The forces against virtual arbitration - Ben Giaretta, Partner at Mishcon de Reya

The forces against virtual arbitration - Ben Giaretta, Partner at Mishcon de Reya


I think we are on the verge of a technological transformation of arbitration. This has been coming for some time: there has been a lot of discussion of technology in arbitration over the past few years. But it has always been slightly in the background. Arbitration conferences, for example, have typically put technology sessions in the 'graveyard' slots around lunchtime or at the end of the day.

The pandemic has changed all of this. Now, technology is front and centre. Arbitrator practitioners have embraced online working as part of their daily lives. I believe that virtual arbitration, in which the whole or almost the whole of the arbitration is conducted online, will continue to be significant after the pandemic is over. It is important to recognise, however, that there are forces against this, and below I highlight three of the most powerful. I don't think these forces will turn back the clock entirely, but they may have unintended consequences.




First, there is the myth of exceptionalism. Individuals like to feel that they are different, not one of the herd. I remember that when I was at school, one particular teacher would proudly say that computers may be fine for others but he still preferred his trusty pen. The irony of that was that he was in his late 20s, rather than approaching the end of his career, and he was no Luddite whose occupation was threatened by new technology. He just wanted to stand out from the crowd.  Similarly, today, I hear some lawyers say that working on screens is not for them, whatever the masses do; instead they prefer hard copies and a hearing in person.

As a variant on the myth people tell about themselves, some say that the particular matter they are working on is too important or too complicated for virtual arbitration. Tied up in this is the idea that an

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About the author:
Ben Giaretta, Partner at Fox Williams LLP, is an international arbitration lawyer with a wide range of experience across many different sectors.  He is a Chartered Arbitrator and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and is the current Chair of the London Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He is a member of the Consulting Editorial Board of Lexis PSL Arbitration.