EEDRF: Behind The Scenes or How to organize an annual international arbitration forum

November 16, 2019

On September 18-21, the Eastern European Dispute Resolution Forum (EEDRF) was held in Minsk. The inspirer and co-chair of the organizing committee is Alexandre Khrapoutski, partner at Lex Torre Law Office (Belarus), Vice Chairman of the RAA board, member of the UAA board, member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (MCIArb, London). He will describe what was happening behind the scenes of the EEDRF.

What is EEDRF?

Eastern European Dispute Resolution Forum is a dialogue platform for serious discussions in Minsk, a forum of lawyers and for lawyers - as we originally defined it. The agenda is formed from topics and areas that are really interesting to practitioners. The official part includes the main day and satellite events such as seminars, master classes and trainings. Engaging topics, star speakers, mindful entertainment, top-level reception of our guests - this is what makes up the Forum.

What is the history of EEDRF?

We came up with the idea of the Forum 6 years ago. We were inspired by results of a survey conducted over two years among lawyers from different countries to find out how interesting such an event would be and whether colleagues would come. It turned out that in Eastern Europe there were no professional events that covered the entire region. EEDRF has become such a venue and was first held in 2016 as a one-day event - we discussed the trends and practices that were emerging in the dispute resolution in the CIS and Eastern Europe. Over the years geography and number of participants expanded rapidly as the business program has been developed. For example, in 2019, a special event for young lawyers was organized and for the first time in Belarus an ICC Institute Training was held. 

From the very start, our initiative was supported by the Administration of the President and the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus. Each year the news about the beginning of the Forum is published in the central news block on Belarusian TV. We have the support of partners - international law offices and the British Embassy in the Republic of Belarus, this gives us the opportunity to make the event brighter and more comfortable. A pool of information partners has been formed, thanks to whom the forum is well-known around the world (such as CEE Legal Matters (UK), СIS Arbitration Forum (Russia), Legal Practice in Central Asia (Kyrgyz Republic), Kazakhstan Bar Association, Vilnius Court of Commercial Arbitration (Lithuania), The Association of European Business (Belarus), The Ukrainian Journal of Business Law, LawFirmManagement.RU).

We try to include topics related to international commercial arbitration, as well as issues of dispute resolution in state courts of various jurisdictions. If there is something interesting going on in other countries - we bring this experience in. The agenda is rich so each participant can choose useful reports for himself.

What does the international status of the EEDRF mean?

Initially, we focused on the ongoing arbitration reforms in Russia and Ukraine. Today, the topic is much broader, it is relevant not only for Eastern Europe. Our region is interesting for lawyers from the UK, Germany, France and other countries, as their business operates in Eastern European markets and needs legal support. As well as Belarusian, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian capital uses the jurisdictions of Sweden, Great Britain, and the United States for dispute resolution.

About 200 people take part in the Forum annually. We cover all continents except (for now) South America (and Antarctica). Fortunately, Belarus has a special visa-free regime that allows participants from 80 countries (EU, USA, Brazil, Japan, etc.) to stay in the country up to 30 days without a visa. We are located in the center of Europe - it is convenient.

Is there a language barrier?

The forum is 80% in English, simultaneous translation is provided for the main part of the program, but there are some trainings only in English. International arbitrators have good command of English. Forum materials, website, media messages are bilingual.

Who are the EEDRF keynote speakers?

In 2017, Lord Peter Goldsmith, a British barrister and a former Attorney General for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland, head of European litigation practice at US law firm Debevoise & Plimpton and Vice Chairperson of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, became the keynote speaker of the EEDRF. In 2018, Louis Flannery QC, Head of international arbitration at Stephenson Harwood was the keynote speaker. This year the keynote speaker was David Goldberg, solicitor-advocate, partner of White & Case, a member of the LCIA Board.

The EEDRF website mentioned that 5% of paid participation fees would go to charity. Is it true?

Yes, for the second time a part of the proceeds of the Forum would be transferred to children in need. In 2019 we support the project “Genom” through the charity platform “Imena”. This project helps people with rare genetic neuromuscular diseases. Our support is a part of the whole sum needed to be gathered in order to complete the project. You can monitor the collection of funds and a report on their use on the official website, and you can also make a personal contribution in support of the project.

There are many young people among the Forum participants.

It is important to attract young lawyers, to help them to create new professional contacts and to show them possibilities and relevant issues of international arbitration. We provide invitations to the winners of legal competitions, such as the M.G. Rosenberg Competition. Admission to the Forum for students, young lawyers and academics is available at a special price.

How long does it take to organize the EEDRF?

At the beginning of each Forum, we already know the date and the key topic of the next year – as usual we announce them at the Gala dinner. Agreements with speakers, especially the key ones, are reached a few years before their presentation, as experts of this high level are in demand and have a tight schedule made-up for years ahead. Newsletter is sent out six months before the event - from this moment the process of registration of participants commences.

After each EEDRF social networks are filled with amusing photos...

We pay special attention to networking: meaningful coffee breaks, excursions, an atmosphere in which guests simply cannot leave after the Gala dinner. We make it bright and memorable, the agenda and locations change every time - from the best hotels to the building where official receptions with the President of Belarus are held! The musical component is important: in 2019 the guests were amazed by the waiters, who suddenly started to sing opera arias, and the performance of the symphony orchestra, and in 2018 - by the drummers' show. Photo zones invite you to take pictures for saving good memories of the time spent in Minsk with colleagues.

Tell us about the forum organizing team.

The importance of the organizing committee is difficult to overestimate. It includes 14 people from 7 countries. The co-chairs are Vladimir Khvalei, Partner, Baker & McKenzie (Russia) and Olena Perepelynska, Partner, Integrites (Ukraine)

The key to success is to build the right team, distribute tasks and organize teamwork. Lex Torre Law Office became an organizational partner in 2019. Naturally we hire the contractors: professional event-agency, interpreters, sound and lighting crew, website developers, etc.

Our EEDRF organizational chat never sleeps, the work is going on 24/7. One tracks registrations and answers to participants from other time zones while others meet guests flying at night or prepare documents urgently. But during the EEDRF everyone will be nice, smiling and in a good mood.

What other secrets of success would you reveal?

The first thing is the choice of the main topic and key speaker, a high-quality program and scenario plan. It is also important to find good partners, to distribute roles according to their interests, to use their opportunities, so that due to this synergy the event will become better. 

In 2016 one of the key tasks was to choose the dates of the forum to fit into the global network of arbitration events.

Every year we come up with a new topic and slogan:

2016 – “Аrbitration Reforms”.

2017 – “Procedural issues in International Arbitration and State Courts - Prove it, if you can!”

2018 – “Expertise in arbitration proceedings - Know your expert!”

2019 – “Procedural issues in International Arbitration and State Courts - Let's Play Arbitration Symphony!”

How do you decide on the topic of each event? Why did you decide on this topic for the next year?

After the first Forum we planned the main topics for next years in advance, so that each subsequent EEDRF would be a continuation of the previous Forum. The main topic is defined this way: we analyze the topics of the major professional events during the year, find main trends, relevant issues, that we can fully disclose, and submit several options of the full program for the approval by the Organizing Committee. As a result the final program is drafted. The topics of the presentations begin to be formed a year before, the program appears in 3 months after the previous Forum finished. Of course, we consult with the keynote speaker, with whom we also agree in advance. The key note speaker of the EEDRF 2020 will be Gary Born – but this is to be confirmed.

Who decides on the catering menu?

We receive different offers and negotiate them. But in the end, the menu is personally approved after a preliminary degustation by me.

What local media cover the event?

EEDRF is covered by all major TV channels, plus law editions, business and social-political press. For instance, “Jurist” magazine, “Economic Newspaper”, the newspaper “Belarussians and market”, “Belarus today”, etc.

What problems occur during the EEDRF preparation?

Firstly, there is a lack of high-quality venues for a representative business event of such a high level. 

Secondly - unfortunately, professional synchronous interpreters with knowledge in arbitration terminology are also in demand.

And the third problem is that there is only 24 hours in a day.

Do you already have a plan for the EEDRF-2020?

EEDRF-2020 will be the fifth forum already – it will be our anniversary. The title of EEDRF 2020 is “Choice of law”. The main day will be September 18th. It offers a rich business program and pleasure from the informal part. Follow our news - you will be surprised! 

Interview conducted by Dmitry Artyukhov, editor-in-chief

Dmitry Artyukhov
Dmitry Artyukhov