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Joseph E Neuhaus

Partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP Joseph E Neuhaus talks about his successful work and predicts the biggest challenge for clients over the next year.

What has been your greatest achievement, in a professional and personal capability?

Among many cases I have handled or been a part of over 30 years, the one I am proudest of is probably representing the Central Bank of Argentina in resisting attempts by creditors of the Republic of Argentina to hold the bank liable for the defaulted debt of the Republic and attach the bank’s assets at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. I made three trips to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and was successful in each one, and those cases established important precedents in the law of central bank immunity and alter ego law. And the subject matter – central banking and sovereign immunity – was inherently interesting. Personally, I am proud to have two sons in their mid-20’s gainfully employed in their chosen fields. That’s not my achievement, but merely reflected glory..

What do you do differently from your peers in the industry?

I think I am unusually good at designing a strategy and procedure that fits the case. Within broad limits, arbitration is inherently flexible, but many lawyers and arbitrators tend to have a preferred approach that they reflexively apply to every case. Very often there is something – an information imbalance, a particular business relationship, a legal doctrine, even a particular witness or witnesses – that requires something different or unusual. It takes work to persuade the interested stakeholders to depart from their preconceptions and find a path that responds to the particular needs of the case and the parties. I think I’m good at that.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

If you can at a relatively early age identify something you really want to be in 20 years and stay focused on that, it is amazing how often you can achieve your goal, or something close to it. It is fine if you don’t find such a goal – law practice offers lots of opportunities over a career – and you have to be realistic (we can’t all be Supreme Court Justices), but I am surprised how often focused people have achieved things that seemed out of reach. I suppose I had two goals: a really interesting, cross-border litigation practice with all kinds of off-beat cases, and/or a federal judge. I’m batting .500.

Can you give me a practical example of how you helped a client add value to the business?

Winning is wonderful, but I think I have made my greatest business contributions in finding settlements in cases involving business partners or adversaries that have allowed our client to get past immensely important disputes to focus on its business. At times, this has gone well beyond convincing the adversary – through coercion or otherwise – to be reasonable, and required navigating a client’s own sometimes conflicting goals and interests.

Within your sector, what do you think will be the biggest challenge for clients over the next 12 months?

My clients are too varied and widespread to face any single challenge. But a significant part of my field – commercial arbitration, in particular – is threatened by dissatisfaction with consumer and employment arbitration on the one hand and with investor-state arbitration on the other. The attacks on both counts tend to be overblown, but a serious challenge over the next year, and decade, will be both differentiating commercial arbitration from other forms of arbitration and adapting as necessary to the sources of dissatisfaction.

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