Kim Stewart, Arbitration Place’s Founder & CEO
By Julius Melnitzer | February 24, 2022
Maybe it’s American pride, unable to bear the shock that one of the most powerful international dispute resolution centres in the world looked to AP, Canadian as Canadian can be, in its rush to keep up with the times by providing its members with remote hearing services.
The release claims NYIAC is “embracing the challenges of the pandemic” by, among other things, “collaborating . . . with Arbitration Place on remote hearing services”. The truth is that NYIAC – – – backed by 40 of New York’s most powerful law firms and described by board chair Benno Kimmelman as “the centre of gravity and focal point for the international arbitration community in New York” – – – was pathetically late to the pandemic party, sitting on its hands until very recently. The inertia is all the more surprising given that the neutral arbitration facility is in a jurisdiction that seats 50 percent of cases emanating from the International Chamber of Commerce
“NYIAC did not pivot well,” says one industry expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They just froze.”
Kimmelman is refreshingly frank about what occurred.
“When the pandemic came along, our physical space was meaningless, and suddenly people started thinking about tech and remote platforms in a way they never did before,” he said. “For our part, we watched what was happening and believed people would be back in physical hearings long before now – – – and the older we were, the less we ever thought remote hearings would have a meaningful impact on our lives going forward.”
AP and NYIAC started discussions in early 2021. But it was only towards year’s end – – – when Omicron took hold – – – that NYIAC developed a sense of urgency.
“OMICRON was what finally convinced me that a remote platform was not only desirable but essential,” Kimmelman says. “Remote platforms are just part of what parties and tribunals are asking for these days, and we needed to offer them on an ongoing basis because they’re here, they won’t go away, and they’re a very helpful and cost effective tool that serves many valuable purposes for small and large cases alike.”
Kim Stewart, AP’s founder and CEO, awoke much earlier. Necessity, it turned out, was the catalyst for invention.
“When COVID hit, Arbitration Place had 35,000 square feet of empty space in downtown Toronto,” says Barry Leon, a member arbitrator and mediator at AP who is a former judge of the commercial division of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. “Kim decided almost immediately that the pandemic wasn’t going to be a short-term thing, and within a week, came up with a plan, got Zoom licenses, hired virtual case managers, and then went out and did hundreds of demos to show lawyers and judges how remote hearings worked.”
By May 2021, just fourteen months from the pandemic’s arrival, AP had built a team of 40 multi-lingual virtual case managers around the world who had conducted more than 30,000 hours of remote hearings in 2,500 proceedings. Ontario’s Superior and Divisional courts, as well as courts in Prince Edward Island and administrative tribunals such as the Ontario Securities Commission, retained AP to conduct remote hearings and train their staffs in best practices.
No surprise, then, that NYIAC turned to AP, whose clients already included a significant number of NYIAC’s founding firms, to provide the remote capability the organization needed.
“We share many of the same values and together we will provide a seamless process that sees both our organizations working together to contract with users,” Kimmelman said.
Julius Melnitzer is a Toronto-based legal affairs writer, ghostwriter, writing coach and media trainer. Readers can reach him at [email protected] or https://legalwriter.net/contact.