Originally from Hawai’i, Christopher heads Chinn Arbitration in Paris, and has advised on international legal issues since 1999. He serves on the Executive Committee of the European Branch of the Chartered Institute and is qualified in New York, England & Wales, and Paris.
1. Why have you decided to specialise in arbitration?
I am at heart a fierce advocate! I enjoy the variety of problems one faces and the challenge of adapting to the different circumstances of each case. Arbitration, especially international arbitration, offers variety and challenges in droves, where not only the facts, but the language, culture, and governing law or laws may vary.
Arbitration was also one of the first fields of law I became acquainted with when I started out twenty years ago, at a time when arbitration was less well known. One could say that arbitration found me, and not the other way around. Having obtained my first university degree in history at Yale in 1999, and having had only a few prior law classes and clerkships, I was fortunate to obtain a training position in Paris for two years at one of the leading arbitration law firms at the time, Coudert Brothers.
2. How is your arbitration practice different from your previous general commercial litigation experience?
The difference is in the degree of variety that one encounters in arbitration, which can be much greater than in litigation. I was a commercial litigator and compliance attorney for six years in New York City, first with Covington & Burling, and then with Baker & McKenzie where I also did some international arbitration work. I think however that the fundamentals of dispute resolution remain the same whether in litigation, arbitration, or mediation – clear reasoning and argumentation based on sound research, combined with a high level of adaptability and persistence.
3. Could you tell us something more about how did you become qualified in three jurisdictions?
A few more tests to take and a few more practising fees to pay.
4. Which factors convinced you to open your own arbitration practice -Chinn Arbitration?
I have always had my own arbitration practice. When working for large law firms (including at one time the largest law firm in the world), my primary clients were those law firms.
5. Are there any developments in the field of ADR in which you are particularly interested in?
It has been interesting for me to observe the popularization of ADR. There is seemingly a greater percentage of practitioners in each jurisdiction engaging in ADR procedures than ever before, especially on an international level. While the proliferation of various guidelines and rules in ADR has favoured standardization, a larger pool of practitioners has favoured variety in practice. I am not sure which is winning out – standardization or variety. As any attorney can tell you, “it depends” on the case. The difference in styles of pleading that one may encounter in practice is certainly mind-boggling.
There is still a “club” of frequent ADR practitioners who know each other well, which I think is inherent and normal in any professional field of endeavour, but there are also many “outsiders”, and it will be interesting to see what influences such outsiders exert on ADR.
6. Are there any developments in the field of ADR which you consider to be current “hot topics”. What is your opinion of them?
The fees that lawyers, arbitrators, mediators, and experts should charge clients must be among the hottest of topics around. With the popularization of ADR has come a greater variety in fee scales, fee structures, and opportunities for funding cases.
As an independent practitioner who prides himself on offering high-quality services for reasonable fees, I am among the first to say that higher fees do not equal higher quality. Users should be aware however that price often affects quality, to the extent that a party must be willing to pay service providers some minimum amount for the time required to perform diligent work. Even the most reasonably priced practitioners will inevitably need to spend significant time to deliver quality work. I have seen lawyers take on large complicated cases for low flat fees, but where the work product (and result in the case) was predictably horrible. On the other hand, excellent firms large and small have been taking on cases at a loss for marketing purposes or to gain experience, but this kind of pricing is unsustainable. There is a balance to be struck between quality and price.
7. Is there any jurisdiction in which you see a lot of potential for ADR in the future?
I see great potential in every jurisdiction for ADR in small and medium-sized disputes, including in micro-arbitrations involving individual persons rather than companies. It is in these cases especially where the balance between quality and price may be the most difficult to achieve.
8. Tell us about your interests, hobbies or any out of work activities.
I am still preparing myself for the Olympics as a long-distance runner. My moment of glory will have to wait however, as my best chance at a medal is in the over-100-year-old category.
9. Tell us a short war story from your arbitration experience.
As a trainee I had the privilege of making a last minute train trip to a neighbouring foreign country in order to deliver a full hard copy set of our own client’s pleadings to the war room the night before the hearing because the lead associate on the case had brought all the adversary’s pleadings but forgotten to bring our own. Hard copies were unfortunately necessary. There was no courier service that would do the job so late in the day, and I was the most cost-efficient option. In retrospect, I am lucky that the night trip required a stay in a hotel, and that I got to visit the foreign country. I have heard of paralegals in non-arbitration fields travelling from New York to Caribbean countries to obtain signatures on documents only to have to return on the next flight a few hours later!