Peers and clients say:
"Judith is a measured decision-maker who is highly experienced in complex international disputes"
"A clear standout name in the new generation of arbitrators"
"She is hard working, meticulous and always very respectful with clients and peers"
Judith Levine is an independent arbitrator with extensive dispute resolution experience in public international law, investment treaty, commercial contract, and sports cases. She brings valuable insight from her work in both private practice and at public institutions. At the 2020 and 2021 Australian ADR Awards, Judith won “Arbitrator of the Year”.
Judith has sat as presiding arbitrator, sole and co-arbitrator in disputes at the ICC, ICSID, PCA, SIAC, ACICA, HKIAC, KCAB and CAS and as a privilege inspector in an investor-state case under the UNCITRAL Rules. Judith is Vice-President of the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, a member of the National Sports Tribunal, the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal, and the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Now based in Sydney, Judith worked for over a decade at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague where, as Senior Legal Counsel, she administered some of the world’s most complex disputes, including the South China Sea, Yukos and Bangladesh Accord arbitrations. Prior to joining the PCA in 2008, Judith practised arbitration at White & Case in New York representing sovereign states and private parties. Earlier in her career, Judith worked with the International Court of Justice, the Australian Attorney-General, and the High Court of Australia.
Judith has presented and published on diverse issues in dispute resolution such as arbitral procedure, ethics, business and human rights, climate law, and corruption (see www.levinearbitration.com).
A national of Australia and Ireland, Judith obtained her LLM from NYU (Hauser and Fulbright scholar) and a BA (French major)/Bachelor of Laws (University Medallist) from UNSW in Australia. She is admitted in NSW and New York.
What inspired you to pursue a career in arbitration?
From early on I knew I wanted to work in a field of dispute resolution that involved variety, the prospect of travel and working with people from all over the world, and the capacity to mix public service and private sector work. When I finished my judicial fellowship at the ICJ in 2003, I was looking for a way to return to New York (where I had studied), and to continue some public international law work while getting commercial dispute resolution experience. International arbitration offered a perfect blend of all those things.
How has the market changed since you first started practising?
When I started practising, many practitioners had stumbled into the field after working in litigation, whereas now more people specialise in international arbitration from an earlier stage. When I was in practice, many of my senior colleagues at White & Case were women, but I only ever appeared before one female arbitrator. There were also very few female or non-white arbitrators in PCA cases when I first started there in 2008. That was definitely changing by the time I left in 2019. Now as an arbitrator, I find myself sitting with almost as many women as men. Other changes in the market include a proliferation of boutique practices and sole practitioner arbitrators, and the rise of arbitration in the Asia-Pacific. Certainly in Australia the depth and extent of experience in the field has hugely increased.
As an individual with a distinguished arbitration career, can you describe the first moment where you felt that you had “made it” in the legal industry?
I think what counts as “making it” varies at each stage of your career. As an associate at White & Case, those moments would include getting to cross-examine a witness for the first time, winning my first pro bono case, or attending my first meeting at the UN as a member of the Australian delegation to UNCITRAL. At the PCA, it was probably getting to serve as registrar in a state-to-state case. As an arbitrator, arriving for my very first hearing in Paris and telling the reception I was there as the arbitrator felt like “making it”, as did my first appointment in an investor-state case. Every time I’ve cycled into the grounds of the Peace Palace, whether as a judicial fellow at the ICJ, senior legal counsel at the PCA or more recently as arbitrator, feels like “making it” – there’s something special about that place that makes you feel like you’re doing your little bit for the peaceful resolution of disputes.
What motivated you to start your own independent arbitration practice? What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting out as an independent arbitrator?
Professionally, I felt ready for the role (I love decision-making, decision-writing and even case management). I had sat as arbitrator a few times and wanted to do more. While I loved my decade at the PCA working on phenomenal cases with a wonderful team, I was starting to feel like I had learned what I could, and was ready to be the arbitrator rather than assist the arbitrators. Working as an arbitrator offers great variety, autonomy and flexibility.
Personally, after 17 years abroad, I wanted to move home to spectacular Sydney, give my children an Australian childhood, spend time with my parents, and integrate into society in a way that an expat cannot quite do. I wanted work that I could do from anywhere, with the option of carrying that work overseas again later down the track. There were a handful of prominent arbitrators in Australia, but I figured there was definitely room in the market for at least one more, especially with international experience and from the next generation.
Initially, I thought the biggest challenge would be distance and travel, but the world changed in 2020, shortly after I set up my practice. Remote and flexible work became normalised and we were all forced to embrace technology that allows us to handle cases efficiently and with slightly less frequent need to travel.
What qualities do you think make a successful arbitrator? How do these differ from those in a successful lawyer?
A number of qualities are essential to both, such as strong analytical and communication skills. I also think lawyers and arbitrators alike need a healthy dose of curiosity, inter-personal skills and the ability to work with people across different cultures. Arbitrators should also be open-minded, flexible but firm, and, of course, fair.
What is the most memorable case you have been a part of?
That’s a close tie between Yukos and South China Sea, both epic in scale. There were so many other memorable cases at the PCA – like Abyei and the Bangladesh Accord Arbitrations, both of which showed the potential of arbitration to adapt to novel kinds of disputes, whether that be an intra-state dispute or a dispute involving multiple stakeholders and the safety of millions of workers in a particular industry. I must add that sometimes the small cases can be just as memorable, and the stakes can be just as high in the eyes of the individuals involved.