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Guide to Regional Arbitration (volume 7 - 2019)

White List / Institutions Worth a Closer Look – North America

02 January 2019

The US is home to the mighty American Arbitration Association (AAA), which began as a domestic arbitration provider. When it started to seek an international name, it hit some obstacles. One was its name, which didn’t sound very neutral, and led it to adopt a different persona – the ICDR – for foreign-related work.

More awkwardly, “American arbitration” had a reputation in international circles as being a bit different. In Europe, the tradition was for every arbitrator to be neutral (including the party-appointed names), but in AAA arbitration, only the chairman had to be. Indeed the wingmen in AAA were expected to be partisan; they were viewed as being advocates for the side that appointed them.

The ICDR made sure its approach was different, and it is now a big international player (particularly in Latin America). But the negative perception of ‘American-style’ arbitration held it back for many years.

It hasn’t helped US-centric arbitral providers that US companies are such big international players, or that the national arbitration law – the Federal Arbitration Act – is so old (it dates from 1926). Both facts have helped keep work from the shores of the US. More recently, with the new political administration there have been visa issues for lawyers and key witnesses.

Still, despite these obstacles, international cases do take place in the US regularly. And there are three good US arbitration institutions worth knowing about: the AAA, the CPR and JAMS.

White List

  • International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR)/American Arbitration Association (AAA)
  • Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS)

Worth a Closer Look

  • ADR Chambers Canada
  • International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution (CPR)

White List


What is it?

The oldest and most respected arbitral provider in the US.

How old?

The AAA was established in 1926, a year after Calvin Coolidge signed the Federal Arbitration Act. This marked the culmination of a period when successive presidents – beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, who initiated the second Hague Convention in 1907 – had thrown their weight behind international arbitration.

Why does it have two names?

The ICDR is the global face of the association, set up in 1996 to provide conflict management services in non-domestic cases.

Where is it based?

The ICDR has a multilingual staff and a geographically diverse board of directors. It has offices with hearing centres in New York, Mexico City, Bahrain and Singapore, but its headquarters are in New York (also home of
the AAA).

How international is it?

It is widely used by non-US parties. In 2017, users from 143 different countries brought cases under ICDR rules. International filings reached a grand total of 1,065 in 2015, making the ICDR the second-largest administrator of international cases after the ICC.

Is it like the LCIA and ICC in having a multicultural, international oversight body?

Very much so. The ICDR’s international board includes some very familiar names – George Bermann, John Fellas and Jean Kalicki, for example. Kaj Hobér in Sweden, Kevin Kim in South Korea and Makhdoom Ali Khan in Pakistan are on the non-US side.

How has it developed such a reach?

By putting in the legwork. The ICDR has had a number of senior figures who have been based in particular regions, or else have travelled them extensively, over the years, and that promotional effort has over time paid off – particularly in Latin America. They’ve also led the ICDR into a joint ventures, such as in Bahrain.

What are the rules like?

The revised current ICDR rules came into force at the beginning of 2014, and included a number of adjustments to increase transparency, efficiency and speed.

Among the changes were: a new rule to ensure mediation is offered as a first step in all matters; a revision to its list system, which now kicks in when the parties fail to select a panel (under this system, parties have to strike out names on the list they don’t want and whoever remains at the end is deemed worthy of appointment); and a change to the upfront payment required to get a case started. It also announced an ICDR twist on the expedited procedure.

What was that twist?

Cases of US$250,000 or less are now automatically expedited, while those of US$100,000 or less are arbitrated on documents alone.

The ICDR says cases going the expedited route will be decided within 135 days of filing.

Who are the case handlers and what role do they play?

Similar to the ICC, the ICDR has a fair-sized secretariat who perform key functions under the rules, especially at the outset of the case. In the past, lawyers using it regularly had a series of grumbles about this group - trivial, sometimes but generally heartfelt – mostly to the effect that the ICDR staff weren’t multilingual enough for their role, or seemed too junior or inexperienced for the gravity of the decisions that sometimes fell to them under the rules.

Happily, those comments appear to be a thing of the past. This may in part be thanks to the growth in international LLM programmes in the US, which has given the ICDR a supply of well-qualified (and affordable) foreign lawyers to recruit from. If the ICDR staff are still “not quite as good as the ICC”, as one New Yorker maintains, the gap is much less. And they don’t tend to interfere as much as the ICC staffers do!

How busy is it?

The AAA usually handles around 1,000 cases a year. In 2017, the number of new cases exceeded 1,000.

What’s it been doing recently?

In 2016, the ICDR reorganised its staff along sector lines. From now on counsel and directors will work on the same types of dispute repeatedly. It also created specific panels of arbitrators for aerospace, aviation and national security cases. In 2017, it appointed new leaders for its under-40 group. For 2018, the institution says it aims to make information on arbitrator challenges publicly available and to create an arbitrator research tool.

Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS)

What is it?

JAMS was founded in 1979 by retired Californian judge Warren Knight, who decided to create a panel of former judges to arbitrate and mediate complex commercial cases as an alternative to the US court system. Today it has 25 offices in the US and two overseas.

It’s big then?

Yes. And getting bigger. In July 2018, JAMS revealed that it is opening two new centres in Los Angeles and New York, which will be dedicated exclusively to international arbitration proceedings. The Los Angeles centre hopes to take advantage of a softening of California’s arbitration law when it comes foreign lawyers’ appearing in cases (hitherto, a deterrent to sending cases there).

JAMS also has a panel of nearly 300 full-time neutrals, who between them turn over more than 12,000 cases most years. Though 70 per cent of these cases are mediations, that’s still more than 3,500 arbitrations a year.

How international is it?

It’s trying, is probably the kindest thing to say. It’s gone through several phases on how to approach international work – none apparently that successful. In 2007 it forged a strategic alliance with the HKIAC (not much mentioned anymore), followed by the announcement of “JAMS International” in 2011, an arm with partnerships and offices in several non-US cities including Toronto, London, Amsterdam, Milan, Ireland and Rome.

More recently JAMS International seems to have been reabsorbed into JAMS and the website lists only two foreign locations: Toronto and London. But, as mentioned, it is opening new “international branches” in California and New York.

Although the strategy appears to be in flux, it continues to maintain international rules. There’s just not much evidence of big international cases going there.

Is there evidence of any big cases going there?

Oh yes. One headline-grabber was a dispute between BlackBerry and Qualcomm in 2018, in which a JAMS tribunal ordered Qualcomm to return US$815 million in overpaid royalties to Blackberry. In 2017, the (then) embattled Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein filed a claim at JAMS against his own studio after it fired him in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.

How does the JAMS process work?

JAMS use a “managed arbitration process” made up of checklists and procedures intended to keep things to time and budget. Because its neutrals are required to be available full-time, at least domestically arbitration hearings are scheduled promptly and most matters are resolved within six months of the appointment of the arbitrator, it says.

Are the arbitrators “imposed” on the parties?

No, there’s more or less full party autonomy, and the list of neutrals is fully public (and detailed – see the institution’s excellent website at www.jamsadr.com). But if you don’t pick at least one JAMS neutral for the case, JAMS won’t administer the case.

Is the list still just made up of retired judges?

No, it also welcomes lawyers, an increasing number of whom hail from outside the US. A notable recent arrival was Olswang’s former head of arbitration, Andrew Aglionby, who was rumoured to be returning to the English bar before it emerged he had joined JAMS’s “completely independent, credible chambers-type set-up in London” in 2015. Neutrals are in some cases attracted by a feature of JAMS’s ownership structure.

How is it structured?

JAMS is a for-profit (it turns over much more than US$100 million a year) owned by approximately 100 of its neutrals and management, who have one share each.

How up to date are the rules?

The international rules came into force when the initiative began in 2011 and the Comprehensive Arbitration Rules and Procedures in the US came about in 2014. The latter set includes streamlined procedures for matters under US$250,000.

In 2016, JAMS updated its international arbitration rules and procedures, introducing emergency relief first for the first time.

Worth a Closer Look

The following providers are also all worth considering, for the right sort of case.


What is it?

A private company made up of retired judges and experienced lawyers, based in Toronto.

How well established is it?

It’s been around since 1994, and, around the time of its 20th anniversary, was reporting a caseload of 17,000 arbitrations and 23,000 mediations a year. If those numbers make it sound big, it actually has an “active members” list of around 40 names.

How does it manage the work?

Neutrals are divided into “expert panels” that focus on the various types of disputes the centre handles, which are split fairly evenly between commercial and civil matters.

Who’s on the neutrals list?

Among the judges, GAR readers will recognise names like Babak Barin and Barry Leon.

Why’s it only “worth a closer look”?

Its caseload to date has been fairly domestic.

Could that change?

On paper, Toronto has the makings of a great arbitral seat. It’s a multicultural, international city (about half of its residents were born outside Canada) with good international connections. It also has one of the world’s nicest hearing centres – Arbitration Place – a purpose-built venue not dissimilar to Maxwell Chambers in Singapore. It is in the heart of Toronto’s financial district.

Are the two connected?

Arbitration Place is an independent business with plenty of partners, including the ICC and LCIA. But ADR is among them, and its neutrals have conducted hearings there.


Why’s it worth keeping an eye on?

The “CPR” was established in New York in 1979 by a group of enlightened in-house counsel who wanted to find ways around the cost of US litigation. In those days it was called the Centre for Public Resources. It changed its names (though not its initials) in 2004, but it still has the same ties to the US in-house world (and to a lesser degree to non-US in-house lawyers too).

Who are the people to know there?

CPR’s president is Noah Hanft, former general counsel of MasterCard. He has the benefit of a full-time team and eminent board that includes both in-house counsel, such as Richard Hill of Shell, and private practitioners, such as Gilberto Giusti of Pinheiro Neto and George Bermann, the US academic and arbitrator.

Since 2017, Carlos Hernandez, who is chief legal officer at Fluor Corporation, has been chair of the oversight board.

Mark Baker of Norton Rose and Hagit Elul of Hughes Hubbard & Reed also hold positions.

Is it busy?

We don’t know. Thus far, the CPR hasn’t released caseload statistics, and its annual review for 2017 is no different. Rather it likes to point out that its panel of neutrals continues to expand, etc. To its credit, that panel does now feature a number of famous names, such as Albert Jan van den Berg and Michael Pryles.

Is there any anecdotal evidence regarding its use?

It does come up in cases – we know that from the material that GAR 100 firms send in. There will be a handful of mentions every cycle.

It has a track record for innovating too, so it gets mentioned fairly often at conferences. Indeed it received a GAR Award for innovation in 2016.

What are some of its innovations?

One is its appellate option, which allows the losing side to appeal the case to essentially a new tribunal. It’s fair to say, that receives a mixed reaction when discussed in the wider IA community.

Another innovation is its screened appointment process. This gets much more approval as a clever way to avoid the moral hazard created when an arbitrator knows who has appointed them (the hazard being they will pander to that side). Under the screened procedure, the arbitrator simply doesn’t know who has appointed him or her. GAR gave the screened process its innovation award. How it works in practice remains to be seen.

More recently, CPR also introduced a “young lawyer rule”, giving tribunals discretion to permit junior lawyers to examine witnesses and to present arguments if lead counsel and the client agree to it.

What are its rules like generally?

The rules have a big focus on efficiency and avoiding delays. For example, they require the centre to approve any scheduling orders or extensions that would cause an award to be rendered more than a year after the formation of the panel.

They also cap the administrative fees at US$34,000. And they include a mandatory pre-hearing conference that the parties must attend.

Another change is that they make the CPR the case’s administrator – something it hadn’t previously done.

Have the rules been tested yet?

They’re still fairly new, having come into force at the end of 2014 and having been revised in 2018. And, again, there’s no way of knowing without access to the centre’s stats.

Why isn’t it yet on the White List?

Lack of hard data, mainly. The centre has only recently moved formally into case administration, which was introduced in the 2013 rules (by all accounts it had administered cases before then, for private company schemes and so on).

When it releases more case statistics taking that step will be easier. For now, none of the practitioners GAR has asked in New York yet had direct experience of the CPR as a case administrator (in contrast to the ICDR). Thus it remains for now in our untested category.

There is, however, no doubting its deep connections with the local international disputes bar – many of whom (Ank Santens, Larry Newman and Rob Smit) have chaired its arbitration committee. The current chair is Hagit Elul. And numerous references to CPR rules have appeared in the GAR 100 since we began running it (the earlier rules, usually).

So the signs are favourable and it ought only to be a matter of time.