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Boston in Practice: An Interview with Merriann Panarella

Merriann M. Panarella is a prominent arbitrator, litigator, and mediator. While a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, she was lead trial counsel in the complex commercial and intellectual property practice areas. As an arbitrator, Merriann has served on complex life science matters (medical device, licensing disputes, pharmaceuticals), and patent infringement and invalidity, contractual, software, environmental, franchise, securities fraud, broker-dealer, hospital accounting, and legal fee disputes.

Ms. Panarella is a Fellow in the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, has taught the CIArb’s International Arbitration Accelerated Route to Fellowship Course from 2016 to the present, and is a Co-Chair of the Boston Chapter of the North American Branch of CIArb. She is Tech List Appointee with the Silicon Valley Arbitration and Mediation Center and serves on the arbitration and mediation panels of many of the leading dispute resolution institutions including the AAA, ICC, WIPO, CPR, and FINRA. She is a frequent lecturer and author on a broad range of dispute resolution issues.

BIAC’s own Melissa (Lisa) Thompson recently interviewed Ms. Panarella:


What is your role with BIAC -- the Boston International Arbitration Council?

I am among the founders of BIAC and serve on its Board of Directors.

How did you get started as an arbitrator?

After years as a litigation partner with WilmerHale, I was well aware of how costly, time-consuming, and distracting high-stakes litigation can be for a business. My first case as a commercial arbitrator involved a dispute over a joint development agreement for an integrated capillary electrophoresis system. As it was important to the parties to resolve the matter quickly, we had a lengthy hearing and an award within 6 months of my appointment. I enjoyed both the process, the ability to respond to the parties’ needs, and the deep dive into medical device technology.

What types of arbitrations have you handled?

I have handled a broad array of arbitrations which makes my practice most interesting. My focus is primarily on life sciences, intellectual property, and complex commercial disputes including disputes involving collaboration and joint development agreements, licenses, scale-up manufacturing contracts, patent infringement matters, software development agreements, environment, securities, and franchise agreements.

How do you manage your arbitrations – are there any special tactics that you find useful?

As an advocate for many years, I have a good sense of how to efficiently resolve litigation. While party autonomy is a hallmark of arbitration which I honor, I also believe in proactively managing each stage of the proceeding to enable the parties to reach a just and efficient resolution. At the outset, I hold a comprehensive preliminary hearing and encourage the parties to agree on as many procedural matters as possible. I am willing to entertain dispositive motions if the moving party demonstrates that they are likely to succeed and that the motion will narrow (at least) the issues in the case. I encourage the parties to engage in discovery proportional to the matter at hand and, if electronic discovery is likely, have the parties’ IT folks discuss protocols early in the process. As many of my matters involve technology and thus the use of expert witnesses, I ask the parties to consider hot tubbing the experts as I find the practice very useful in understanding the real areas of disagreement. With this method, the experts present evidence and are examined together, and are allowed to ask questions of each other. Generally, I have found from my litigation practice, that the longer the time before the hearing, the more costly the matter. I am available should the parties need me to resolve a discovery issue or some other matter on relatively short notice to keep the process moving.

Why did you get involved with BIAC?

I became involved in BIAC to join with other Boston-based colleagues in increasing the public’s awareness of Boston’s many attributes and its viability as an alternative venue to New York City as a seat for international arbitration. Geneva, a smaller city than Boston, is consistently ranked among the top 5 places to seat an arbitration, so size is certainly not determinative for a city to be a successful seat!

Have you arbitrated cases in Boston?

I have arbitrated numerous cases in Boston in the life sciences and technology spheres as well as commercial contractual disputes. Compared to other venues, Boston has many advantages given the sophistication of the legal community, including in-house counsel, easy access to support services, and an infrastructure well suited to hosting companies and their counsel from around the world.

What advantages do you see for Boston as a seat for international and domestic arbitration?

Boston has a vibrant arbitral community with both experienced counsel and arbitrators as well as cutting-edge industries in the life sciences, technology, and financial spheres. Given the increasing globalization of commerce and the complexities of resulting disputes, Boston is a logical seat for arbitrations both for those companies located in the Boston area as well as those who seek to take advantage of its deep legal and expert witness community.

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