Michael Hwang's Selected Essays on Dispute Resolution

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Michael Hwang's Selected Essays on Dispute Resolution

Reporters:  Wilfred Ho (Skadden) and Andrew Chin (DLA Piper) 

Many lawyers in Hong Kong will know Dr Michael Hwang S.C. as a leading international arbitration practitioner from Singapore who often appears in Hong Kong for arbitrations and conferences.  Many will also have read his first volume of essays titled “Selected Essays on International Arbitration”, which is available for free download at www.mhwang.com.  Dr Hwang has now written a second volume of essays called “Selected Essays on Dispute Resolution” (which is also available for free download on the same website).  The change in title indicates that this volume has added dimensions as there are further writings on topics other than international arbitration. 

This book contains essays on other aspects and interests of Dr Hwang’s 50 year career in the practice of law:-

  1. His development as a lawyer from his early days, being involved in a broad range of practice areas  to his present position as an eminent specialist in international arbitration
  2. Commercial Arbitration
  3. Investment treaty arbitration
  4. Mediation
  5. Dispute Resolution in the Belt and Road Initiative
  6. Status of Taiwan in Public International Law
  7. Issues of Domestic Law (with parallels to Hong Kong Law) such as frustration of a conveyancing contract, and loss of inheritance as a head of claim in an action for wrongful death.

The book also contains the speeches and editorials written by Dr Hwang in his capacity as President of the Law Society of Singapore on general issues of public interest, all of which bear an interesting comparison with the legal landscape in Hong Kong. 

While everyone knows Dr. Hwang as one of Asia Pacific's leading arbitrators, what is perhaps less known in Hong Kong is that Dr Hwang has been heavily involved in contributing to the growth and breadth of the Singapore bar in the early years of the Singapore legal profession. Dr Hwang's experience sharing is therefore invaluable, not only for international arbitration practitioners, but also those who want to know more about how the Singapore legal profession developed. 

It was especially interesting to hear how Dr Hwang started as a generalist at Allen & Gledhill. Legal practice back then was not as complex as it is today, so it was possible to be a jack of all trades. Being a specialist in only one relatively narrow discipline was not viable, although specialisation is more important now due to the complexity of modern legal practice. Hence, with his keen appetite to learn about all aspects of legal practice, both contentious as well as non-contentious Dr Hwang also practised as a motor accident lawyer, a banking lawyer, a corporate lawyer as well as a conveyancing lawyer (not to mention insolvency and intellectual property) before Allen & Gledhill decided to create separate legal departments, with him heading the dispute resolution practice of the firm.

Dr Hwang also writes about his motivations for becoming a lawyer. He told us about how he was inspired by his grandfather, Hsu Mo, the first judge nominated by China to sit at the International Court of Justice in 1946.  Dr Hwang shared that he was aware of his grandfather's influence when he went to Oxford and was interviewed about Hsu Mo.

As part of this launch, Dr Hwang also played a video recording of the launch of his second volume of essays in  Singapore, which took place on 11 December 2018.  The recording included:

  • An introduction to Dr Hwang’s contribution to the Singapore legal landscape over his 50 years as a practising lawyer given by Mr Gregory Vijayendran S.C., the current President of the Law Society.
  • An interview with Dr Hwang by Dr Kevin Tan, Singapore’s most famous legal historian, discussing his life as a lawyer in Singapore in the early decades of his practice

Dr Hwang also discussed his time as President of the Law Society, which role he described  as "a member of the Whackee's Club" (meaning he had to suffer being “whacked” by the Government from time to time. The unfortunate nature of the job was that, because the President of the Law Society had to comment on the state of the law both in the courts and in government practices, most Presidents would from time to time have to make public criticisms concerning certain aspects of the administration of justice, which sometimes resulted in sharp responses from the Government . He therefore had to have a "thick skin" in his role as President.

Dr Hwang also spoke insightfully about his time at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts, where he served as its second Chief Justice (having first served as Deputy Chief Justice). One of the issues he addressed during his time on the DIFC Courts was the question of reciprocity of judgments. Because most civil law countries require express reciprocity (unlike common law countries which automatically recognize and enforce money judgments from any foreign courts), it is important for the civil law jurisdictions to have reciprocity established in some way in order to enforce other courts’ judgments (including those of the DIFC Courts). Hence the solution for the DIFC Courts was to reach out to various courts (both common law and civil law) to sign a “Memorandum of Guidance” which stated in clear terms that each court would recognize and enforce the other court’s judgments, a method which is now being adopted by other courts in their relationships with foreign courts.

As the attendees will agree, Dr Hwang's talk was extremely insightful, and offered us a perspective into the life of an extremely well-respected Asian legal heavyweight.

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