Peers and clients say:
"He is a hard-working and precise lawyer"
"Victor has a deep knowledge of arbitration law"
"He possesses extensive knowledge of complex procedural issues"
"Victor is experienced and reliable for international proceedings"
Victor Bonnin is an arbitrator for commercial, investment and sports disputes qualified in Spain and in England and Wales and also holds a Swiss law degree. In 2016 he started his practice to act exclusively as an arbitrator. He has been the secretary general of the Spanish Club of Arbitration and co-editor of the Lefebvre handbook on arbitration in Spain. Victor has conducted cases in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese under institutions such as ICC, LCIA, HKIAC, SCC, Swiss Arbitration Center, Madrid Court of Arbitration, etc.
You have a background in Spanish, English and Welsh and Swiss law. How has this enhanced your arbitration practice?
This allows me to better understand the laws of other jurisdictions. Having a common law and civil law background is very helpful to understand and adapt proceedings to the needs of the parties when one comes from a civil law jurisdiction, and the other from a common law one. Further, I think this has been very useful to be appointed by institutions such as the LCIA, or the ICC when they need to appoint an arbitrator or chair that must know those laws but shall not be a national of that jurisdiction.
You have impressive experience acting as arbitrator in international arbitration proceedings. What are the keys to success when it comes to acting as arbitrator in high-value, complex disputes?
The parties go first. As an arbitrator you may have some preferences in how to deal with certain aspects, such as the number of rounds, oral or written conclusions, submission of expert reports jointly with the main submissions or separately, etc. However, the preferences of the parties may be different, and you have to try to adapt yourself to them paying attention also to the circumstances of the case, and if you consider that what they want is not what the case needs, to make them understand it. In addition, it is crucial to study the case and the documents deeply as sometimes the key for solving it is in the details. I think that the parties appreciate when they see that the arbitrators know their case and their exhibits. For the losing party, it is very frustrating if it loses the case with the impression that the arbitrator did not study the case or did not understand it. That party will no longer trust in arbitration.
How should younger practitioners improve their chances of receiving arbitration appointments in the future?
I always say that the most difficult appointment from an institution is the second one. The institutions are the ones than can afford “taking the risk” of appointing new arbitrators for small cases and they do it frequently. That first appointment is very important as it is like a “test”. I recommend taking it very seriously and doing an excellent job. Then, more appointments will come.
In what ways is corruption evolving and presenting itself as an issue in arbitration cases, and how must arbitration specialist evolve to meet these cases?
Rather than an evolution, I think that there is an increase of allegations of corruption. My view is that arbitrators have to be more courageous when facing those issues. Accepting that there has been corruption makes the resolution of the dispute more complex and sometimes I have the impression that people follow the easy way to go, which is to increase the standard of proof, so one can conclude that there was no corruption and continue with the resolution of the case as if nothing had happened. To generate confidence in the system it is necessary to be courageous to face allegations of corruption and the consequences derived from an existing corruption.
Some practitioners report that the current pool of investment arbitrators in the market is too small. Do you agree, and if so what issues does this present and how can it be effectively addressed by arbitration institutions?
It is relative. In absolute numbers and compared with commercial arbitrators, it is small. But considering the number of investments cases I do not think it is small. I think that there are many capable practitioners that could act as arbitrators in investment cases. A different issue is that the de facto pool is small, in the sense that even if there are many people with strong capacities, we see some names frequently appointed. In addition to this creating problems related to conflict issues or conflicts of interest, this causes a problem of longer proceedings related to the availability of the arbitrators. The paradox is that then the market complains about the length and the problems of conflicts in investment arbitrations. Thus, I think that not only institutions, but also the parties should be more courageous in appointing new arbitrators. I understand that investment cases are very complex, and thus my proposal refers to appointing new people with experience as arbitrator, for instance, commercial. In fact, this has traditionally been the natural path: leading commercial arbitrators starting to receive appointments for investment cases.
What are the pros and cons of the increasing boutique-ification of the international arbitration market?
I think that there are more advantages than disadvantages, in particular by the fact that most of the boutiques are created by excellent professionals that come from big and experienced law firms. This offers users access to arbitration services of an excellent quality at lower cost. Further, they offer more opportunities to young lawyers to get arbitration experience in law firms with a different profile than the usual big ones. I think that big arbitration law firms and boutiques can coexist to provide the most adequate services to cover the needs of different kinds of users.
What excites you most about the future of practice as an arbitrator?
The development of artificial intelligence and virtual reality will bring new challenges to parties and arbitrators. It is difficult to predict how they will change arbitration as I think that personal contact provides you very valuable information that you do not get otherwise. But I can think about inspections made in virtual reality and challenges of a party alleging that the software does not reflect exactly the reality…
If you could introduce one reform into international arbitration proceedings, what would it be and why?
I do not know if I would introduce it, but I think that it is time to study seriously whether arbitrators should be given the power to impose monetary sanctions on parties that use dilatory tactics, as sometimes a condemnation on costs is not enough. An example could be a case in which a party seeks to exclude a shareholder from a company, who may be receiving important dividends while the arbitration lasts. Thus, such parties may not have an interest in an early resolution of the dispute and a condemnation on costs may be a small penalty compared with the dividends that it has received during the proceedings. It is a very controversial matter and where and how to regulate it is very problematic, but I think that it is worth studying it.