Grabbing the tiger…

By | 29th December 2009

One of my favourite animals is the white Bengal Tiger. I am no expert but there is a real majesty and suppressed fury in these magnificent beasts. I am ambivalent about zoos in general but I was privileged to see a number of these animals on a night safari at Singapore Zoo and, as I doubt if I will ever see them in the wild, this was an opportunity to see an animal which I would not ordinarily have been able to see. 

I was in Singapore as part of a delegation from the International Records Management Trust. IRMT is a non profit making body which assists governments and organisations in the process of safely moving from paper based records to electronic through building reliable records systems as the basis for data integrity. Their website is illuminating and sets out clearly what they do. As a litigation lawyer and a partner at Eversheds, I was lucky enough to be invited to join the small project team to visit Singapore to look at their National Archive and the then newly introduced electronic court filing system. We were in Singapore for about a week and the team produced a report as part of the Trust’s international project in partnership with the World Bank entitled “Evidence based governance in the electronic age”. 

One evening saw me and one of the project team visit Singapore Zoo for a night safari. If you have not been to Singapore Zoo, it is one of those zoos which displays the inmates in open exhibits behind hidden barriers such as ditches and trees, shrubs and the like. It is very realistic and to my mind the white Bengal Tiger stood out as the most awesome of the animals displayed. 

My memory of the tigers was stirred by an article by Matt Byrne in the Lawyer earlier this month [Fight Club: The top 50 litigation practices,  7th December], which focussed on the top 50 litigation practices. Not surprisingly, most of the firms listed are US firms. It is something of a cliché to say that the US is the most litigious society in the world but if evidence were needed it is clear from the list which contains a mere handful of UK based firms. 

One of the key findings of the annual survey of global litigation firms is that international arbitration is a real driver for these firms. What may be less obvious, is that London is becoming the world’s favourite place for these arbitrations, an accolade usually reserved for Paris. 

To be fair, as the article points out, Paris still leads the list of cities favoured for arbitrations by a substantial margin but London is slowly increasing in popularity, while Paris has seen a rather more rapid decline in numbers of arbitrations held over the past year. But what surprised me was the emergence of Singapore as one of the leading centres for resolving international disputes. After Paris and London come the two major Swiss centres of Geneva and Zurich, closely followed by Singapore. While Paris, Geneva and Zurich have seen the number of arbitrations slump since 2006, London has seen an increase of 50% over the same period and Singapore an increase of more than 150%!! 

Global financial meltdown and Government responses are generating more work for litigation and regulatory lawyers. There is general agreement that litigation work is picking up even though those who predicted a tidal wave of litigation have been and continue to be disappointed. Clients continue to be wary of committing to litigation, preferring to look after their cash. 

US law firms interviewed all said they were thinking of increasing their litigation capacity in London and some who lament they have little or no London litigation presence indicated they were going to do something about it soon. 

It has been said many times before by a variety of commentators on the broader e-disclosure/discovery scene, amongst whom I count myself, that one way of ensuring that clients and lawyers both win is to ensure there is a good relationship with those organisations which are experts in the field that time and money is not wasted reviewing, analysing and processing and subsequently hosting a whole lot of irrelevant material at great cost and to little advantage. 

It may be simplistic to draw the conclusion that one of the reasons why US law firms lead the list of the largest litigation firms by a mile is that e-discovery solutions are so far advanced in the US. But what can we make of the rise of Singapore to be one of the top five cities of choice when it comes to arbitration centres? With its ready acceptance that court documents must be filed electronically and its undoubted expertise in matters electronic, there is, I suggest, a trend here. Cynics will say that that is all very well for a city state of no more than 3 million people but that will not wash here. They may well be right but Singapore has clearly got it right given its inexorable rise up the league table of favoured cities for arbitration and that cannot be purely by chance. 

There must be more to the so-called tiger economies of the east than I had imagined and I guess that some of it has to do with their facility with and willingness to get to grips with the technology which is available. Maybe there is a lesson here for lawyers in the UK?