate) or getting their outside counsel to do so.  She noted that the global pound conference had identified outside counsel as the single biggest obstacle to change in international commercial dispute resolution, thereby demonstrating the need for training and experience.

She noted that while the level of compliance with mediated settlement agreements in the international commercial arena are high already, the Singapore Convention will give a boost to international mediation.  It will confer legitimacy on the process which, in turn, will increase the use of, the familiarity with, and attorney experience using mediation.  As she closed her remarks she stated, “remember this image [i.e. Ultime Thule] and recognize that the Singapore Convention is a new thing – direct enforcement by courts of international mediated agreement, not a contract to be re-looked at by the courts.”  And as a result, she believes mediation’s prospects look good, and mediation’s success is not far off.

Following Professor Reed’s keynote speech, panels explored three cutting-edge topics in global dispute resolution:  technology as used in international arbitration and arbitration used in technology-related disputes, global disputes arising out of China’s unprecedented and massive Belt and Road Initiative, and using arbitration to resolve climate change-related disputes.  Finally, the day concluded with a panel exploring the perspectives on global dispute resolution of corporate counsel from four global corporations.

The full agenda and speaker biographies are available on the conference website, and the video is available for viewing here (it’s free, but a quick registration is required).  This was the first of several conferences as part of a multi-year project to connect the global international dispute resolution community with Phoenix and vice-versa.  The next Schiefelbein Global Dispute Resolution Conference is scheduled for January 17, 2020.


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