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Q&A: Skadden disputes veteran Rory McAlpine on Hong Kong, Berezovsky and arbitration

Legal Business catches up with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom disputes veteran Rory McAlpine (pictured) to discuss the Hong Kong legal market and the cases he has advised on throughout his career.

How much litigation work is coming out of Asia at the moment?

A very considerable amount. One of the great strengths of Asia from the perspectives of a disputes lawyer is that you have a veritable patchwork of sources of business. We have clients from all sorts of different geographies who are in disputes in all sorts of different venues.

Why Skadden?

It’s a function of my own personal history. I moved to Skadden around six years ago relatively late in my career. I was at Wilde Sapte and then in various Denton incarnations. I was a partner there for 21 years and I’d been involved in the management of those firms for twelve years. Even though I’d had a long innings at my previous firm, I hadn’t set my sights on moving. At that point I wouldn’t have gone anywhere that wasn’t blue ribboned or the Rolls Royce in the business. The appeal of Skadden was obvious.

What’s your most memorable case?

I was invited to join Skadden in order to take part in the Berezovsky v Abramovich trial in London. Undoubtedly from my point of view that was in a league of its own. It had a whole cast of intoxicating characters, the level of media interest and the sheer drama and theatrics surrounding the whole courtroom process were quite unparalleled.

How fast is Hong Kong growing as an arbitration hub?

It’s growing very steadily, but very significantly. Hong Kong was voted the third most popular arbitration centre after Paris and London, which are obvious stand outs in this space. It also gets very high scores for the procedural, administrative improvements it’s affected. It’s shown itself to be pioneering in terms of things like having an emergency arbitrator procedure and it’s come up with Tribunal Secretary guidelines before anyone else. Hong Kong is also increasingly a place where high value disputes are being decided.

Is Hong Kong racing past Singapore as an arbitration hub?

They’re both booming. They both have considerable attributes in the sense that in both jurisdictions the courts are very supportive towards arbitration. They both go about things in a slightly different way. Hong Kong, perhaps more quietly, has developed a reputation for excellence and has adopted more of a grapevine approach, if you like. Singapore has been a lot noisier and ostentatiously energetic in promoting itself internationally. In a quieter way Hong Kong has been as successful, if not more successful.