Curriculum Vitae: Cliff O’Brien

Commercial Arbitrator, ADR

Cliff O’Brien is an experienced commercial arbitrator. Prior to his appointment as a Judge, he served sometimes as counsel and other times as an arbitrator in major commercial disputes. Since his retirement from the Court in 2014, he has served exclusively as an arbitrator. He has been involved, either as a counsel or an arbitrator, in more than 100 arbitrations. Generally speaking, those arbitrations have been in the areas of energy, construction, shareholder and partnership disputes. Most of those disputes have required the interpretation of commercial contracts including joint venture and farm-out agreements, construction contracts, and engineering and procurement contracts, as well as shareholder, partnership and employment contracts.

Background Experience 

A. Legal Education 

Cliff obtained his law degree (LL.B. with distinction) from the University of Alberta. He was awarded the Chief Justice Horace Harvey Gold Medal in Law as well as many other academic awards. 

B. Law Practice 

Cliff articled with the law firm now known as Bennett Jones and was admitted to the partnership in 1971. He subsequently served as head of the firm’s litigation department and chair of the firm’s executive committee. For some 40 years he practised in civil litigation, acting in commercial and business disputes of all types. He appeared before all the courts of Alberta as well as the Supreme Court of Canada and the Courts of Ontario, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. He also frequently appeared before Alberta regulatory tribunals as well as the National Energy Board and Competition Bureau. In the latter years a substantial portion of his practice involved commercial arbitrations. 

Cliff was designated a Queen’s Counsel in 1980, and in 1987 was elected a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. In 2002, Lexpert named him as one of Canada’s top 25 corporate litigators. 

Cliff served as a bencher of the Law Society of Alberta from 1980 – 1984, and was a representative of the Law Society on the Rules of Court Committee, and a member of the Practice Advisory Committee. He has been a panelist and lecturer at professional seminars conducted by the Legal Education Society of Alberta and by the Alberta Branch of the Canadian Bar Association. 

C. Judicial Experience 

Cliff served as an appellate judge on the Courts of Appeal of Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut from 2005 – 2014. 

As a judge, Justice O’Brien was involved in dealing with several hundred appeals on a wide variety of issues. The Alberta Court of Alberta hears appeals from trial courts in Alberta, as well as from various tribunals including the Alberta Utilities Commission and the Alberta Securities Commission. 

Commercial Arbitration 

Cliff has served either as sole arbitrator or as a member of an arbitral tribunal under both institutional (ICC, UNCITRAL, ADRIC, IBA, ICDR) and ad hoc rules. The majority of the arbitrations have been domestic but a number have been international commercial arbitrations. 

Since his retirement from the Court, Cliff practices as an independent commercial Arbitrator. He is a member of the Western Canada Commercial Arbitration Society (WCCAS) and also a member of Western Arbitration Chambers (Western), an association of Independent arbitrators and mediators. Western provides parties with access to leading arbitrators and mediators based in Calgary, each of whom has long expertise in arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution. Western arbitrators focus particularly on issues involving the energy industry but more generally involving commercial disputes of all types. 

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