We have addressed the types of patent cases most likely to be arbitrated, formulation of arbitration clauses, the federal statutes governing arbitration of patent matter, considerations regarding use of experts in arbitration, and the final pre-hearing schedule regarding pre-hearing exchanges of information as well as witness lists, document lists and briefs. We then turned to specifics of the hearing schedule including transcripts, and the form of award to request. We have now arrived at the point in the process when we begin to address the beginning of the hearing itself.
Final pre-hearing. In many arbitrations, it will be well worth your while to ask for a final pre-hearing conference to iron out the details of the hearing and the arbitrator’s or panel’s approach. Some arbitrators routinely set such a session, but many don’t. Most will be happy to hold them if you request them to.
Another approach I have taken lately is to provide the parties with written guidance as to what to expect at the hearing by way of proceedings, approach to evidence and the like. Below is a generic version of a communication I have used in past arbitrations. It was developed with input from a couple of panels of experienced arbitrators. Of course, your arbitrator or panel may look at things differently, so it is worth finding out. But this will provide you with a checklist of issues to consider. Here it is:
I am writing to provide some guidance for the upcoming hearing. Please bear the following in mind:
We will start the first day at 9 am. We will finish by 5 pm. In subsequent days, if it appears we will need to work longer hours to finish on time, we will.
- We are set to finish on Friday, May 25th. But we have all set aside Saturday as a “spillover day” if necessary to finish. I will check in with you daily as to our progress toward completing the hearing.
- Each party will be allowed to make a brief opening and closing if they would like. Please plan not to exceed twenty minutes or so for each side. It isn’t necessary that you do an opening, particularly if the pre-hearing briefs lay the issues out well.
- All testimony will be under oath. Witnesses will be asked to “swear or affirm” the testimony they are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If witnesses would rather not take an oath, they can opt to have their testimony taken “under penalty of perjury.” Please let me know if any of your witnesses would rather have the testimony “taken under penalty” rather than swearing an oath.
- We will proceed by question and answer. I normally will allow some brief redirect to clarify matters from cross. Re-cross is appropriate only if necessary to refine or explain critical points. There is no particular advantage in having the last word. I take notes.
- The rules of evidence do not apply. The standard of what is allowed into evidence is set forth in Rule 34 of the Commercial Rules of the American Arbitration Association:
(a) The parties may offer such evidence as is relevant and material to the dispute and shall produce such evidence as the arbitrator may deem necessary to an understanding and determination of the dispute. Conformity to legal rules of evidence shall not be necessary. All evidence shall be taken in the presence of all of the arbitrators and all of the parties, except where any of the parties is absent, in default or has waived the right to be present.
(b) The arbitrator shall determine the admissibility, relevance, and materiality of the evidence offered and may exclude evidence deemed by the arbitrator to be cumulative or irrelevant.
(c) The arbitrator shall take into account applicable principles of legal privilege, such as those involving the confidentiality of communications between a lawyer and client.
- While not controlling, the rules of evidence often provide some guidance as to admissibility and, importantly, to persuasiveness of certain evidence. For example, rank hearsay subject to no exceptions is not likely to be very valuable in sorting out the controversy. A first-hand account is likely to be more useful. If you want to object based on an evidentiary ground to remind the arbitrator of the weakness of the evidence, you may do so. But such objections cannot be speaking objections. Stick with basic objections, e.g. lack of foundation, hearsay, irrelevant, etc. Admissibility will still be judged under the arbitration standard for admissibility set forth in Rule 34. I may let you know if a path of inquiry is not helpful and ask you to move on.
- Leading questions, except as to preliminary matters and on cross, are disfavored. Arbitrators would like to know what the witness knows himself or herself and not what the lawyer would like the witness to agree to.
- If an exhibit is referred to during an examination without objection, it is considered to be ‘in the record.” If you object to use of an exhibit, please state your objection when the exhibit is first mentioned. This keeps things moving without the “offer/receipt” ritual. Having an exhibit admitted means only that it is part of the record. It will only be given the weight, if any, deemed appropriate even if it is admitted. Please keep track of which exhibits have and have not been used. If the parties want to do so, exhibits not used can be taken out of the exhibit books at the close of proceedings. The lawyers will need to take care of that.
- You should not assume I will look at any exhibit, even if admitted into evidence, if it has not been used in the examination of a witness or counsel has not expressly stated why I should consider it.
- Your exhibits should be in three-ring binders, tabbed with the exhibit number. Please don’t use notebooks for your exhibits of over 3” or so. If you have a large number of exhibits, it is better to have more notebooks of a manageable size than large, unwieldy notebooks. Counsel should work to eliminate duplicates of exhibits. It wastes time if the same exhibit has two different numbers depending on which side is referring to it. If the exhibits are voluminous, it would be most helpful for you to email them to me in .pdf form so I can retrieve them on my iPad, too.
- Please provide me with copies of any particularly important cases or legal authorities you rely on, preferably in alphabetical order by the last name of the first-named party in the caption. I am fine if you just email them to me in .pdf form.
- One of the benefits of arbitration is that it is fairly informal. This leads to a spirit of cooperation that will keep things moving and keep things inexpensive. Also, because we are in a little more informal setting than a courtroom, it is a good idea to “turn down the volume” a little bit in the presentations. You may be reminded of that occasionally. Please don’t take offense. It often takes lawyers who are used to appearing in court some time to get used to the more informal setting.
- On the other hand, we won’t be taking depositions either; you are presenting evidence critical to determining the outcome. There is sometimes a tendency because of the informality to go more into probing deposition mode than evidence presentation. You will do well to stick with presentation mode.
- Another aspect to the informality of the proceedings is there is a tendency to want to chat between breaks. We have to be careful, though. I will not speak with counsel or witnesses about the merits of the case outside the hearing and tend to avoid talking to witnesses and lawyers at all (except for small talk about the weather) when we aren’t all together. Arbitrators would like to be social, but it’s more important that we be impartial, so please don’t take offense if I avoid much conversation. Please advise your witnesses that I’m not being unfriendly, but just trying to be impartial.
- I may ask questions of the witnesses. This is normal. Some witnesses, unfortunately, have a tendency to try to determine what the arbitrator is getting at and answer so as to “agree” with the arbitrator. Please tell witnesses to answer my questions like any other questions. I don’t want agreement; I just want information. If you think I’ve gotten a wrong impression based on questions asked, you can ask to pose a few more clarifying questions to the witness.
- Sometimes people don’t know what to call arbitrators. Please call me “Mr. Allgeyer” or “Mr. Arbitrator.” There is no need to call an arbitrator “your honor.” Don’t worry too much if you don’t get it right all the time. I’ll use Mr. or Ms. Lawyers’ last names during the proceedings, unless it fits to become more informal.
- It is fine to have beverages during the hearing.
- We will generally take a break every 1 ½ hours or so. If you or a witness need a break, let me know. There will be no breaks while a line of questioning is pending.
- We likely will discuss how to handle closing arguments and post-arbitration briefing, if any, during the course of the proceedings.
- Please refer to AAA Commercial Rule 28 regarding use of stenographer. If either party uses real-time reporting, please arrange to provide that capability to me as well.
I hope these guidelines will help answer some basic questions to make our hearing as comfortable and productive as it can be. Please feel free to seek any clarification or address any other questions you may have during any final pre-hearing conference or when we are together at the hearing.