Bar ‘asleep at the wheel’ as commercial work goes offshore

By Felicity Nelson|31 July 2015

Australian bars need a united approach for pursuing international arbitration work as the local litigation market contracts, says one Australian Law Awards judge.

“Australian bars have been very slow to grasp the increasing globalisation of litigation,” said Caroline Kirton QC (pictured).

“We've been completely asleep in relation to developing our strategies in Asia… The result is that Australian bars have missed many business opportunities.”

Ms Kirton spoke with Lawyers Weekly ahead of the Australian Law Awards – submissions are still open

Ms Kirton said the dispersed structure of chambers and the parochial attitudes of some barristers have prevented Australia from taking a larger slice of the international arbitration pie in the region.

Melbourne has only recently established an arbitration centre and many barristers are only just beginning to consider making this kind of work part of their “toolkit”, according to Ms Kirton.

“The penny has just dropped in the last two years or so,” she said.

However, while Australian bars have been “asleep at the wheel”, Singapore has been very competitive in its approach to establishing arbitration, she continued.

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“They've just made it an extremely arbitration-friendly place,” Ms Kirton said.

British barristers have taken a strong lead in Singapore in international arbitration and are attracting Australian talent.

“There are no Australian counsels’ chambers up there,” said Ms Kirton. “British chambers have moved into our own backyard and we've now got a situation where Australian barristers are members of UK chambers in Singapore, which is extraordinary.”

The Victorian Bar is currently investigating how Australia can create an active presence in Singapore.

Ms Kirton said it is hoped that the Bar’s pending report will lay the groundwork for a united, strategic push into international arbitration in the region.  

Bar ‘asleep at the wheel’ as commercial work goes offshore
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