Honlet Legum Arbitration
68 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
75008, Paris, France
Peers and clients say:
"Jean-Christophe is an outstanding practitioner"
"He is very able to handle jurisdictional issues and fosters a great attorney-client relationship"
"He has a superb sense of strategy"
Jean-Christophe Honlet is a founding partner of Honlet Legum Arbitration in Paris, a boutique exclusively devoted to the practice of international arbitration. He has over 25 years of experience acting as counsel, arbitrator or expert witness in a broad variety of international arbitrations, under multiple laws.
How would you describe your career to date?
I started my career at Salans and then Dentons. I chaired the arbitration practice in both firms for over 15 years in total. In 2022, I founded an arbitration boutique with my longtime partner Bart Legum, Honlet Legum Arbitration.
What does your caseload consist of?
A mix of arbitrator and counsel work, approximately evenly distributed at this point, with another mix that I very much enjoy and varies in any given year between commercial and investment treaty arbitration. I have had a longtime interest in public international law, going back to my time as a law student. I occasionally also act as an expert witness on points of law before an arbitral tribunal or a domestic court. I deal with cases in a broad variety of sectors, including energy, international construction, mining, defence industry, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, telecommunications, media, automotive, aerospace, private equity and banking. Many of my cases as arbitrator or counsel, either treaty or commercial cases, have involved and still involve states or state-owned entities.
What do you value as counsel?
Attention to the facts first. Trying to understand what has happened. A truly good case is generally won on the facts and the more one understands what has “really” happened, as opposed to just taking stock of what results from abstract letters, documents or statements, the more one is able to convey it in a persuasive manner to a tribunal. Once the facts and the law are in place, clarity and concision in written and oral advocacy should be the lodestar of any counsel.
How would you describe your philosophy as an arbitrator sitting in high-value, complex investor state and commercial disputes?
I am not sure I would describe it as a philosophy but would put good judgment and predictability at the top. Good judgment is what most arbitrators aspire to and what many succeed in delivering. It has a variety of facets, including properly understanding the facts and the parties’ businesses as well as open-mindedness. It also takes respect for counsel work. No matter how hard an arbitrator works on a case, he will rarely understand the case as well as counsel or the parties do. It is for this reason that I generally do not like counsel to be interrupted in cross-examination. I prefer to keep questions until after this is done. Good judgment in terms of interpersonal relations within the tribunal is equally important. Predictability, which is part and parcel with good judgment, is just as important, although sometimes undervalued. Parties to an arbitration, or about to start an arbitration, should ideally be able to predict with a relatively good degree of certainty the outcome of a case regardless of the composition of the tribunal. We know that this is not always possible, sometimes for good reasons, because the case is factually or legally uncertain, and sometimes for bad reasons. Fundamentally, what the parties envisaged in their contract or treaty as understood under proper rules of interpretation - which are different between commercial and treaty cases - is what they should get in the award. Predictability also has to do with reasonably quickly delivering awards. I would add two points which are equally important. The first is that parties should be able to trust the process and leave the arbitration with the feeling that their position was heard, whatever the outcome, and heard independently. The other, more practical, but just as important, is that as arbitrator or counsel, one should also always keep an eye on damages and possible enforcement issues, including from the outset of the case. Damages are what parties are generally interested in when starting an arbitration. Being literate in numbers as an arbitrator is just as important as being a good lawyer. I like that aspect of cases, building on my initial education. I graduated in business before studying law.
In what ways are ICSID’s new regulations affecting investor state arbitration proceedings?
The amendments to the ICSID Rules and Regulations which entered into force in 2022 are an important step towards addressing some of the concerns raised towards investor state arbitration, notably time and cost efficiency. More reforms are to be expected in the next few years, however, based on the current view of state actors - whether based on facts or perceptions - that the system needs further changes.
Some practitioners report an increase in summary dismissals in arbitration proceedings. How might this impact the practice of arbitration in the near future? Should summary dismissals become common place?
They definitely should. Whenever possible, addressing early on possible clear defects in cases is to be favored. Most modern arbitration rules now include a possibility for tribunals to do so. But even in the absence of particular rules to this effect, arbitrators should be bold enough, in appropriate cases, to make certain early findings, and possibly summary dismissals, avoiding unnecessary time and costs to be spent whenever possible.