The effort to make Atlanta a hot spot for international commercial arbitration is gaining some momentum.
The Atlanta Center for International Arbitration and Mediation, which launched two years ago, has assembled an arbitrators’ council with top European arbitrators—including a former U.S. ambassador, Charles Adams, and a leader of the ICC Court of Arbitration in Paris, Wendy Miles QC—to promote its reputation as an arbitral venue abroad.
“It’s all part of our effort to build our brand and be better known by people who are actual users of arbitration services,” said Shelby Grubbs, the center’s executive director.
The center opened its doors in September 2015 in state-of-the-art digs at Georgia State University’s new law school building as a partnership between GSU Law and the Atlanta International Arbitration Society, known as AtlAS. It offers hearing space for commercial arbitrations and serves as a think tank for the local international arbitration community.
During the current fiscal year ending July 1, the center has hosted 35 hearings—about one-third international and the rest domestic, Grubbs said. (Of those, 60 percent were arbitrations and 40 percent were mediations.) That was up from 12 hearings for the center’s first year.
“So things are going in the right direction,” Grubbs said. “I’m not dissatisfied.”
Grubbs said it can take 25 years or more for a city to become a global arbitral center, citing the experience of Hong Kong and Singapore. “That always shocks people to hear,” he said.
London and Paris are the biggest cities for international arbitration, hosting the London Court of International Arbitration and, in Paris, the International Chamber of Commerce’s Court of Arbitration. Atlanta is also competing with plenty of other up-and-comers, such as Miami.
The best way for a city to land international arbitration hearings is to be specified as the seat in a cross-border business contract’s arbitration clause. But even so, Grubbs said, of 1,000 contracts, 50 might have disputes. Of those, 15 might actually go to arbitration and, of those, perhaps three might end up in a hearing.
He added that his sense is that the Atlanta center is getting cases from the lawyers or even the arbitrators. “They can have a good bit of influence over where it’s located, so that is part of the Arbitrators’ Council effort—to say they want it in Atlanta,” Grubbs said. (The law governing any disputes is also specified in arbitration clauses and can be different from that of the country designated as the hearing location.)
“This group is an endless source of references and fantastic at opening doors for us,” he said. “They help extend our reach to movers and shakers internationally.”
One of the council members, Carita Wallgren-Lindholm, who heads Helsinki arbitration boutique Lindholm Wallgren, lined up Lord Peter Goldsmith as the keynote speaker for AtlAS’s sixth annual conference in October. The topic is timely: international arbitration in an era of resurgent nationalism.
Goldsmith, the former attorney general for England and Wales, heads Debevoise & Plimpton’s European litigation practice and is vice chair of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Center.
Wallgren-Lindholm also helped the Atlanta center secure a memorandum of understanding with the ICC Court in Paris to refer cases.
The center has made similar MOUs with other well-known arbitral institutions, including the International Center for Dispute Resolution, JAMS and the Center for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, all in New York.
Grubbs said Wallgren-Lindholm brought other key members on board—Miles, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton in London, who is vice president of the ICC Court, and Claes Zettermark in Stockholm, a past president of the Swedish Bar who heads arbitration boutique Lundblad & Zettermarck after a career as a partner at White & Case.
Adams, who is in Geneva, is a former U.S. ambassador to Finland and the global head of international dispute resolution for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
The others are: Henri Alvarez QC of the Vancouver Arbitration Chambers; Massimo Benedettelli, a partner at Arblit in Milan and chair of international law at the University “Aldo Moro” of Bari; Jose Ricardo Feris, former deputy secretary general of the ICC Court; and Nancy Turck, an independent arbitrator in London and a founding director of Arbitral Women.
“One thing they do is promote us,” Grubbs said. The group is also advising on best practices for hearings and helping the center develop a curriculum for an international commercial arbitration certificate that Grubbs said may turn into an LL.M. degree—and they’ll fly in to teach for a week.
It’s a dedicated group, advising the Atlanta center without compensation. In return for their efforts, Grubbs said, the center defrays about half their travel expenses.
Four of the new council members came to Atlanta earlier in June to help chart the center’s strategy and teach a CLE on ethical issues in international arbitration. They also met with local stakeholders, including Claire Angelle, who runs the Mayor’s Office of International Affairs, and John Woodward, the Metro Chamber’s senior director of foreign investment.
Glenn Hendrix of Arnall Golden Gregory got AtlAS going six-and-a-half years ago with the ambitious goal of making Atlanta a city that companies choose for arbitration arising from cross-border disputes. The group of lawyers and law professors has worked energetically to ensure that Georgia has an arbitration-friendly legal regime, so the laws of other countries can govern arbitrations held here, and progressive state bar rules that allow foreign lawyers to participate in local arbitrations.
The center initially put together a local advisory council, a mix of prominent local lawyers and other stakeholders, including Angelle from the city of Atlanta, Alrene Barr, the airport’s director of international business, and Ember Bishop, the deputy commissioner for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Those stakeholders have helped the center get the word out locally, Grubbs said. Last year, Mayor Kasim Reed recorded a public service announcement extolling the center’s advantages as an arbitral location that ran continually in the CNN loop at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. More PSAs are in the works, Grubbs said, including one with Metro Chamber president Hala Moddelmog.
The airport, in fact, is one of Atlanta’s top advantages for arbitrations, supporters say, since it offers numerous direct flights all over the world.
Grubbs said Atlanta’s sophisticated local legal community also aids its prospects as an abritration hub, as does its arbitration-friendly legal regime. The hotels are excellent too, he noted—not to mention less expensive than in international hubs like London, Paris, New York or Singapore.