Adrian Cole

Independent Arbitrator

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


Peers and clients say:

"Adrian is an excellent arbitrator in the construction space"
"He is the go-to arbitrator in the Middle East"


Adrian Cole is a construction dispute specialist, listed by Who’s Who Legal as one of the top 25 construction dispute resolution lawyers in the world and ranked tier one by Chambers Global and Legal 500. Mr Cole studied engineering and construction and practiced as a quantity surveyor before becoming a solicitor. He has first-hand experience of the practical issues in the engineering and construction industries and has decided over 90 significant and complex construction cases.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a global practice?

Having a global practice allows me to work on some of the largest and most complex energy and construction disputes in the world. These include power stations, LNG plants and refineries as well as airports, ports and railways and some of the largest and tallest buildings around. Such disputes have an enormous range of issues, often having cross-border and jurisdictional elements as well as being technically and legally complex. Not only is this exciting and challenging, it affords the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the best lawyers and experts in the world.

The downside of a global practice is working across time zones, conducting meetings virtually in the dead of night!

What do clients look for in an effective arbitrator in today’s climate?

Disputes cost money – a lot of it, so clients want an arbitrator who can conduct arbitrations fairly and efficiently with the resultant award reflecting the proper entitlements of the parties and capable of enforcement. This means working with the parties to shape a procedure that fits the needs of the case with a realistic timetable that balances the interests of the parties with the duty to avoid unnecessary delay and expense. Early engagement with the submissions and evidence is essential to make effective procedural decisions and to get to grips with the issues for an effective arbitration.

What do you enjoy most about working in international arbitration?

I enjoy working with colleagues from different cultural and legal backgrounds. Not only is cultural awareness and sensitivity vital to be effective in international arbitration, it is hugely rewarding. Although I am from a common law background, I have also practiced civil law in the Middle East for 16 years with some Shari’a cases too. Working across legal systems and traditions adds to the depth of one’s experience and develops a broader understanding of law and arbitration procedure that benefits my practice and something that practitioners working in a single jurisdiction may not experience.

What green trends are you seeing in construction and energy-related arbitrations?

There is a welcome acceleration towards “greenifying” arbitration generally with initiatives such as the Campaign for Greener Arbitrations leading the way. Construction and energy related cases are often international in nature and document heavy and are amongst those that can benefit most from developments in electronic document management systems to reduce printing and the use of video conferencing to reduce travel in order to minimize environmental impact.

It is reported that there is a new generation of arbitrators emerging who are increasingly specialised. How does increased specialisation benefit the arbitration market and what are the potential pitfalls?

Well informed parties have always taken care with the selection of arbitrators. As disputes become more technically complex, parties have realized the benefits of appointing tribunals that are specialist in their field. Parties can avoid the costs of learning curves and avoid the risk of arbitrator misunderstanding. Arbitrators who speak the language of the industry are best placed to assimilate submissions and evidence most effectively. It is nevertheless vital that arbitrators decide cases as presented to them and not make assumptions based on past experience.

Arbitrator independence and disclosure is a hot topic, with concerns that standards are opaque and restrictive. Do you agree?

Arbitrators have a duty to be independent and impartial, without which confidence in arbitration would wither. It is important therefore that arbitrators make the necessary disclosure to ensure transparency and maintain confidence in the system.

How do you see your practice developing over the next two years?

I enjoy a strong pipeline of cases working with excellent colleagues and I hope this will continue! Whilst I have cases from Asia, Africa, Middle East and Europe there is a shortage of cases in the Caribbean, and I hope this will be corrected in due course!

I am active in promoting equal opportunities and diversity through working with the IBA and in mentoring younger practitioners to develop their careers in arbitration with the CIArb and shall continue to do so. Providing opportunities for others is not only the right thing to do but it is also very satisfying.

My recent appointment as a part time Judge of the Court of Cassation of Bahrain (Bahrain’s highest court) and secondment to the BCDR is very exciting and look forward to being of service.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My old boss, the late Arthur Marriot QC, a doyen of international arbitration, used to say: “maintain the moral high ground”. This is guidance that I have tried to employ throughout my career both as counsel and as arbitrator and it is great advice. It keeps you out of petty squabbles that distract and waste time and cost and provides a focus on maintaining high ethical and moral standards. Thanks Arthur!