Shanti Abraham runs her own practice M/s Shanti Abraham & Associates in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She has vast experience in corporate and dispute resolution matters. She is a Litigator, Arbitrator, Adjudicator & Mediator.
Why have you decided to specialise in ADR? What attracted you to this area of law?
Quite simply, ADR offers more solutions and creative options to disputing parties. As a problem solver at heart, I enjoy the various processes available to help parties find a solution or a way forward to their disputes.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge in your career as a female practitioner in arbitration/ mediation?
One challenge that used to be prevalent was the extreme polar perception that female practitioners were either too aggressive or not aggressive enough.
These perceptions were sometimes wielded as weapons to discount the appointment of female litigators/ arbitrators/mediators. Having said that, this has been improving over the more than two decades I have been in practice.
Women, like men, are capable of a full spectrum of appropriate assertiveness. The use of assertiveness after all, is personality driven, not gender driven.
What do you consider as the biggest challenge for the ADR in the future?
I see 2 key challenges.
The First: User knowledge.
ADR practitioners must work on user awareness. Many parties genuinely still do not know the difference between Arbitration, Mediation and Adjudication.
The Second: Overreliance on digitization
There seems to be almost uncontained excitement that everything can be done online or using technology.
It is possibly true that in the future we don’t need doctors or lawyers or ADR practitioners or auditors or teachers in the roles they play today - as almost everything can be done algorithmically online.
ADR practitioners need to be aware of the devastating impact of whittling their skillsets down to easy, fast and cheap.
Algorithms making binary decisions may be the cheapest option for disputants in the future however, I believe this is a challenge that has not been sufficiently evaluated on a 360°-basis.
This will not only have an impact on current practitioners but also an impact on organisations like CIARB which are committed to education: Why would anyone pay to train to be an arbitrator or mediator or adjudicator if those skillsets have no real commercial value.
I do believe that the zeal to keep costs low or down close to zero will erode life and opportunities as we know it.
Are there any interesting developments in the field of ADR in the jurisdiction you are based in?
The Singapore Convention on Mediation is anticipated to draw a lot of interest to Mediation as an effective problem solving mechanism around the world and particularly to Asia and ASEAN.
Hybrid mechanisms to resolve disputes are likely to gain in prominence as ADR practitioners explore the various options available. This includes neutral evaluation, Med-Arb, Arb-Med-Arb, Med-Adj, Adj-Med-Adj.
If you had a time machine, what piece of advice would you give to yourself at the beginning of your career in ADR?
It is going to be a long haul commitment, so stay cheerful and keep thinking positive.
What is it like to work in a predominantly male profession such as ADR?
It is a non-issue for me.
I truly enjoy working with anyone who has a good heart, is passionate about what they believe in and who wants to make a difference.
The collaborative air that ADR practitioners cultivate around themselves ought to be positive and purposeful.
How has a membership with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators benefitted your career?
The networking and international interactions have been very valuable.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement in the field thus far?
I was nominated to be trained in Investor-State Mediation by ICSID and that was a highlight of 2018. Apart from that, I am honoured to be called upon to lead and help advance knowledge and know-how about Mediation in Malaysia in different capacities.
On a personal front, I sense that one of my biggest achievements is cultivating the pause that is required to “respond” and not to “react” which I feel has served me well both in leadership and in the management of ADR matters, which I handle.
Tell us about your interests, hobbies or any out of work activities.
I am a mother to a pair of twin tweens. They provide me with ample opportunity to practice mediation and when necessary, arbitration as well. I enjoy motherhood, music and making meals for family & friends.
Tell us a short war story from your ADR experience.
It happened at my induction as a Fellow of CIARB.
I was naturally delighted to be part of this esteemed body of Arbitrators and I was looking forward to meeting fellow Arbitrators.
I was in my early 40s and eager to explore a brand new area of practice after having been in practice for nearly 18 years at that point.
I encountered a senior Arbitrator (male) who hovered somewhat unsteadily over me. Upon being introduced to him as one of the inductees of the evening, he smugly and sourly spat out that “ You look too young to be an Arbitrator”.
There was no mistaking that he was displeased by the prospect of newcomers into the industry and it was not flattery in disguise.
I did not miss a beat. I calmly eyeballed him – smiled- and said … “Perhaps…. But really – I am at the stage of my life were I am appointing Arbitrators”. I ensured that I politely held his gaze until it dawned on him that he was not going to be on my short or long list of Arbitrators ever.
Digested his faux pas …and slunked off for another free drink.
I was left wondering if any mid-senior males ever encountered posturing of that nature.
If you could be a film/book character for one day who would it be and why?
I would like to have 2 additional Avatars of myself.
One taking care of things in the office doing the work I love.
One at home busy Marie Kondo-ing and
My natural self at the beach somewhere with a cocktail and book helping to reduce my tsundoku book list.
If you could meet for a dinner a famous person, dead or alive, who would that be?
My late maternal grandfather who spoke many languages (including Japanese) and who was also a mathematician and policy maker- whom I never met. He made many brave personal decisions and was famous for saving several people during the Japanese Occupation in Malaya.
If you could experience first-hand one historical event what would it be and why?
The meeting of St Thomas (the Doubter) with the various people he converted to Christianity in Kerala in AD52. He wasn’t afraid to ask Jesus Questions, Seek Clarity and Continue forward.