Inside the Arbitrator’s Chamber with Jennifer Lim

In this conversation, we explore the world of international arbitration with our guest, Jennifer Lim, a renowned arbitration lawyer and a partner at Sidley Austin. 

Jennifer represents clients in investor-state and commercial arbitrations, with her expertise spanning multiple jurisdictions and arbitration rules, including ICSID, UNCITRAL, ICC, HKIAC, SIAC, and LCIA.

Jennifer's has also been honoured as a "Thought Leader – Global Elite" by Who's Who Legal and recognised as an "International Arbitration Future Leader."

*The responses provided here have been rephrased for brevity and clarity. For the exact answers and a comprehensive understanding, we strongly recommend watching the full video podcast or tuning into the audio podcast.

Q: What drew you to the field of international arbitration?

A: Well, back when I was applying to university, I was deeply interested in public international law. The Pedra Branca dispute between Singapore and Malaysia in 2008 caught my attention. The idea of resolving disputes without resorting to war fascinated me. This interest led me to law school, where I delved into public international law. The turning point was during the Jessup Moot Court Competition, where I encountered a bilateral investment treaty. This introduced me to investor-state arbitration, ultimately shaping my path into international arbitration.

Q: How has this background influenced your approach to handling international arbitration cases?

A: It's given me a profound appreciation for how cultural and legal differences impact issue perception. I vividly remember a situation at the International Court of Justice where my office mate, from a Latin American country, shed light on the beauty of their legal language, which I initially found flowery. These experiences made me realize the importance of understanding diverse perspectives, a crucial aspect of international arbitration where parties often come from different backgrounds.

Q: How do you keep yourself informed about different cultures and legal systems?

A: Open-mindedness is key. Engaging in debates with colleagues from various legal backgrounds has been enlightening. The field of international arbitration attracts practitioners from diverse walks of life, contributing to a rich exchange of perspectives. Additionally, when dealing with a client from a different culture, I believe in thorough research. For instance, when I got my first Japanese client, I delved into Japanese etiquette—learning where to sit, how to bow, and to whom—important details that can bridge cultural gaps effectively.

Q: Could you share how language has influenced your approach to handling cases, especially with individuals from different jurisdictions?

A: When dealing with Chinese clients, explaining legal concepts in Chinese enhances their understanding. Additionally, China's civil law system poses challenges in translation. Hong Kong, where I practiced before Singapore, helped as they have a court glossary for translations. It simplifies explaining common law concepts like trusts, absent in Chinese law. Conversely, Chinese clients may use terms that work in Chinese law but not under, say, New York law. Language is vital in international arbitration, bridging gaps between diverse parties.

Q: Looking ahead in international arbitration, what challenges or opportunities do you foresee for lawyers like yourself and the field?

A: Let's delve into both. Identifying the right lawyers or firms has become challenging due to the field's increasing popularity. Not all claiming expertise truly grasp international contexts, impacting strategies before tribunals. On a broader scale, clients often face geopolitical conflicts affecting cases. An example is a Russian claimant facing payment issues due to U.S. sanctions concerns, impacting their ability to enforce rights. This creates legal complexities that need resolution. The good news is, despite challenges, international arbitration remains crucial in a globalized world. As long as international transactions exist, so will the need for effective dispute resolution, making international arbitration indispensable.

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