28 Maxwell Road #02-03, Maxwell Chambers Suites
069120, Singapore, Singapore
Sarah Grimmer is “one of the most well-known figures” in the region who brings “deep institutional experience”, “very sharp intellect” and “time and attention” to her practice.
Sarah Grimmer is an arbitrator at Twenty Essex in Singapore. She served as secretary-general of the HKIAC from 2016 to 2022. Prior to that, she was senior legal counsel at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague from 2006 to 2016. Before the PCA, Sarah worked in Paris at the ICC International Court of Arbitration and at Shearman & Sterling LLP. She is admitted to practice in New Zealand.
In your experience, what are some of the most important attributes of an effective arbitrator in today’s climate?
Parties expect efficient proceedings that are run fairly and sensibly and result in a well-reasoned award, at reasonable cost. The most important attributes of an effective arbitrator are (i) availability and dedication; (ii) excellent procedural management skills; (iii) the ability to understand and resolve the issues in dispute; and (iv) the ability to write a well-reasoned award without undue delay.
A common complaint about international commercial arbitration is that the process is no longer efficient. What can arbitrators do to ensure that the arbitration proceeds smoothly and without unnecessary delay?
Arbitrators need to proactively manage cases from the outset so that they can anticipate and avoid procedural inefficiencies. They need to be several “steps ahead” of the parties, and certainly not behind. Much has been written on how to manage arbitrations efficiently. Arbitrators need to be aware of the techniques available to them and use them when appropriate.
In your opinion, what legacy have you left behind at the HKIAC?
At the HKIAC, my top priority was always that the cases be well-managed. This meant we needed systems in place to ensure that cases moved forward efficiently and in compliance with the rules. Time spent waiting for HKIAC was to be as minimal as possible while ensuring we dealt with the issues in any given case carefully. This instilled in the Secretariat a spirit of service to the parties and tribunals and a dedication to high standards. My goal was that we exceeded the expectations of anyone who encountered us.
In terms of HKIAC initiatives, my thinking was that they had to make a meaningful difference, and not just be for publicity when promoting HKIAC in the institutional “marketplace”. One example is that we invested heavily in upgrading our virtual hearing services at the outset of the pandemic when everyone needed those services.
I also thought it was important that HKIAC be informative and transparent while ensuring confidentiality. We have a special vantage point over hundreds of contracts, disputes and awards. We can speak to trends and developments and in some ways act as a barometer for developments in dispute resolution, at least in our region. We report extensive statistics every year and also provide accurate information when speaking publicly. We publish updated information on the PRC-HK Interim Measures Arrangement as we learn of new court decisions issued by mainland Chinese courts. We now publish summaries of HKIAC’s procedural decisions through the HKIAC Case Digest, which won the 2022 GAR Award for Best Innovation by an Individual or Organisation. These are all helpful to users.
At a managerial level, I believe it is important to run a team that takes pride in its work and whose members know how appreciated their good work is. I also believe it is important to give staff opportunities to stretch themselves so they can measure their growth as time goes by. I hope my legacy includes people who were happy to have worked with me at the helm. It was certainly my privilege and pleasure to be at the helm for six years, including through some of the most challenging years for Hong Kong.
What underrated skills would you encourage the up-and-coming generation of arbitration professionals to develop?
The most important skill I would encourage members of the up-and-coming generation to develop is their writing. They must learn to write with precision. Every word counts. One’s writing reflects one’s thinking. The clearer the writing, the clearer the thinking. Good writing also leads to good speaking. Writing and speaking are lawyers’ key skills. With those skills mastered, the next generation will be well-equipped to succeed in any area of the law.