A time of contradictions. Consequences of the corona crisis.
The corona crisis is a multi-facetted crisis and for years we will talk about its effects and consequences for families, societies and the world at large. Did we rise to the level of leadership required? Were we careful enough? Should we have responded differently? These are all questions we need to ask ourselves once we are through the crisis.
For now, as we are still in the middle of it all, the one word which comes to my mind is contradictions. It appears one consequence of the corona crisis is a host of societal contradictions, including for international arbitration.
Isolated but closer. As everyone left the office to work remotely, we all somehow became closer. Physical distance has reminded us about the importance of checking in with each other. When the coffee machine no longer serves as the daily meeting point, we schedule our coffee chit chats over video. Before the corona crisis, everyone did not take the time for a break during the day, whereas now almost everyone does. Not to mention the fact that we are invited “home” to everyone; co-workers, colleagues across the globe and even opposing counsel. We might see family members passing by, holiday pictures on the background wall and we meet the pets. And almost every new meeting is started by asking: How are you? Is everyone in your family alright?
Isolation has made our work harder, but at some levels also richer.
Stressful and relaxed. A society in the grip of various levels of lockdown and uncertainty is in an extremely stressful mode. Adaptation (read “digitalization”) which under normal circumstances would be allowed weeks or even months to be implemented suddenly needs to happen overnight. The news contains very little apart from reports on the negative effects of the outbreak. We worry about our loved ones, and perhaps in particular our parents and grandparents (at the beginning, I had trouble sleeping). But in parallel; at the SCC Secretariat we have been comparing notes on what we are doing with the extra time suddenly afforded when no time is spent on commuter trains, metros or buses. Family, handicrafts, books, gardens, sorting through old pictures, using that outdoor gym; all get their extra share. The routine of working from home for some has also been an opportunity to build energy depots; even relaxing (and yes, this presupposes that the wi-fi and the VPN are working).
Business as usual but nothing is the same. Many organizations, including the SCC and other arbitral institutions, are fully operational working remotely. It is business as usual. Cases are filed, tribunals are appointed, and awards are rendered. International arbitration continues to demonstrate how core values associated with flexibility, collaboration and joint purpose enables lawyers and parties across the globe to manage the crisis together. And yet, nothing is the same for so many in our community. Personal freedom has been circumvented, conference rooms are empty, and economies appear to be in free fall. To manage the many challenges being thrown at us, including what may come around the corner in the wake of the crisis, will require a demonstration of resilience, creativity and courage, while at the same time protecting those who desperately needs to be protected. The experience so far has shown that there is no shortage of any of these qualities within the international arbitration community.
At the SCC, we are immensely proud of being part of this community. A community which, to use the words of the joint message issued earlier today by international arbitration institutions on Arbitration and Covid-19, “seeks to jointly contribute to a world better prepared to meet the challenges of the post-corona crisis.”
Post-corona will come, and when it does, international arbitration will continue to offer predictability and support in the re-building of economies.
Just as it has done so many times before.
SCC Secretary General