“Everyone feels that (fighting) disputes are glamourous, you show up dressed up with your court bag, and that is one of the biggest misconceptions.”
Asia Law Network sits down with Yvette Anthony, Partner, Litigation and Arbitration Counsel at Braddell Brothers LLP, and also a newly minted mum of one.
Yvette has over nine years of experience in dispute resolution, litigation, and arbitration. She regularly appears as counsel in hearings, trials and appeals before the Singapore courts, as well as in international arbitration, with a particular focus on complex cross border disputes. Notably, she participated in the hearing of the first International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) arbitration against the Sultanate of Oman.
Thank you Yvette for speaking with us! How did you come about reading law? (Any instance that you knew you wanted to be a lawyer?)
I used to be more introverted in the past. In Secondary 3, I participated in an inter-class debate competition and the debate coaches asked me to be on the team. Analysing and breaking down complex issues, communicating them, was something I found that I liked doing. To me, law similarly involves persuading and advocating, getting into complex issues and breaking them down, so that the judge can be persuaded to decide on an issue in a certain way. You go to court for contentious matters and persuade the judges. Being a disputes lawyer was a natural choice and I never even considered other choices.
What would you say is your greatest motivation behind your work today?
The ability to make a difference to someone’s life. As a disputes lawyer, working on any case involves 2 or more people who have a problem. Some are involved in really difficult situations with former employees or family members. My work, my input and my time can make a difference. When I spend a lot of time working on a hearing and win it, it goes a long way in helping another. Disputes tend to be long drawn out and require mental stamina. Winning these small battles give clients a psychological boost and kickstarts the process to get them out of the rut they are in.
Are there any misconceptions about your work that you have encountered?
Everyone feels that (fighting) disputes are all glamourous, you just show up dressed up with the court bag, and that is one of the biggest misconceptions. For every minute you are speaking in court to the judge, you spend a lot of time doing unglamourous tasks, such as reading long contracts and clauses. It involves a lot of hard, tedious work.
In my first or second year, one of the clients I was speaking to said: “You know, it’s so good for you to come here and work in such a nice area. It’s all very easy, not like us, we have to work hard. See, all of you are all dressed up so nicely.” But she doesn’t see what comes after I leave the meeting and when I go down to the office.
What is the most significant case you have worked on thus far?
I spent one year on contract with Christopher Thomas QC – he’s a renowned investment treaty arbitrator – working on a case involving a claim made against the Sultanate of Oman. We worked together before and after the hearing in London, to which he brought me along with him. The case, an ICSID matter, was very significant because it involved the Oman-US free trade agreement. The claimant had certain rights under a lease agreement to develop a quarry in one of the regions in Oman. Somehow it fell through and he sued the Sultanate. The reason this case really stood out for me is because I saw the tension between the encouragement of investment and capital flow on one hand, and a state’s right to regulate its environment on the other. This is really relevant in today’s economy. It is very big picture and deals with very real cross-border issues that affect not only the two parties involved but also how the global economy works. The case had a real tangible impact on these macro issues and we had to maintain a fine balance while attaining the best possible outcome.
Comparing the legal landscape past and present, what do you think has changed the most?
Technology. In the past, discovery used to involve thousands of pieces of paper in hard copy. Now that you have e-discovery platforms, you can do key word searches. Research can be done online rather than having to go down to find the physical copy. Service providers can help in managing your case.
For a big dispute they will go through the documents, perform 3D imaging of the dispute and of timelines. They can bring the whole dispute to life. The arbitrator and decision maker can experience what happened in a power plant or a construction site, as the case may be. They can visualise the roles and the key events. Cases are conducted in a high tech manner.
You handle complex cross border cases – what do you think is the greatest challenge in doing so?
I think one of the most important but overlooked skills is people management. You will realise this when you are doing cross border work. The thing about international firms and when you are an international counsel is that you have to deal with the client and local counsel. You rely on the client for instructions and on local counsel to work on strategy because they know how the local court operates.
When the client gives you instructions, you have to manage dealing internally with your own subordinates and bosses. You have to strike a balance because you are dealing with so many personalities, different factors and groups of people. When managing local counsels, you want to encourage them to input a strategy but you don’t want to push too hard because that might be offensive. You have to be sensitive to their time and their outlook on their work life balance. You have to manage the different work streams internally, you have to report upwards, you have to make sure the work streams are running and there is no miscommunication that might make you look bad in front of the client. It is challenging to maintain the level of diplomacy.
Are cross border cases an area you think will become more significant in the future? Why/Why not?
As far as I see it, law operates in tandem with the economy in Singapore, not in a vacuum. In terms of the economy, the government is keen on making Singapore a global hub. The legal profession has to globalise, to move along with the economy. In terms of the legal scene, we see the creation of the SICC (Singapore International Commercial Court), SIMC (Singapore International Mediation Centre), SIAC (Singapore International Arbitration Centre), and the emergence of a lot of international firms in Singapore. I think cross border work will be more the norm than the exception in the future.
What are your thoughts on legal technology and how it will change the way the law is served?
The good thing about legal technology is that you get to do work more efficiently, with less resources and less manpower – you keep costs low and make justice more accessible to all. However, the advent of technology means that there is a real pressure on lawyers to value add and go beyond what AI can do. Lawyers have to constantly innovate and evolve. It will give them the incentive that they need to step up their game and do better. All in all, it’s just great for the clients and users.
Any advice for aspiring lawyers?
You always have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Look at the way the economy is now – you didn’t have companies like Grab or GoJek several years ago. The emergence of companies like this, just to name a few, give rise to interesting new legal issues like the protection of personal data – this is a fairly new area of law that came to the fore a mere 6 years or so ago. Similarly, cryptocurrency is also very new and challenges traditional notions of property law. As a young lawyer, you have to constantly learn to pick up new areas of law and learn all the time because the economy is not static. The changes of the economy will bring along fresh legal issues that have not been explored. To use the personal data example, people have access to your personal data all the time. That didn’t exist a short time ago. As lawyers, we all have to learn and get accustomed to new developments. We have to constantly improve ourselves.
Could you share three fun facts about yourself with us?
Firstly, I have been to Iran for a holiday in November 2017. I loved it, it was a fantastic country with the friendliest people in the world.
Secondly, I enjoy diving. I like looking at morel eels when I dive. They are really shy underwater, so if you get a chance to spot them it’s a real bonus.
Thirdly, I have a 10kg 15 year old cat.
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