The London GPC – Time For Change

Last week’s London event marked the grand finale of the GPC Series, which has taken place on six continents and 29 cities since April 2016, collecting groundbreaking data on the behaviour and perceptions of stakeholders in dispute resolution across the globe. Taking place in the historical Guildhall building, built upon centuries of ‘dispute resolution’ above the Roman amphitheatre – where conflict was perhaps resolved in a more brutal way than today.

The event began with an introduction by online dispute resolution advocate Lord Justice Briggs, who has consistently pushed for technological reforms in the courts of England and Wales, especially in regards to resolving disputes. In addition Dr Andrew Parmley, Lord Mayor of London (Mayor of the City of London), gave a moving speech on London’s rich multicultural history – stating that London will remain a global city and an international hub for the legal community undeterred by Brexit.

Still in the game

It is evident that London and the rest of the UK are facing major challenges, politically, economically and socially, all of which will effect the legal community as a whole and how it interacts and competes on an international level. One thing that was clear at the GPC event, is that London is very much seeking to remain relevant, to embrace change to allow it to continue to evolve into a dynamic and efficient legal system attracting parties from all over the world. In light of the growing disputes hubs in Asia, and the Brexit negotiations, this message is particularly important.

Sitting at round tables, in true GPC style, stakeholders were able to vote and have very active discussions throughout the day, working together on word clouds and comments before the panel discussions began. The large proportion of in house lawyers present was also significant, so rarely do you get all these people in the same room. The panels discussed key trends comparing the results of the day to those of the existing global data and identifying differences.

Talking points

Alexander Oddy, Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, who chaired the first panel of the day, picked up on a the gap in perceptions between parties and lawyers in regards to the role of lawyers when choosing different processes – which was one of the largest in the London data. This trend has been one of the major talking points of the GPC Series as a whole, emphasising  different perspectives of delegates and the importance of communication between all stakeholders and parties alike, to allow for more effective and efficient dispute resolution processes.

The second panel discussed how the market is currently addressing parties’ expectations, chaired by Dr Karl Mackie CBE, Founding President, CEDR. the panel discussed the importance of maintaining relationships but also efficiency and speed – the two factors at the top of the list among London voters. Interestingly, among users of dispute resolution, collaboration with external counsel was huge important, indicating a need for greater control and direct participation in the process. Overall there was widespread support fornon-adjudicative processes, but panellists noted that the process needs to be suited to the right case.

Session 3 looked at ways in which dispute resolution can be improved, and was chaired by John J Fisher, Partner Forensic Services, PwC. The discussion among the audience on this topic was particularly animated. The word clouds produced by attendees, featured a lot of human factors such as emotion, pride, ego, ignorance etc as barriers to effective dispute resolution. Nevertheless, there were also plenty of constructive suggestions especially in regards to conflict prevention both from the panel and the audience, such as pre-disputes and pre-escalation responses and including mediation clauses in contracts.

Access to justice

Marion Smith QC of 39 Essex Street & Trustee of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, chaired the access to justice panel. She began the session by speaking about the relevance of the recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower in West London, where a raging fire swept through a residential tower block, killing dozens of people. While the final death toll remains unclear, countless questions have arisen in regards to access to justice, both before and after the tragedy. Smith also pointed to legal aid cuts potentially playing a hand in the disaster.

This panel did not only point to the failures of access to justice in the UK alone, but also to the possible tools available to promote better access to justice on the domestic and international level. The audience viewed technology, namely ODR and online courts, as well as offline ADR mechanisms and education as key. One panelist also noted a generational shift and greater awareness of ADR tools among students and young practitioners as a driver for change.

What next?

The final panel of the day, chaired by Michael McIlwrath, Global Chief Litigation Counsel at GE Oil & Gas and Chairman of the GPC Series, served as a wrap up of the GPC Series experience over the last 18 months. Panelists included key individuals at the heart of the GPC Series project: Jeremy Lack, an ADR neutral and lawyer, who acted as the GPC’s Coordinator and brought the entire project to life, Nadja Alexander, Academic Director, Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy, Barney Jordaan, Professor at Vlerick Business School and member of the GPC academic board, Deborah Masucci, Chair of the International Mediation Institute and Alexander Oddy of Herbert Smith Freehills. The panel discussed innovations in dispute resolution and drivers for change, also recounting key lessons learnt in the course of this incredibly ambitious project.

Earlier in the day Lord Justice Briggs spoke about plans to give parties options to make the dispute resolution process more accessible, stating: “We are going to break with the assumption that everyone must travel to the same courthouse.”  As McIlwrath noted in his concluding remarks, “that’s exactly the sort of change that the GPC data is confirming that all dispute stakeholders want”. Recognising these shared goals, is already showing the great potential and value of the GPC data in acting as an indicator of what changes are necessary, rather than simply relying on assumptions.

Most importantly, the panel discussed the question of “what next?”. Indeed the GPC is not over, with the opportunity to vote until the end of July, and the vast data that has been accumulated and will be analysed within the next few months. The legacy of the animated discussions, data indicators and most importantly the coming together of stakeholder from all over the world across professions and industries – the global conversation will continue online, through social media, and here on the GPC Blog. The GPC is far from over, it has only just begun.

Written by Natasha Mellersh.

Voting in the GPC Series is now open to everyone online until 31 July, to enable anyone who was unable to attend one of the GPC events to still be part of this pioneering global project and to have their voices heard.

To vote, please click here. Please visit the GPC website for more details.