The World

August 8, 2008 6:36 PM

Beijing 2008: An Arbitrator Goes to the Olympics, Part II

Posted by Brian Baxter

With damages awards of $75 million on behalf of clients like Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum and judgments of $700 million for billionaire financier Kenneth Dart, it's not a stretch to call David Rivkin an international arbitration powerhouse.

Rivkin, a litigation partner in the New York and London offices of Debevoise & Plimpton, also happens to be a formidable sports arbitrator as well. We recently talked to Rivkin about his role as an ad hoc panelist of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Beijing. The first part of our interview, detailing that work, ran yesterday.

How does a lawyer with such a busy practice find the time for these extracurriculars? Rivkin explains this and more in the second of our two-part interview.

What happens to your normal workload while you're halfway across the world? Did you offer to take some clients along with you?
[Laughing.] I've had a few offers from clients. Whether it's the Beijing Olympics or other work that I have, I spend at least half my time traveling. I've been joking with one client that there isn't a continent that I haven't spoken to them from. So I just continue the work from there in the same way I do when I'm traveling on other business. In some ways I'll be able to use the time difference--be it the six hours with Europe or 12 hours with the [U.S.]--to speak to people early in the morning or late in the evening after my Olympic responsibilities [end].

Are any other Debevoise lawyers going with you to China or are you holding the firm banner alone?
No, just me. Although my family is coming with me. My wife and two daughters, both of whom are in their early twenties, will be there for a week to 10 days. [Note: Debevoise has an office in Shanghai.]

I take it CAS selects you to go to the Olympics? Any particular training regimen before going?
Yes, and yes. CAS tries to do some rotating to give others the experience. So in Beijing, about half of our panel [consists of] people who have done this before and the other half have not. Fortunately, three out of the last four times I've been chosen. I prepare by refreshing myself on what CAS panels have done at prior Olympics because some of the same issues tend to arise and we want to make sure we're consistent [in our rulings]. Thankfully I've done enough CAS cases over the years that I have a good understanding of the case law. And I also bring...the experience I've gained over the past 26 years deciding international commercial arbitrations. It's just applying the procedural experience to these particular cases and getting it done quickly.

Can you bill the time that you work for CAS, how does it work?
Unfortunately, no. CAS covers expenses. They reimburse travel and provide a per diem. They also cover the hotel expense. But we don't bill for our time. What [CAS panelists] do receive are credentials, which are very nice to have. But I do this work and Debevoise views this work as effectively pro bono, because CAS plays a very important role. Wait, let me clarify that. I should actually say that we don't count this as pro bono hours when we report our numbers to The American Lawyer or anybody else.

I almost spit out my iced coffee.
[Laughing.] It's not pro bono in that sense. [CAS] plays an important role in the more effective functioning of the Olympics. So the firm is happy to support it, I'm happy to support it, and I do enough hard work the rest of the year that I can certainly manage to squeeze this in.

You've helped decide some pretty important CAS cases.
In Salt Lake City I had the figure skating dispute between the Canadians and Russians over the gold medal. I also handled the dispute involving the Korean short track speed skater who was disqualified when Apolo Anton Ohno won the gold medal. Last year I had Tyler Hamilton. This year I've had the Oscar Pistorius and Floyd Landis cases. On Landis, we actually had it in [Debevoise's New York] office and one of our associates acted as the secretary to that tribunal. Whenever I sit as chair of a CAS tribunal, I usually ask one of our associates to be the law clerk to the tribunal. It's good experience for them and it's also fun for them to be involved in a sports, rather than commercial arbitration.

Do you have any favorite Olympic events you like to attend, just as a fan?
I've been a sports fan my whole life and watched the Olympics on TV growing up. I enjoy swimming a lot. The basketball games are fun but I tend to go to sports that I don't normally get to see. So while I'm a huge baseball fan, I probably won't go to a lot of baseball games, although I may go to the baseball final this year because it could be the last one played at the Olympics. I'm sure I'll go to some women's softball...I also enjoy events where the fans are into them, especially any one where Brazil is playing. And while I'm in Beijing, I'm sure I'll go see some table tennis, which I haven't seen in the past but should be an exciting event to see in China.

What do you enjoy most about this experience?
You see how excited many of the athletes are just to be there. Most of the athletes don't have much of a medal chance, but they're there to participate and enjoy the experience. That really sunk in at my first Olympics in Atlanta [as a spectator, not a CAS panelist], when I went to the last game the Spanish field hockey team played. Afterwards, they all gathered on the field and took pictures of each other in front of the scoreboard, with the Olympic rings behind them.

How much longer do you think you will continue to serve on these panels?
As long as they want me to, there's no fixed term. I would love to do future Olympics but I know that CAS also wants to do a certain amount of rotating, so that's fine too.

So what happens after the Olympics? Time for a vacation?
No, I'm actually flying straight from Beijing to Denver on Monday, August 25, for the Democratic National Convention. I'm not a delegate and I'd actually never been involved in any presidential or campaign fundraising before. But I started working for the Obama campaign from the day he announced [his candidacy]. I was an early member of his finance committee and I've helped with a lot of different events, so I'm happy to be able to watch Barack get the nomination. I'm a member of his legal policy committee and have played a role in some of the legal policy statements he's put out.

Any insight into who his choice for VP will be?
[Laughing.] That I don't know. It won't be me.

I've got to ask before I let you go--do you ever get confused with David B. Rivkin at Baker & Hostetler?
It happens all the time. No relation and I've never met him. He worked in the first Reagan and Bush administrations and is a very frequent commentator on behalf of the [second] Bush administration defending Guantanamo, wiretapping, whatever the case may be. Every now and then when he does, I'll get a phone call or an e-mail from somebody saying, 'This is ridiculous . . . ' So there is frequent confusion!

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