When Atlanta branded itself the “city too busy to hate” during the civil rights movement, it was more an aspiration than an achieved goal.
But the process of proving that statement bred a community that learned to overcome disagreements in the name of progress, said Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor, Georgia congressman and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
That experience shows that Atlanta is ready to join the upper echelon of cities gunning to host more international arbitration cases, disputes among between global entities settled outside of court with the help of impartial intermediaries.
“This is a city that admires reasonableness, and I think that’s your trump card,” Mr. Young told lawyers at the annual meeting of the Atlanta International Arbitration Society, or Atlas, on April 21. “This is a city that is built on mediation.”
Not only has Atlanta navigated racial tensions and wealth disparities in funding major infrastructure projects like Marta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but it also has an “innate” global connectivity, Mr. Young said.
While his relentless globetrotting earned him credit for helping win the 1996 Olympics, he said local ties helped him connect with influential members of the International Olympic Committee in a variety of countries, particularly in Africa. Since the games, the watershed moment for Atlanta’s standing as an international city, the connections and exchanges have only grown stronger.
“We can usually find somebody for anywhere you want or need, not only to help with the translation, but to help with the culture,” said Mr. Young told a gathering of attorneys, some of whom had flown in from Nigeria, France and even Uzbekistan to attend the conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown.
Access is a huge selling point for Atlanta’s efforts to win arbitration and the economic benefits that come with wealthy individuals using local law firms and traveling here, filling planes and hotel rooms, said Glenn Hendrix, managing partner at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP and the president of the alliance, who touts the 90 nonstop international air routes to 55 countries from Hartsfield-Jackson.
“One of our speakers just flew in direct from Nigeria,” said Mr. Hendrix. “How many other cities can say that?”
But while access seems to be the price of admission – other large hubs like London, Hong Kong and Singapore are also “crossroads cities” – it takes more than direct flights to persuade executives to trust the outcome of disputes involving millions of dollars to mediators in a foreign land, Mr. Hendrix told Global Atlanta.
The decision is also based on whether the parties trust the neutrality of the host location. As home of the New York Convention, a United Nations treaty that put in place the framework international arbitration in 1958, the U.S. is generally seen as friendly to arbitration, Mr. Hendrix said.
At the state level, Georgia last year took steps to open its arms wider to the practice when Gov. Nathan Deal signed a new arbitration law in May 2012 to bring its laws into line with amendments to an important U.N. law dealing with arbitration. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals for the federal government is also based in Atlanta and is known as one of the friendliest districts toward arbitration, Mr. Hendrix said.
But, to cite a case for which Mr. Hendrix recently served as an arbitrator, why does it matter for Atlanta when, for example, a dispute over a cat-litter factory built in Greece by a Pittsburgh company is settled here?
Not only do the proceedings contribute to the bottom lines of U.S. law firms, but they build Atlanta’s reputation as a hospitable and cost-effective place for cross-border deals.
“It’s the global brand,” Mr. Hendrix said.
But other cities aren’t asleep at the wheel. A “tectonic movement” is underway in the arbitration world, with the balance of power shifting away from the more established hubs like London and New York and toward cities like Atlanta and Sao Paulo.
“Wherever we go, we see more and more arbitration,” said Mark Kantor, an arbitrator in Washington. “The growth in arbitration is diversified. It’s not in the traditional locations.”
He said parties are demanding a “multiplicity of forums” and that the firms that will be successful are those that are well-versed in offering services across borders.
The Atlas meeting shed light on important issues in arbitration, such as how to protect investors in dealing with government entities that have seemingly no international accountability and how attorneys can market themselves to get into arbitration.
Visit www.arbitrateatlanta.org for more information.