International commercial arbitration insights: ICCA Hong Kong takeaways

Erin Vickers Opus 2

International commercial arbitration is constantly evolving. For arbitrators, law firms, and arbitral institutions, staying informed and engaged with the community is essential. Fortunately, every two years, arbitration professionals have the opportunity to gather, learn and network at the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) Congress. 

This year, Opus 2 joined arbitration leaders from around the world at ICCA Hong Kong. Amid a full schedule of events, meetings, and more, our team noticed several themes. In this blog, we’ll share an overview of what it was like to be at the event as well as the latest in international commercial arbitration. 

The ICCA Hong Kong experience

Hong Kong was an incredible and vibrant backdrop for ICCA Congress 2024. From the opening ceremony to the closing session, the sense of excitement and camaraderie brought an infectious energy to the event.  

The agenda and additional events ensured attendees had plenty to do and see. There was a perfect balance of educational content, networking opportunities, social events, and cultural experiences. During the opening ceremony and reception, hosted by Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), we were all captivated by a traditional lion dance and Chinese face-changing art.  

The next morning, the conference began in earnest. Before sessions kicked off, we attended a networking breakfast hosted by ArbitralWomen, an organisation focused on promoting and uniting women in dispute resolution. Throughout the day, we enjoyed meeting attendees at sessions, workshops, and at our own Hearing Showcase. In the evening, we hosted our peers for dinner and drinks at the legendary China Club where we shared news about our new Opus 2 Hong Kong office opening and introduced Kate Wyllie who was recently appointed business director, APAC. 

The ICCA agenda was full of events and sessions throughout the week, including the ICCA Gala Dinner and the HKA Charity Walk along the harbourfront. In addition, attendees had the opportunity to attend law firm, vendor, and partner events throughout the city including arbitrator training workshops hosted by Opus 2. The programme sessions delved into the Congress theme: “International Arbitration: A Human Endevour,” which was equally interesting and inspiring. It provided a focal point and foundation for meaningful discussions throughout the week.

With more than 1,400 participants from 70 countries in attendance, we connected with newcomers and arbitration experts alike. This unforgettable event offered us insights from leaders and practitioners involved in all aspects of arbitration and leave with several important takeaways.

Takeaways for the international commercial arbitration community

The members of the international arbitration community are uniquely knowledgeable and passionate about their work. As we talked with practitioners after sessions, it was striking to hear their thoughtful perspectives and inspiring to see their desire to advance the field. From those discussions, we identified four important takeaways:   

  1. People must remain the central focus of arbitration 

In line with this year’s theme, several sessions aimed to examine the human element of arbitration. The panels asked attendees to consider challenging questions like how does the adversarial nature of arbitration influence human psychology? What personality traits and qualities make a good arbitrator? And what impact does practitioner conduct have on the perception of arbitration? The answers and subsequent discussions consistently returned to and reinforced the importance of keeping people at the heart of arbitration. 

  1. Diversity is crucial to the future and fairness of arbitration 

All people should have equal access to arbitration. The international arbitration community should reflect the diversity of the people it serves. These are statements we all likely agree on, and each year progress is made toward achieving this ideal.  

This ICCA Congress emphasised the people and stakeholders that are leading arbitration forward. In addition, speakers explored the challenge of recognising bias, the importance of access to arbitration education, the nuance of culture in arbitration, and how personal and professional backgrounds influence proceedings. Clearly, the topic is complex, but the work is worth it. Indeed, each step we take forward helps secure the future and fairness of arbitration.

  1. The arbitrator role continues to evolve 

The world, the legal industry, and the field of arbitration have changed significantly in the last decade. Arbitrators have adapted by developing new approaches. In addition, they are increasingly adopting technology that prioritises efficiency, organisation, and communication—and are advocating for parties to do the same. In addition, soft skills are increasingly important as arbitrators must facilitate discussions between parties, sometimes helping them reach a resolution outside of the traditional arbitration process. 

  1. AI can advance arbitration, but people must remain in control 

No legal industry event would be complete without a mention of AI. As we talked with attendees about hearing and arbitration technology, like Opus 2, many practitioners were eager to explore how AI can be applied to their work. To be successful and deliver meaningful value in arbitration, people must understand the capabilities and limitations of AI, always maintaining transparency and control of the output.

As ICCA Hong Kong 2024 concluded, it left a lasting impact, fostering connections and paving the way for a more dynamic and inclusive future in arbitration. We’re already looking forward to the next ICCA Congress in Madrid in 2026.

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