As Hong Kong reopens its borders, Mariel Dimsey, recently appointed secretary-general of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, tells us about her new role and plans to enhance the city’s reputation as a leading dispute resolution hub
China Business Law Journal: How do you feel about your new role, what will be your main responsibilities, and what do you want to achieve for the HKIAC?
Mariel Dimsey: In terms of how I feel about the new role, I’m obviously very excited to be doing it. This is very different from private practice in many ways, but I find it a very unique opportunity in that it combines the arbitration world with business skills in the sense that I’m running a business at the secretariat. I was very intrigued by the role, and I think there are particular aspects of it that were not present in my private practice career. So I’m very pleased to be honing my skill set in these aspects as well.
In terms of my main responsibilities, I am generally responsible for running the secretariat of the HKIAC, which includes keeping an eye on case management, which is usually done under the very capable support of our case management team. I am also responsible for corporate governance matters, and liaise with the HKIAC Council and standing committees, the number of standing committees that the HKIAC has. I also plan the annual budget.
There is also a large business development [BD] element in what I do and will do, and I’m very pleased now that we are opening up in Hong Kong, that a few trips will be on my agenda very soon. It’s very important to get out there now, after our two-year hiatus.
So it’s a very broad set of responsibilities, which is quite different from private practice in the sense that I’m not working on one particular topic for six hours a day, as I may have been in the past, but engaged in many more diverse tasks throughout my day, so it is very dynamic and interesting.
In terms of what I want to achieve, it’s still early days, and for the time being we have two major BD projects, which are keeping us busy. The first is the International Council for Commercial Arbitration [ICCA] Congress. Edinburgh hosted the congress this year and several members of the HKIAC attended, as Hong Kong is hosting the next ICCA Congress in 2024.
There is also Hong Kong Arbitration Week in late October, which is jam-packed with events, which is wonderful to see. We have numerous events with a number of firms and also our own event, the ADR in Asia Conference. That is taking up a lot of our time in terms of BD right now.
In terms of further projects, as I mentioned, there is some travel on the cards to certain strategic events in which we will also hone our messaging about Hong Kong. There is a lot of information circulating about Hong Kong and China at the moment. From where we stand as an arbitration institution in Hong Kong, we do think that a lot of this messaging can be nuanced and enhanced. Part of the BD endeavour with our upcoming business trips is to reinforce the message about Hong Kong as a safe, reliable place to do arbitration.
In addition to that, we are hoping to revise our rules next year to produce a 2023 edition of the HKIAC administered arbitration rules. We are also looking at a couple of technological initiatives, which I think is a natural consequence of digitalisation, not only generally, but also of the developments in the pandemic. So we have quite a few projects on the cards.
CBLJ: You have a very impressive resume with rich experience in many international arbitration institutions. So what aspects of the HKIAC attracted you the most?
Dimsey: In my career in private practice, I acted as counsel and arbitrator under many different institutional rules. I should start by emphasising that I do not see that this is a contest. I do believe that the existing institutions, particularly in the region, but also those farther afield, can coexist because everyone has a large domestic and regional market that they are servicing, in addition to international work. I do think the way the major regional institutions are set up in Asia allows everyone to operate side by side.
In terms of the HKIAC, what attracted me to the organisation was firstly the fact that it’s in Hong Kong. I’ve lived in Hong Kong now for nearly seven years and I call it home, and I very much enjoy living here. So there is a personal dimension to my decision to come to the HKIAC. The second aspect is the dynamism and the flexibility with which I’ve seen the institution operate, both as counsel and as arbitrator. HKIAC hits the right notes in terms of providing the right amount of administrative support, and supporting arbitrators, but all that with a very light touch. This approach enables our procedures to be quick and efficient. I think we meet in the middle in terms of administrative support and efficiency, which is a challenge for every institution, and the HKIAC does it very well. So that is what attracted me to the institution from the procedural side.
In terms of other aspects, I was involved with the HKIAC’s capacity building in the past. I went on capacity building trips before the pandemic to Myanmar and Indonesia with members of the HKIAC. I’ve also supported them with their “young” group, the HK45. I was co-chair of that group with Duncan Watson KC and Kiran Sanghera for two years.
So I had a lot of interaction with the HKIAC before coming into this role, and it has always been a serious, competent and efficient institution. I could only hope to continue that with my new role.
CBLJ: What suggestions do you have for young legal professionals who are seeking a career in the dispute resolution area?
Dimsey: From my perspective, in terms of advice, there’s so many different aspects to a career in arbitration. I should preface everything by saying that my career has largely been in arbitration up until now. I was not a litigator first, so it’s been a very focused career up until now, which I think has advantages and disadvantages. One of the reasons I joined the HKIAC was to expand my skill set into an area that wasn’t just private practice arbitration.
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