The Past and Future of Construction Arbitration

2 min read

Chris Seppälä – the chief legal adviser to FIDIC – gave the keynote address at GAR Live: Construction Disputes 2018, on construction arbitration's past and the future.

In a talk rich in history and colour, Seppälä clarified how a humble New York Capital markets lawyer in 1972 could "accidentally" become chief legal adviser to FIDIC (the International Federation of Consulting Engineers) and a doyenne of the international construction bar; shared memories of Paris in the 1980s when international arbitration was taking off ("you had enormous freedom . . . Practically, anyone could practise in the field . . . You just had to be an adult!"); and gave predictions of the future.

Above all, he explained how an activity, international construction, that was once shunned as "too risky" and sent one respectable company to bankruptcy – had been galvanised by the oil price hike of the 1970s and the construction boom it fuelled in the Middle East, to become the industry of today, and all of the changes for disputes lawyers that had meant.

"[In the early editions of FIDIC] a claim (réclamation in French) was even a nasty word that you didn’t want to use, whether in English or in French," Seppälä remembered. There were only two sentences on claims in the first FIDIC contract: “It was considered embarrassing actually to have to refer to claims at this time. Engineers sought to avoid the subject."

Today – the disputes mechanism stretches to "22 pages" – and there are still areas of debate.

This is an edited transcript of the speech, with introductory words from Peter Rosher, co-chair of the conference.

Click here to download the full transcript PDF »


GAR Live: Construction Disputes took place on 12 April 2018 at Allen & Overy, Paris. It was sponsored by 3 Verulam Buildings, Clyde & Co, FTI Consulting, Herbert Smith Freehills, HKA, Pinsent Masons, Reed Smith, Vannin Capital and Vinson & Elkins.


This article first appeared in the Volume 14 Issue 2 of GAR The international journal of commercial and treaty arbitration. For further information please visit:

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