Sometimes called the “Olympics of international arbitration,” the biannual Congress of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration was held April 6-9 in Miami.

The largest gathering of international arbitration practitioners in the world, the ICCA Congress attracted more than 1,000 of the world’s leading arbitrators and advocates from close to 70 countries from throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa.

This year’s Congress was only the second held in the United States, and the first since New York in 1986. “Decisions on where to hold the Congress are not made lightly,” John Rooney of John H. Rooney Jr. P.A. explained. The last three Congresses were held in Singapore, Dublin and Rio de Janeiro.

Burton Landy, a partner in the Miami office of Akerman and president of the Miami International Arbitration Society, emphasized that the Congress’ success confirmed that Miami “has arrived as a world-class center for international arbitration.”

John Barkett, a partner in the Miami office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, echoed Landy’s comments, describing the Congress as a “spectacular success” and a “showcasing of Miami as a vibrant city.”

Be Audacious

Securing the ICCA Congress for Miami was an accomplishment decades in the making. MIAS, whose members and leadership spearheaded the effort, has its roots in the Summit of the Americas. Although it does not administer arbitration proceedings, it actively promotes Miami as a center for international arbitration.

It was at a MIAS meeting four years ago that Jan Paulsson, the Michael Klein Distinguished Scholar Chair at the University of Miami School of Law and then President of ICCA, urged the organization to “be audacious.” Among the challenges he proposed was to bid for the ICCA Congress.

Following this challenge, MIAS initiated the process by securing founding sponsorships from 10 firms with arbitration practices in Miami. These firms took a “leap of faith,” according to Landy, pledging to support an event that had not even been secured yet. Despite fierce competition and, unlike other competitors, no government support, Miami secured the bid following its presentation in Geneva.

In addition to featuring the local community, the Congress made Miami the site of a vigorous debate regarding the future of international arbitration. Landy described the Congress’ theme, “Legitimacy: Myths, Realities, Challenges,” as “innovative.” Rooney agreed, emphasizing the program was “rich in substantive content.”

Sessions overflowed with attendees who participated actively and all the program’s speakers submitted significant new research. Scholars of international arbitration took advantage of the concentration of prominent arbitration practitioners to conduct scientific studies, including surveys and polling.

The Congress’ opening remarks were presented by prominent arbitrator Judge Stephen W. Schwebel, who served on the International Court of Justice from 1981-2000. Judge Schwebel offered a vigorous defense of investment arbitration. Landy recalled that the audience was focused on the remarks and predicted that they will “have a lasting impact.”

The closing ceremony featured an address by Sundaresh Menon, the chief justice of Singapore, who offered a much-anticipated update to his influential remarks about the future of international arbitration during the prior Congress. Other noteworthy programs included a mock appellate argument of a recent Supreme Court case, BG Group v. Argentina, led by Judges Rosemary Barkett, Kathleen Williams and Vance Salter. The Congress’ opening reception took place at the Perez Art Museum Miami and the closing gala was held at the PortMiami.

Looking Ahead

Just weeks before the Congress, Professor Paulsson again challenged MIAS members to make the most of the opportunity afforded by the Congress and emphasized the importance of continued unity among local practitioners. Reflecting on this challenge, Rooney noted that the Congress demonstrated that the Miami international arbitration community “could work together for the greater good.”

Many significant accomplishments led by the local community were featured at the Congress, including reform of Florida’s international arbitration law, the adoption of pro-arbitration rules by the Supreme Court of Florida, the establishment of the arbitration institute at the University of Miami, and the creation of the International Commercial Arbitration Subsection in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. In addition to those identified above, several members of the local judiciary participated in the event, including Judges Ronald Dresnick, Jennifer Bailey and John Thornton.

Barkett predicts that the Congress will have “huge ripple effects,” with more than 1,000 “emissaries” for Miami returning home positively impressed. “Creating such a favorable impression is impossible without bringing top practitioners to Miami to see for themselves what the city and legal community have to offer. … We did that.”