Timothy Cooke FCIArb

Timothy is an international arbitration barrister based in Singapore. He represents clients in arbitrations under the rules of the leading arbitral institutions with a focus on investment disputes across jurisdictions in Asia. Timothy is also frequently appointed as sole, presiding and emergency arbitrator.

Timothy is the author of the leading Singapore arbitration book, International Arbitration in Singapore: Legislation and Materials (Sweet & Maxwell, 2018), which has been cited numerous times with approval by the Singapore Courts. He is consistently recognised as a leading individual for international arbitration by Chambers Asia-Pacific (2021) and by Legal 500 Asia Pacific (2021). He is recognised as a Litigation Star for International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution by Benchmark Litigation.

Why have you decided to specialise in arbitration? Tell us about your legal journey to ADR.

I started out in practice as a commercial chancery barrister on a diet of commercial and company litigation. Perhaps like many disputes lawyers in those days, I encountered arbitration by chance. My first exposure was in a Middle East joint venture dispute replete with issues such as separability and subject matter arbitrability – bread and butter for arbitration lawyers, but all of it was new to me. The tribunal was the late great Martin Hunter, who (as I reflect now) accommodated my stumbles through these unfamiliar areas with grace and patience. As the years went by, my experience with arbitration grew and I was lucky to arrive in Singapore in 2006, just as the country embarked on its meteoric rise as an arbitral seat. The cases I work on now as counsel and arbitrator are of such diversity in terms of geography, industry, subject matter and laws that no two days are the same.

How is your arbitration practice different from your general litigation experience?

The most obvious difference is the diversity of participants in any given case as compared to national litigation. In Asia it is not uncommon to be involved in an arbitration between parties from, say, Hong Kong and Indonesia; tribunal members from Malaysia, England and Singapore; and opposing counsel from the United States. Such diversity requires a tribunal to be alive to and manage cultural differences, potential misunderstandings as to the preparation and presentation of a case and so on. But it also makes the dynamic of each case unique, and affords the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people.

How has a membership with the CIArb benefitted your career?

The professional education through the Pathways programme has equipped me both as arbitration counsel and as arbitrator. I draw on the knowledge gained from the associate, membership and fellowship courses almost every day. Without being a Fellow, it would certainly be more difficult to obtain arbitral appointments. An extension of CIArb’s education and training are the guidance notes that CIArb has developed over the years. They are an invaluable resource. These notes deal with a host of practical issues that crop up, such as how to interview prospective arbitrators (Guideline 1), how to approach arbitral proceedings where one or more parties do not participate (Guideline 9), and how to address questions in interest in awards (Guideline 11), to name just a few. I was delighted to be able to contribute to this body of practical notes a few years ago by being involved in the preparation of Guideline 13 on witness conferencing.

Would you encourage a young legal professional to develop skills in the ADR field? What advice would you have for them?

Without doubt, disputes lawyers need not only to be aware of but to be skilled users of ADR, whether it be mediation, arbitration (to the extent that arbitration is still truly alternative) or other means of resolving disputes without resort to litigation. At the same time, however, I feel it is very important for disputes lawyers and those who wish to specialise in mediation or arbitration to be proficient litigators. They need to know to what ADR is an alternative. There is a rigour to the preparation and presentation of matters before national courts that will stand a lawyer in good stead when they encounter arbitration and mediation. When advising and representing clients it is important to know from experience when litigation may be the appropriate forum for resolving a dispute, and when ADR may be beneficial as a complementary or alternative approach. My advice to young legal professionals with an interest in ADR would therefore be to embrace and learn from litigation practice – it will make you a better arbitration or mediation lawyer. If possible, I would also recommend trying to get some experience with advocacy. Having to stand behind your own research, your own drafting and your own submissions in front of a tribunal will cause you to develop all your skills as a lawyer very quickly.

As a member of CIArb, what can you say about the importance of CIArb’s engagements via their flagship and branches events?

CIArb has a diverse network of members across the globe – lawyers, arbitrators, mediators, expert witnesses and more. Global events are opportunities to meet practitioners with whom you might not otherwise interact, and to learn from their expertise and experiences. They are a chance to develop your profile and to learn about trends and developments outside your own locale. At the same time, branch events are the way to stay connected in your own ADR community. Most CIArb branches have active events and young member sub-committees who organise a wide range of events that concern broad ADR issues and also regional topics of interest. I believe a lot of the value of CIArb membership lies in being connected to other like-minded members who you may encounter as colleagues, opposing counsel or tribunal members.  

Tell us about your interests, hobbies or activities outside of work.

If I get a spare moment, you’ll probably find me sitting at the piano. It’s a great way to relax at the beginning or end of the day (though my neighbours might not agree). Many years ago, I played in a jazz piano trio in London, but today my interest is mostly in classical repertoire, especially Bach, Scarlatti, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin.

If you could experience first-hand one historical event what would it be and why?

Having studied History at university, there are so many events that I would love to witness, from the Battle of Edington (when King Alfred beat the Vikings against all odds), to political intrigues during the reign of Elizabeth I, to pretty much any event of significance in the Second World War. But the child in me still wants to see dinosaurs roaming the Earth, so if I had a time machine, I would set it for 70 million years ago.