Ask an Expert: Chris Campbell

Tell us a little about yourself, including your background and your specialisation.

I hail from the great state of South Carolina where I spent a large portion of my life. My academic and professional adventures have taken me on stints in London, Beijing and most recently, Florence.

Before going to law school, I studied Management Strategy with a focus on Human Resources and Marketing at the Darla Moore School of Business (DMSB), where I also attained a minor in Chinese Language and Culture.  My time at the DMSB was inspirational.  I knew I wanted to go to law school when I started college, but it was a deeper understanding of business principles and economic theory that shaped what has become my career.

During law school I studied at the Gray’s Inn of Court in London, which is where I had my first experience with commercial dispute resolution (DR). From that point onwards, I was hooked: this intersection of business and law was exactly what I had been searching for since my undergrad days. I tailored the rest of my legal education to studying commercial DR in an international context. 

That clarity of mind led me to enroll in Tsinghua University’s LLM programme in Chinese Law and International Dispute Resolution during the final year of my JD at USC Law. There I had the opportunity to study with the likes of Gary Born, Meg Kinnear, Andrea Bjorkland, and Albert van den Berg. What had previously just been an interest in international DR become an obsession. It’s what I’ve been reading, writing and speaking about ever since. 

I took those experiences and continued to build my reputation as a commercial DR specialist in international matters, particularly those related to China.

Why did you get into dispute resolution?

Approaching the resolution of disputes from a business or legal perspective often differs in fundamental ways. A business-minded professional will likely see a problem (and the corresponding solution) in a wholly different way than a lawyer would. I felt these varying approaches were each only half-correct. Because business and law are intrinsically linked, I believe it is inefficient to consider one without the other in the context of commercial disputes. I wanted to bridge that gap between these schools of thought in my approach towards commercial DR.

Ultimately, I would like to continue my work for large multi-national companies to become a trusted advisor on complex, international disputes. Alongside that I would also be interested in exploring appointments as an arbitrator or mediator – oh, and start a couple of businesses along the way, anything to continue improving the field.

What inspired you to start your own podcast?

As for my podcast, Tales of the Tribunal, the show is the product of happenstance. During my adventures around the world I came to realise that the people that work in international law, particularly arbitration tend to have fascinating and interesting backgrounds and profiles. But I also discovered that no one was telling their stories! I wanted to give those people a chance to have their stories told. I know I love listening to podcasts, and that they are a pretty popular platform, so I thought it was a good opportunity to connect with our community in a non-traditional way about non-traditional content. It’s worked out well so far!

What made you choose to study in China?

For the better part of the last two decades it has been pretty clear that China is going to be an economic powerhouse. Bolstered by strategic and focused leadership in its economic and political theaters, it seemed to me early in my collegiate career that being able to understand Chinese culture and current events would be complemented nicely by my educational training in the US. So to China I went, with the mindset of being able to do business and work in the legal communities in both China and the United States. This respect for two superpowers has bred a global perspective in considering world events and, in particular, disputes.

For young arbitration lawyers that desire to develop international practices, an appreciation of different cultures and schools of thought are core skills. How to advise clients, how to address fact-finders / neutrals and make persuasive arguments often hinge on your ability to understand cultural sensitivities in navigating the tumultuous world of global disputes.

How do you think dispute resolution will change over the next 10 years?

Machine Learning & AI.  I think it is not fully appreciated how profound the rise of machine learning and AI is going to change the practice of law, including DR. Our profession is a world that turns on facts and logic arguments. There will be a day when there are machines and algorithms that can model and craft quality, reasoned, arguments faster and at a higher level than even the most experienced practitioners. When that day comes, how long is it until you have machines replacing counsel? Until it’s two machines arguing against each other? One machine processing the possible arguments, reasoning the dispute and determining a fairer outcome than its human counter-parts could in a matter of minutes?

Whether it be in 5 years or even 20 years… that day is coming.

Diversity.  I look forward to seeing the increase in balance of representation in gender and ethnic or cultural minorities as counsel and neutrals. The global business-marketplace is rich with different cultures and mindsets, and is composed of about half men and half women.  Our clients deserve learned DR professionals that mirror the marketplace. Diversification is coming of course, but it will still take time, and intentional effort from our community to be fully realised. Inclusion at conferences and other speaking events, institutional awareness in the form of substantive policies, mentoring from veteran professionals and other activities are all things that will continue to push this progress along.

Development of New Markets.  To quote Hamilton, “Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now!” International DR is flourishing around the world. From Asia, to Africa to South America there are pushes on every continent for institutions to develop their niche; and on a more micro-level for practitioners to become recognised as qualified counsel or fact-finders in these communities. This is ultimately a net-win for the business community as a whole. Privatised forums for DR provide reasonable competition to national courts which will in turn either improve or be ignored.  Further, within the community, the best professionals and institutions will rise to the top and provide more tiered levels of service to better meet the needs of clients and end-users. 

I think this will result in an industry-level revolution on every continent. The results and new hierarchies will be fascinating.

Interview by Natasha Mellersh.

Chris Campbell has focused his academic training and experience in the field of international business law, particularly international commercial arbitration. Chris currently serves as a Vice-Chair for the ABA Intl. Arbitration Committee, on the Board of Directors for the Charlotte Intl. Arbitration Society (CIAS), as member of the Communications Team for the MAA, is an ambassador for The Alliance, and is active among other international business and legal organizations. Chris is the Host and Curator of the Podcast Tales of the Tribunal, which covers dynamic and intriguing personalities in international dispute resolution.

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