Brattle Principal M. Alexis Maniatis recently returned to full-time consulting after serving as the fulltime president of the firm, and we caught up with him to discuss the current state of play in arbitration. In this Q&A, Alexis discusses a range of topics, including an increase in competition-related questions arising in commercial arbitrations, the impact on COVID-19 on the arbitration landscape, and enhancing diversity within the arbitration community.
What are you most looking forward to now that you are returning to full-time consulting?
It’s been a privilege and a fantastic experience to play a leadership role at Brattle. Brattle has grown from a small, Cambridge-based firm into a global firm that is recognized for the quality of its work as well as its truly exceptional workplace and culture. That has been enormously gratifying, and I am excited to see where the new leadership team takes us.
Consulting has always been my passion. I’m looking forward to more time with clients and the arbitration community – not just finding the best ways to bring our expertise to bear in a case, but collaborating to build common understanding of the issues so that we can help arbitration to become even more sophisticated on the economic and finance issues that drive so many disputes. Within Brattle, we have a focus on developing the next generation of experts in that same spirit, which I’m thrilled to help foster.
What types of new or intriguing matters/cases are you seeing in international arbitration today as opposed to five years ago?
One thing I’ve always loved about arbitration is the diversity of engagements on many dimensions.
In the investor-state space, natural resources remain a mainstay, with a shift from petroleum projects to mining and renewables in recent years. From our perspective, investment arbitration remains robust across all geographies, with a growing focus on Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, along with Latin America and continuing work on NAFTA matters.
Commercial arbitration is always diverse and it remains so. Given the breadth and scope of such matters, it’s harder to discern trends, but we see activity particularly in Europe and North America across a range of industries – manufacturing, finance, resources, and technology – with increasing amounts involving energy and resources in Asia.
Across all of our cases, we’re seeing an increase in competition-related questions. These can involve issues or allegations of price fixing, commodity price manipulation, localized market power related to infrastructure constraints, or long-term contracts where certain contractual provisions are alleged to be anticompetitive. In investor–state disputes, issue can arise as to whether a state’s actions or omissions may distort competition.
What do you think the long-term effects of COVID-19 will be for international arbitration?
It has been striking to see how quickly the community adapted to remote work and hearings. I can’t say that it’s as satisfying as face-to-face interaction, but it works. Like many others, I expect that the conditions caused by COVID-19 are accelerating the adoption of technology in ways that will improve efficiency for expert, parties, and tribunals alike, and focus in-person time where it matters most.
Within Brattle, our success in working remotely comes from the deep relationships across our “one-firm” mentality coupled with our strong global presence. We were incredibly fortunate to enter the pandemic with an exceptional technology infrastructure, which meant we were able to transition relatively smoothly, and with a culture that always emphasizes nimble teamwork.
Throughout the arbitration field, this new reliance on technology creates opportunity for less-established, but “tech-enabled” arbitrators and attorneys to show off their skills. In that regard, it may help to accelerate improvements in diversity that have long been sought within the arbitration community.