John Pierce is singled out by market sources as "an insightful, intelligent and highly effective advocate" when it comes to international dispute resolution spanning a range of complex commercial and corporate matters.
John V.H. Pierce is a partner and global co-chair of the International Arbitration Practice at Latham & Watkins. He represents a global client base from a wide variety of industries and business sectors in high-stakes, complex international arbitration matters in venues around the world. John has been involved as lead counsel or arbitrator in arbitrations pending before all major arbitral institutions, under both civil and common law regimes, and has extensive experience with international arbitral procedure and advocacy. John is described by clients and peers in Chambers as “an exceptional advocate” and “very tough opponent” with an “outstanding legal mind”, and “a great ability to understand and execute complex business objectives.”
What do you enjoy most about working in arbitration?
One of the wonderful aspects of practising in this field is that every new case – whether as counsel or as arbitrator – brings a new set of issues or involves issues that one has seen before in a different context and that must be revisited under the particular circumstances of the matter. In addition, the choice of arbitral seat, the nationalities and legal backgrounds of the parties, counsel and arbitrators, and the arbitral institution overseeing the proceedings (assuming there is one), can all have a significant impact on the way the case is arbitrated. Because of those factors, this is an area of enormous variety and constant evolution: I am constantly learning, thinking through new sets of problems and devising new ways to make the arbitral process work better for my clients or for the parties before me.
What have you learnt from being seated in arbitrations in multiple jurisdictions?
The choice of seat can have many important implications for an arbitration. For example, the choice of seat may impact, among other things: the applicability of the New York Convention; the standards for vacatur of an arbitral award; form requirements and
non-arbitrability rules; the nationality, qualifications and methods of appointment of arbitrators; the procedural conduct of the arbitration; and choice of law rules. In addition, because in-person hearings are often, though not always, held at the seat, one learns quickly that the choice of seat may impact the overall convenience of the arbitral process for parties, counsel, witnesses and arbitrators.
What is the greatest challenge currently facing arbitration lawyers in the US?
One of the important challenges that continues to confront international arbitration lawyers in the US is the misperception in some parts of the world that an international arbitration seated in the US under an internationally-accepted set of institutional rules (such as the ICC, LCIA or ICDR rules) is nevertheless likely to approximate aspects of a US litigation – for example with respect to disclosure. The challenge is that this misperception may cause non-US parties to resist seating their international arbitrations in the US for fear of encountering US-style procedures in any proceeding that may arise. US-based counsel and arbitrators have more work to do to make it clear to the global business community that this perception is misplaced. There is a deep bench of arbitration practitioners – particularly in New York, Washington and Miami – who would ensure as procedurally-neutral and “international” a process as one would see in any other major international arbitration centre, including with respect to disclosure.
What steps can younger arbitration practitioners take to improve their chances of getting appointments? Is there an important role to play here for more experienced lawyers in the field?
Getting those first appointments is always difficult because of an inherent catch-22: one generally needs some experience to get arbitral appointments – but one needs arbitral appointments to gain experience. My first appointments came from arbitral institutions, which I think is quite common. Most institutions are open to giving a younger arbitration practitioner without experience as an arbitrator a chance to sit in a relatively low-value case. It is important for young practitioners to get involved in the major arbitral institutions and to ensure that they interact with the people responsible for making arbitral appointments in those institutions. In addition, it is important for young arbitration practitioners to know other practitioners of the same vintage practising at other firms. Very often, it is those colleagues and contacts who will reach out down the road when parties are looking to make appointments.
How has the arbitration process developed since you first began your career?
One important development I have noticed since I first began my career in international arbitration over 20 years ago is the increasing tendency of international arbitration practitioners to rely on a standard set of practices and procedures in each case rather than embrace the inherent flexibility of arbitration and determine the most appropriate procedures for a particular matter. It is natural, on some level, for practitioners to revert to a standard set of rules and procedures, but it is important to resist the trend toward homogenisation and work toward ensuring that each arbitration is conducted on a bespoke basis and in accordance with the procedures that make the most sense for that particular case.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Early in my career, I served as a law clerk for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That court hears appeals from the US District Courts on the West Coast of the United States, as well as in Alaska and Hawaii. My co-clerks and I would often travel with our judge to different states for a week of hearings, and when we did we would usually accompany her to dinner with the other judges sitting on the panel that week. I recall distinctly, at one of those dinners, speaking to another judge on the Ninth Circuit about how best to advance in one’s career as a lawyer. This judge was both brilliant and one of the youngest judges on the Court of Appeals. He gave us some career advice that I have never forgotten. The key to getting ahead, he said, was to do the best possible job at whatever it is that you are asked to do. So, he said, if you are young and in a new job, and you are asked to make a pot of coffee, make it the best pot of coffee that anyone has ever tasted. If you bring that same intensity, focus and commitment to excellence to everything you do, there will be no stopping you.