Earlier this year, former Shearman & Sterling senior associate Alexandra Dosman was tapped as executive director of the New York International Arbitration Center, a new venue for international arbitration in east midtown (NYLJ, May 2).

The Canada native, educated at McGill University and University of Toronto Faculty of Law, practiced in Shearman & Sterling’s international arbitration group from 2006 until she was hired by NYIAC in May.

When Dosman was hired, NYIAC chair Judith Kaye, the former New York state chief judge who is of counsel to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, told the Law Journal that Dosman had “the personality, the enthusiasm, the background, both scholarly and experiential, that were just the right fit for building something new and exciting.”

NYIAC’s mission is multifold. The center offers brand-new facilities for conducting international arbitrations, including hearing rooms, breakout rooms and access to communication technologies, though it does not administer arbitrations itself. At the same time, it strives to spread information about international arbitration and to promote New York as a forum for international arbitration.

NYIAC was created about two years after the New York State Bar Association issued a report calling for the creation of a permanent international arbitration center (NYLJ, July 6, 2011). The bar said in the report that such a center was needed for New York to keep up with other cities as international arbitration became a more popular way to resolve disputes.

NYIAC is supported by 36 founding law firms in New York. It is located on the 17th floor of the Socony-Mobil building at 150 E. 42nd St.

Q: How did you become interested in international arbitration?

A: Coming from a jurisdiction with both common law and civil law traditions, I was drawn to the hybrid nature of international arbitration. And as a young lawyer, I was attracted to the possibility of travel and using my language skills. Then, as I got more engaged in the practice, it became clear to me that international arbitration was my field—I was able to work with top advocates in several of Shearman & Sterling’s global offices, for clients around the globe, on cases that involved key issues of private and public international law. It is hard to argue with that mix as a way to start one’s legal career.

Q: How has your experience in arbitration prepared you for your new role as head of the NYIAC?

A: NYIAC has two broad functions. Most obviously, we are a first-rate hearing center for international arbitrations. Having participated in major hearings in international arbitration cases, I know the needs and expectations of counsel, clients, and arbitrators in the stressful hearings context. What we do at NYIAC is anticipate and to the extent possible eliminate that stress: we offer a pleasant, functional, problem-free zone for parties and their counsel. More importantly, however, NYIAC is an educational and advocacy organization, devoted to enhancing and promoting New York as a place for international arbitrations. On that side, I draw on the experience of managing cases and teams during my time practicing law. One of my favorite parts of this job is having the opportunity to set a creative vision and then—with the fabulous energy and tireless work of NYAIC’s supporters—work to realize it on a daily basis.

Q: What changes have you seen in international arbitration in your career so far?

A: In recent years, international arbitration has come under much more public scrutiny, particularly the arbitration of international investment disputes in which issues of public policy are at stake. The issue of transparency has been taken up by bar associations and international organizations, and is the subject of vigorous debate. In addition, the field is in a period of expansion and transition as younger lawyers and scholars move up the ranks and begin to sit as arbitrators. As that process takes root, I hope to see more diversity in the choice of arbitrators and presidents of arbitral tribunals.

Large hearing room at the NYIAC’s new facilities.

Q: Is New York falling behind other major cities as a center for international arbitration, and, if so, how can it catch up?

A: To the contrary, New York is taking flight as an international arbitration center. The world’s preeminent arbitration institution, the International Arbitration Court of the International Chamber of Commerce (the ICC) is opening a branch in New York, meaning that more cases will be filed and administered here. The city’s other leading arbitral institutions already administer key international disputes. (I should note that NYIAC does not administer arbitrations.) The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators has just formally created a New York branch. If New York was missing anything, it was a neutral and dedicated hearing space for international arbitrations of any size—and now, with NYIAC, that need has been met.

Q: What cities are New York’s biggest competition for international arbitration, and what advantages do they have?

A: London, Paris, Stockholm and Geneva all have long traditions as seats of international arbitration. More recently, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai have become important hubs. But I do not view New York as in competition with those centers. Parties choose New York not only for its substantive and arbitral law, but also for its defining attributes: energy, innovation, and internationalism. As a global crossroads and the seat of the United Nations, New York makes sense for a place in which to resolve international disputes. Efforts are also underway to dispel some persistent myths about conducting international arbitrations in New York—notably the myth that “American-style” discovery is the norm. The New York arbitration bar is well versed in international standards for the disclosure process. In addition, the New York State Bar Association recently issued guidelines for streamlining the pre-hearing and disclosure process.

Q: What are New York’s biggest advantages and disadvantages as a center for international arbitration?

A: New York is a favored seat for international arbitrations for several reasons. First, New York law is frequently selected as the substantive law governing global business transactions, even when the transaction is not centered in the United States. This makes sense: New York law is well-developed, sophisticated and dependable. (Although the substantive law of a contract does not dictate where an arbitration will be held, the two often match.) Second, New York has neutral courts that support a pro-arbitration policy. That policy is even stronger in the context of international business transactions. When challenged, international arbitration awards are routinely upheld and enforced by New York courts. Third, New York boasts top tier international arbitration specialists—both counsel and arbitrators—who are qualified to deal with disputes across many industries. Fourth, in terms of logistics, New York is hard to beat. It’s an easy place to get to and has the infrastructure to comfortably accommodate visitors. And of course, there are all the other benefits of being in New York—the cultural offerings, the shopping, the sheer energy of this great city.

Q: What exactly will NYIAC do to help New York keep a preeminent spot in the international arbitration world?

A: Here is where NYIAC’s education and programming functions come to the fore. Under the auspices of NYIAC’s Program Committee, we have already developed and presented one CLE program, on ethics in international arbitration. We plan to present one CLE per quarter—the next will focus on the Americas. We are also working on modules for use in presentations to the New York excellent judiciary, in both state and federal courts. In addition, NYIAC is pursuing relationships with Columbia Law School and New York Law School, both to participate in current scholarly debate and to foster the next generation of international arbitration advocates. Other projects are in the works, such as collaboration with UNCITRAL and substantive contributions at leading international arbitration conferences. We aim to make our website (www.nyiac.org) an unparalleled resource for arbitration practitioners. And of course, we can now offer dedicated, neutral and technologically cutting edge hearing facilities, making New York an even more attractive place to hold arbitrations.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges so far in starting NYIAC?

A: By the time I came into the picture, a tremendous amount of work had already been done. Led by Judith Kaye, the NYIAC board of directors and its executive committee tirelessly pursued the idea of a dedicated international arbitration center and created the basic infrastructure to make it happen. Together we are building NYIAC from the ground up. There is a start-up mentality—how do we get this done?—and all of the fantastic energy that goes along with that. Of course, the flip side is that many things need to be done at once. One of the biggest challenges is to prioritize NYIAC’s activities. As executive director, my role is to ensure that we are providing excellent service as a hearing facility, while maintaining focus on NYIAC’s overall programming mission. In determining that balance, I have taken strength and guidance from wonderful NYIAC’s board members. Then there are the more humorous minor challenges—like realizing, shortly after moving into our offices, that I needed to learn the difference between VGA and HDMI cables. I bring a sense of humor and a healthy dose of enthusiasm to work everyday.

Q: What kind of response have you gotten from the legal community so far?

A: NYIAC grew out of years of effort by leading members of the New York bar, and the response to our opening has been overwhelmingly positive. Thirty-six founding law firms contributed seed financing, and have recently been joined by two sections of the New York State Bar Association as founding organizations. There is a real sense of energy and purpose to what NYIAC is trying to achieve, and great goodwill on the part of the legal community. We have also cosponsored an event with New York’s leading arbitration institutions, the ICC, the ICDR, CPR, JAMS, as well as the International and Dispute Resolution Sections of the New York State Bar Association. Internationally as well the response has been very encouraging. I have been meeting with representatives of arbitration institutions from around the world—Washington D.C., Toronto, Singapore, Hong Kong, London—and I am enthusiastic about the prospect of future cooperation and collaboration.

Q: What challenges do you see down the road?

A: In the coming years, NYIAC will expand and consolidate its presence both at home and abroad. There is so much to accomplish in terms of spreading the word on the benefits of seating an international arbitration in New York. One major challenge will be to guide the growth of the institution to the ideal mix of NYIAC’s twin roles as hearing center and mini-think tank. Another will be to make sure that we are reaching the right audiences: not only arbitration practitioners, arbitrators, and the judiciary; but also in-house counsel, scholars, and students. Finally, I want to bring new focus to New York as a seat for international investment law cases.

Q: What trends do you see in international arbitration right now?

A: First, there is a continuing trend to the development and adoption of practical “best practices” guides. For example, the International Bar Association’s Rules on the Taking of Evidence in International Commercial Arbitration and its Guidelines on Conflicts of Interest in International Arbitration are widely consulted and adopted. Most recently, the IBA published Guidelines on Party Representation in International Arbitration, which may be adopted by parties to guide counsel conduct throughout arbitration proceedings. Second, there is an increased focus on transparency and the competing pull to confidentiality. It is often said that one of the advantages of arbitration is its confidential nature, but confidentiality is not absolute and is also a matter of contract. Third, there is a growing tendency to consider mediation as a precursor or an alternative to arbitration in international disputes.

Q: What changes do you expect to see in the future?

A: I hope and expect to see greater diversity in the composition of arbitral tribunals. The legitimacy of the arbitration process will only be enhanced as we see panels of decision-makers that reflect a broad spectrum of its users. I also expect to see further discussion and debate over the current system of resolution of disputes between investors and states.

Q: What makes international arbitration important to the legal community?

A: Parties and counsel choose international arbitration for various reasons, chief among them the desire to resolve their disputes before an expert panel of their choosing. In international business transactions, arbitration offers the ability to choose a neutral forum over the local courts of either party. Arbitration may also be swifter and less costly. Underlying the system of international arbitration is the key benefit of having an arbitration award, as opposed to a local court judgment: ease of enforcement. Under the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in 1958 (“New York Convention”), member states have an obligation to enforce arbitration awards rendered in other state parties to the New York Convention—a benefit that is not accorded to foreign court judgments. International arbitration offers a practical, user-driven means to resolve disputes fairly and efficiently.