MIDS 2014-2015 Gala Dinner – Keynote Speech
Professor Pierre Tercier
Thursday, 25 September 2014
Dear Gabrielle, dear Laurence, dear Zachary, dear Marcelo,
To be given the floor before such a distinguished audience is always an honour,
and I want to thank Gabrielle, Laurence, Zachary and Marcelo for their trust. But
like all honours, this task brings along a burden: One must know what to say, and
how to say it.
Fortunately, I have heard that an important international organisation (for
confidentiality reasons I can’t reveal the name) has mandated a committee to draft
a new set of Guidelines for our incapable souls: It will be called the “Guidelines
on the Delivery of Speeches at Gala Dinners gathering Members of the
International Arbitration Community”. The official abbreviation will be
“GDSGDMIAC”, an acronym however difficult to pronounce for non Englishspeakers;
It will thus probably be identified in practice as “GDG” for the “Gala
The drafting committee is composed of the field’s greatest speakers, amongst them
their most talented one, our colleague Toby Landau, whose presidency was
accepted with enthusiasm in view of his general dedication to Guidelines and other
regulations of the sort1
. Maybe one day one will refer to them in a rather familiar
way as the “Toby Guidelines”.
Always keen to contribute to the continuing education of the current students and
alumni of the MIDS, it is my great pleasure to present the main rules contained in
the draft of the GDG, and to test them right away on you.
1 See Toby Landau’s Opening Lecture on “Codification, Harmonisation, and Other Misadventures” of the same
According to their Preamble, the “GDG” aims to, and I quote, “guarantee the
uniformity and consistency of key note speeches, in order to prevent any and all elements of surprise
or excessive originality” (end of quote). This is probably in order to ensure due process
at galas and other arbitration events? Of course, the Guidelines, as they highlight
themselves, are nothing but Guidelines: They are not binding, but their nonobservance
could nonetheless be highly damaging to the reputation of those who
disregard them and try to stand out.
Pursuant to Article 1 of the draft, the Guidelines should apply to any speech,
discourse, or address given outside of arbitration proceedings, and delivered before
an audience that consists of arbitration practitioners and academics. The Guidelines
equally apply regardless of the event, the culture, the language, the gender, the race
and the age of the audience. In fact, the draft of the Official Commentary to the
Guidelines adds that one should avoid discriminating against any group within the
community. In particular, it is important to make sure to train the younger
members of the arbitral community, these famous “Youngs” (the Young ICCAS,
the ASA Below 40s, the YAFfies and so on); Well as I said it is important to make
sure that they get it right from the start – square, thorough and slightly soporific.
Application: You will notice in the following that I strictly follow these rules.
According to Article 2 of the draft GDG, the speech must, in principle, not last
more than ten minutes. This duration, controlled with the invaluable support of
Swiss cuckoos, applies to a speech in English, preferably Oxford English, with an
average output of 40 words per minute, punctuation not included. Exceptions are
allowed: first for Professors, considering the risk of having exceedingly long
“lectures” in place of quick keynote speeches that the organisation committee of an
event takes in inviting them; Second, and for obvious reasons, for the elderly of our
community, the much less glamorous “Olds”, the members of the “Old Arbitration
Forum”, the OAF (we could call them the OAFfies). The official commentary of
the drafting Committee of the GDG wisely specifies that the speech’s duration is
essential, given that the audience only has one wish, which is to continue their
conversations over dessert.
Application: You will notice late in the evening that, being an old professor, I may
cumulate the privileges of both exceptions. But fortunately, I know a good tip that
I now give to you: If the speaker hears the gentle clink of glasses, plates and cutlery
toward the end of his speech, it is a strong sign that he has exceeded his time limit.3
According to Article 3 of the draft, the speaker must start by thanking those who
invited him, and immediately add that he does not know why this honour is
bestowed upon him – and this even if it is his deep conviction that his appointment
is solely due to the fact that he is the very best. The speaker also has to add that he
does not know what he has to say, and act as if he has not thought about it at all.
Application: You have noticed that I have duly started my speech by thanking
Gabrielle, Laurence, Zacchary and Marcelo for their invitation. I will seize this
opportunity to thank them again for their kind invitation, by which I am deeply
honoured. Indeed, despite my limited expertise with standardised dinner key notes,
they were kind enough to give me a chance (even if in fact, as previously
mentioned, I am convinced that I was chosen because I am the very best). So I
think that, so far, I have managed to avoid any faux pas.
According to Article 4 of the draft, the speaker must not forget to flatter his
audience. In particular if the audience includes students who will otherwise take
revenge in the evaluation form they will be asked to fill in at the end the speakers’
speech. He has to highlight to them that they are the best, most intelligent and
motivated students, and that there is no doubt that they will soon rule the world of
international arbitration. It is over all always worthwhile to remind the audience of
their superior greatness – by the way some might remember your compliments at a
later point, and - who knows? - propose you as an arbitrator in a future procedure.
Application: Dear students of the MIDS, I would like to emphasize what a pleasure
it has been to spend a few days with you each year, and in particular to go explore
“behind the scenes” of the ICC Court in Paris with you. I have good memories of
every class, of your enthusiasm, of your questions, intelligent or not, of bursts of
laughter, of energetic pleadings in the Moot-Court, of aggressive crossexaminations
whose victim I always was, of the traditional and sometime long
lasting dinners with eminent arbitrators in Paris. Thank you for your involvement
and hard work.
According to Article 5, the speaker must make use of the opportunity to make a
few critical remarks, in order not to appear too positive and thus naive, and to
demonstrate his independence – which is all the more the case if the speaker is an
arbitrator. This criticism must be firm but constructive.4
Application: My complaint here goes to the overstated number of social events
associated to the MIDS. I am of course very grateful for these invitations to boat
cruises, dinners with speakers in Geneva and so on, but the truth is that I am on a
diet and all these glamorous diners are really not helping me!
According to Article 6, the speaker must also thank all the other people in the
room who could have delivered a speech just as good and who were unfairly
deprived of this opportunity.
Application: I cannot thank Gabrielle, Laurence, Zacchary and Marcelo enough for
their extraordinary initiative, courageous at the time, that turned into one of the
most successful programmes in the field of international arbitration. I am sure that
you all share my deep gratitude for the success of the MIDS. I am equally sure that
you also agree with me when I extend my gratitude to the professors that joined
them in their endeavour, as well of course as Diego, Réka, Mamadou, Evelyne and
all members of the MIDS staff, faculty and instructors.
According to Article 7, the speaker must conclude by expressing his wishes for the
future, first and foremost to those who have actually listened to him all the way up
to this point of his speech.
Application: Dear participants, dear MIDSies, every class was a wonderful team,
whose members are now all over the globe to pursue their careers in arbitration, at
various positions; They demonstrate the high quality of their education here in
Geneva and contribute to the always increasing reputation of the MIDS. I am
confident that our paths will cross again, be it at arbitration events or, and this is
always a great pleasure for me, in arbitral proceedings. I have already had the
pleasure to encounter some alumni in this context, maybe not sitting in the first
row, but close to it, and ready to jump and take one of the seats at the very first
opportunity available, to deploy their skills, enthusiasm and knowledge.
Finally, according to Article 8, the speaker should in principle avoid making jokes,
because the world of arbitration is no laughing matter. Exceptions are permitted –
even though they are still subject to serious doctrinal dispute amongst the members
of the drafting committee: First for the British, who pretend to be the only ones
capable of doing so, and second for the French-speaking people, who hardly intend
to make jokes but make everyone smile just with their accent. So remember to be
serious, in particular when it comes to your conclusion.5
Application: Dear students, it has been a pleasure to take part in your education, and
it is a pleasure to spend time and discuss with you. We are the past and you are the
future. Indeed, the future of international arbitration lies in your hands, take good
care of it: it is a fragile creature that can turn out to be dangerous. Remember what
purpose it serves – it is not to become rich, but to contribute to work towards
justice, which is without doubt the most pretentious task humans can undertake. It
requires, first of all, a good education, which you have. It also takes experience,
which you will gain. And it takes, above all, a vast amount of human qualities.
I hope that this programme has taught you to put these qualities and values
forward and that you will not forget them. My best wishes to all of you.
Thank you very much