23 September 2019


In each issue of our newsletter, we interview an SIArb member to get their views on the alternative dispute resolution scene in Singapore,  and to obtain some insight into what makes them tick.
In this issue, we interview Mr. Naresh Mahtani .

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Alive, Aware and Happy.

In the course of your work, do you notice a trend in clients preferring arbitration over litigation as a form of dispute resolution?
Yes, as there is more flexibility in procedures and timetables, and less formality in arbitrations.

What is the most memorable arbitration or arbitration related matter that you were involved in, and why?
They are all memorable, as I’ve learnt something new in every case, big or small. There is a construction case, early in my career (late 1980s into the 1990s), in which I was lead counsel in about 10 arbitrations spanning over 10 years and numerous forays to the court for all sorts of applications during that same time – all arising from one huge project! I was thrown into the deep end, as I had to face a number of much more senior experienced counsel representing the other parties almost every other month during that period, and there were very few construction and arbitration textbooks and very few Singapore court authorities on these subjects at that time to learn from. I barely had time to breathe or had any full weekends during those 10 years, but I learnt a lifetime of lessons!

What advice do you have for a young fellow practitioner interested in arbitration work?
Be “around” and “be visible” and keep learning all the time, such as by attending courses, seminars and conferences. And keep making new friends - not merely for the sake of “business development”, but genuinely to learn and share experiences, not only about law but practical matters and general knowledge about each other’s lives, career and passions.

What are the challenges you think arbitration practitioners will face in the upcoming years?  
I sum it up in one phrase – i.e. Keeping focussed. The Internet is a good thing and in my view, one of the greatest inventions ever. However, there is information overload all the time, from the outside as well as internally in cases (eg via lengthy submissions etc). It’s important to keep focussed on what is essential and not drown in information. Also, amidst all the new information, technology and law firms vying for work, in my view, it is important to remember not to drain energy by competing with others, but instead to remember to just keep focussed on your strengths and interests, and perhaps focus on one or several areas of practice and dispute resolution (be it construction, shipping, commodities, oil & gas etc). And also keeping focussed on a balanced life – to leave the sea of information sometimes, and have sufficient rest and play.

Do you see other forms of dispute resolution having a bigger role to play in assisting parties to resolve their disputes?
Yes, definitely. Especially mediation, adjudication, neutral evaluation, expert determination and probability analysis. These will and, in my view, must continue as hand-maidens or even replace arbitrations in some areas, to reduce the cost, stress and time involved in litigation and arbitrations.

Who is the person(s) who has had the greatest impact and/or influence on your career? 
Mr. Leo Fernando, my trainee mentor, when I started practice in 1982. He was a brave and unconventional criminal lawyer, a sort of towering father figure, with whom I practised criminal law in the first three years of my career. He trusted me entirely to do the getting up for cases, and that helped build my confidence as a professional. I learnt three things from him which have been relevant in all my years at work in other areas – being overprepared on details of a case, being courageous (before judges, tribunals and with lawyers on the other side) and having a sense of humour all the time.

If you weren’t in your current profession, what profession would you be in? 
An investigative journalist, as I enjoy writing and am always curious. Also maybe a music journalist, as I enjoy music (especially alternative and progressive), attending concerts, collecting records, and listening!.

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