Peers and clients say:
"Jan allies pragmatism with legal knowledge and also has a capability to understand the non-legal aspects of the case"
"He has a very organised mind and goes straight to the point"
"Jan has a calm and steady leadership style, making him very easy to work with"
Jan Kleinheisterkamp has worked as an arbitrator full-time since 2021 after 20 years in academia, where he specialised on international transactions, arbitration and investment treaty law. He is still a visiting professor in practice at the LSE. He is on the ICSID List of Conciliators (appointed by the UK) and was member of the ICC Governing Body for Dispute Resolution services at the ICC. A German–Peruvian double national, he works in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German and French.
What inspired you to pursue a career as an arbitrator?
After receiving my first appointment in an ICC arbitration in ICC 2006, I started sitting as an arbitrator while working full-time as a law professor, handling a trickle of cases for some 10 years. Then more and bigger appointments started coming and in 2021, when turning 50, it felt right to reinvent myself, leave LSE (though not completely) and plunge full-time into my work as an arbitrator. And the inspiration came from a talk by Juan Fernandez Armesto about his decision to launch himself at about the same age; it just felt right.
What do you see as being the primary benefits of arbitration compared with other dispute resolution methods?
The main benefit of arbitration is certainly the inherent internationality, allowing parties from different countries to feel comfortable with a safe process of dispute resolution developed by a long-standing international practice. While still costly, not all that fast as wished for and, of course, largely unpredictable in its outcome, it still gives a sense of certainty that the dispute will be handled competently and neutrally.
How does your academic background and experience as a professor enhance your practice as an arbitrator?
My academic work and my practitioner work have always complemented each other harmoniously. I think that having had some 20 years time to think more profoundly about so many questions of international transactions (instead of the fast-paced work of practicing lawyers), especially from a comparative perspective, allowed me to develop a depth of understanding that is most precious in tackling the legal issues in my cases – while still appreciating their factual (and even human) dimensions as well.
What role do you see technology playing in the future of arbitration, and how do you think arbitrators and practitioners can best leverage new technology to improve the arbitration process?
As impressive as the recent developments of AI are, I think that wise human judgment is still what ultimately instils real confidence in a process where a lot is at stake. For me, the role of technology is helping streamlining and organising the process, and some help with legal research. But it is a tool; it should not replace the human skill of the craftsman.
With diversity and inclusion being an ever bigger topic in the market, what do you think are the main benefits of having arbitrators and counsel with diverse gender, cultural and professional backgrounds?
Diversity and inclusion is very simply optimising the big potential that there is; keeping closed clubs of old white conservative boys is simply wasting the huge potential of talent! The best should get their chance to contribute to improving the overall system, not just those who conform to some very irrational historic (and paternalistic) stereotypes of what a wise person should look like. And we can see that just the efforts of gender inclusiveness (which can only be the beginning) has already brought about a lot of more brilliant young people to arbitration, so there is good hope that more is to come.
What excites you most about the future of arbitration?
What excites me most about the future of arbitration is not its impressive growth but contributing to solving the challenges that this growth brings about: not making arbitration great (again) but making sure it really performs well, providing parties with safe and reliable dispute resolution services without compromising the ever-increasing public interests at stake. If I had to single out one of those, it is certainly how to deal with corruption.
What advice would you give to a young lawyer hoping to become a successful arbitrator?
Cultivate integrity; don’t compromise on your core values and beliefs (although there is no perfection even in that…); trust in yourself and that you can contribute to making a difference; and don’t be attached to the result! It is ultimately not in your hands whether you will succeed at becoming an arbitrator. But doing things the best you can (again without being a perfectionist) and listening to yourself will always bring you the respect of others, give new opportunities and open new paths. And they may lead you not where you expected or hoped to get, but to a path to being yourself. And maybe to being a very good arbitrator.