Special ABA London Sessions Report

What can US, UK lawyers learn from each other?

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Wendy Venoit

Wendy Venoit. Photograph by Professional Images.

American and British lawyers can learn from each other and borrow examples of good practice to improve litigation and arbitration overall, attorneys said at a panel discussion at the ABA London Sessions.

In recent years, international arbitration has borrowed good practices from both the U.S. and the U.K. legal systems, said Wendy Venoit, vice president and general counsel of Suffolk Construction Co. in Boston, who has participated in mediation and arbitration in the U.K. “I think we’ll see these procedures being used more and more,” she said, “as people see the benefits of it.”

For example, in international arbitration, requests are more specific rather than a blanket request for everything, as happens in U.S. civil cases.

“It forces you to think about what you’re asking for and tailor your request to what is really necessary,” Venoit said. It also cuts down on discovery costs and would be a good introduction to the U.S. civil system, she said.

John Hinchey, a mediator and arbitrator with JAMS Global Engineering and Construction Panel in Washington, D.C., said borrowing good practices from each other is a convergence of various procedures as business becomes global.

“The truth is, we’re looking at the big picture,” he said.

The comments were made during the panel discussion “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: Do American Lawyers Have Any Place Litigating or Arbitrating in Foreign Jurisdictions?” The session was sponsored by the ABA Forum on Construction Law and co-sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division.


The differences between the two systems originate in part from the philosophical underpinnings of the U.S. and U.K. legal systems, Hinchey said.

American lawyers consider litigation a way to discover the truth. But in the U.K., the court compels both parties to disclose all of their material at the start of the case, explained Sir Vivian Ramsey, a retired High Court judge who now works as an international arbitrator and mediator.

Jonathan Rosshandler of W Legal in London said American lawyers should want to adopt the British system of making all of their information available at the outset of litigation, rather than waiting for it to be revealed in discovery, which could take a year or longer.

“Putting your case up front is absolutely right,” he said. “You don’t have so many lines to follow to get to the truth.”

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