Alfredo Bullard garners international acclaim as a practitioner who is “extraordinarily intelligent, highly experienced in construction and very well prepared to deal with the complex and multijurisdictional aspects of large disputes”.
Alfredo Bullard has acted as arbitrator, counsel and legal expert in more than 300 cases under the ICC, ICSID and IACA rules among others. He is founding partner of Bullard Falla Ezcurra+, a boutique law firm specialising in arbitration, economic regulation and competition law. He is a member of the ICC Court of Arbitration and professor at various universities where he teaches arbitration, law and economics and legal skills. He presided over the commission that drafted the Peruvian Arbitration Act.
What do you enjoy most about working in international arbitration?
When I was young, I wanted to study literature to learn how to tell a story. Arbitration, whether as a litigant or as an arbitrator, is a storytelling activity. The truth is discovered through evidence, by turning it into a persuasive and convincing story. In doing so you resolve controversies and help create trust, which is necessary to develop business and all human activities. Arbitration is a creative activity with an important practical impact.
What sorts of arbitration-related matters are you most active on at present?
Arbitration allows you to learn from every imaginable activity. You learn about engineering, public policy, technology, accounting, economics, business administration, etc. Fortunately, my practice is very diverse. Most of my cases are related to investment arbitration, construction, energy, and oil and gas. But luckily, I see a lot more than that.
Why did you decide to set up your own firm?
I have worked in large and more traditional firms in the past. I learned about organisation and efficiency. However, innovation is more difficult to pursue in them as they are less flexible to change. A new and small firm, that is very specialised, provides a space to be different and to create new ideas. Also, if you want to work as an arbitrator, large firms tend to generate too many conflicts of interest.
How does your role as an academic complement your work in private practice?
The mission of our firm is to turn the academic aspect into a profitable activity with practical impact. We seek to turn academic study and research into a professional product, offering specialisation, innovation and interdisciplinary work (we have economists in the team, and we work with psychologists and even with theatre directors). It is a different model, and clients recognise it. It would have been difficult to do it within a traditional firm.
You have mentioned that you work with experts in other disciplines, such as psychology, to assist with cases. What are the benefits of such an approach?
To believe that an arbitration case is won by pure legal reasoning is a mistake. A good award doesn’t just depend on the arbitrator knowing the law. Arbitrations are won primarily by facts. And the facts must be understood. The law is important, but it is insufficient to understand what happened in a case. You need to understand economics and business to understand how a contract works. Or you need to understand engineering to know why a building was not finished on time.
On the other hand, understanding human behaviour is essential. We must accept that biases are part of the decision process in arbitration. Arbitrators are not robots. They are human beings with emotions and instincts that influence their decisions. Studying psychology or understanding how persuasion works gives a clear advantage in a case.
I have also worked with theatre directors who help us understand the tools to be persuasive and convincing. And you see how to achieve amazing results in terms of improving case theory and how to present it. Finally, a hearing is not so different from a theatre performance. Back to storytelling. You can’t be a good storyteller if you don’t handle the facts and don’t know how to structure them into a persuasive story. Doing that clearly requires interdisciplinary work.
Out of commercial arbitrations and investor-state cases, which do you prefer and why?
In general, commercial arbitration has more diversity of topics and you learn from many different economic activities. But investment arbitration allows you to understand public policies and requires a more careful and politically correct handling of arbitration. If I had to choose, I would see 70 per cent of commercial cases and 30 per cent of investment cases. But I would like to continue and be involved in both types of arbitrations.
Looking back over your career, what is the most interesting arbitration you have been a part of?
It was a very curious case. There was a contract made more than a century ago. When the parties discovered the contract, they asked the arbitral tribunal to define the amount of rent to be paid for a lease, which was agreed upon in a currency that no longer existed. The tribunal had to do historical research to apply the three civil codes that had existed in Peru and their debt updating systems, to understand how the currency of the time of the Spanish colony functioned after Peruvian independence. Again, this highlights the need for interdisciplinary work. Without historical research, the case could not be resolved.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in international arbitration?
The most successful arbitrator or litigator is not the most knowledgeable or the most intelligent. The most successful is the one who works the most. And especially the one who is willing to study not only the law but all the branches of knowledge necessary to understand each case.
A second piece of advice is integrity. Integrity is perhaps the most important competition factor in being chosen as an arbitrator in the long run.
And a third tip. If you are a litigator, your goal is not to win. Your goal is to do things the right way. Focusing on winning rather than doing things right is the main cause of errors in arbitration.