This article is written by Raghvendra Pratap Singh, a graduate of ILS Law College, Pune and an advocate practising in Supreme Court of India extensively dealing with complex international and domestic arbitration matters. This article has significant inputs from Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.
Globalisation of business is a reality of today’s world. International contracts, bilateral and multilateral agreements between various countries are a clear testament to the fact that there are cross-border business and trade development. International trade has been a significant contributor of global GDP as is also evidenced from the report titled Global Flows in Digital Age by McKinsey Global Institute published in 2014 according to which international trade of goods and services and finance constituted 36% of global GDP in 2014.
India has also been an active participant in the globalisation of business. In fact, India is one of the greatest beneficiaries and driver of globalisation of trade and business.
As Indian lawyers, this opens up multifarious avenues for us to act outside our domestic jurisdiction. International business and trade bring with it numerous opportunities for international contract drafting, negotiations, transaction management, compliances, enforcement, advisory and also dealing between states, from intergovernmental agreements, treaties, notices and other documents with legal implications of various nature. However, most of all, globalisation has opened up avenues for international lawyers to actively participate in dispute resolution.
Unfortunately, very few Indian lawyers and law firms have been able to take advantage of this. International law firms from London and Singapore tend to handle a major chunk of international legal work involving India. For this reason, over the last couple of decades, India qualified lawyers or those with experience of practicing in India has been sought after in all big international law firms. Most big law firms in USA, UK, Singapore or Dubai tend of have an India desk or India work specific team.
With rising importance of India in global economic order and India becoming a top investment destination, as well as increased investment by Indian entrepreneurs in other countries have led to a greater demand for lawyers with Indian experience across the world.
However, arbitration is probably the one area of law that is most open to Indian lawyers, and an area that is intensely desired by Indian lawyers. Just get this, even Indian litigation royalty like Harish Salve spends a lot of time abroad, especially London, every year, working on international arbitrations.
If it is good enough for Salve, I am sure it will have its appeals as far as you are concerned.
Opportunity for Indian lawyers in International Arbitration
Although India is an attractive destination for investment and trade, the inability of Indian judicial system to provide speedy resolution to disputes and efficient contract enforcement has been a thorn on the side of investors and entrepreneurs alike. International businesses are dissuaded from coming to India due to its pathetic civil justice system where a simple matter of contract enforcement can languish in court for decades.
However, businesses and investors are increasingly opting for arbitration as a method of dispute resolution to bypass courts. Also, due to bilateral investment treaties and rising foreign investment, there are also investment arbitrations happening fairly regularly. Frequently, the seat of such arbitration is outside India, in places such as Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong and London being staple choice.
Interestingly, there are Indian companies, from technology to finance, which have begun to make inroads in foreign companies. Good example will be Ola, Oyo, Zomato, POsist etc. Even companies providing services from India to foreign companies or selling products to foreigners are entering into international arbitration agreements, or into contracts that have dispute resolution clauses requiring disputes to be resolved by international arbitration.
This is providing an opportunity for Indian arbitration lawyers with good skills to work internationally. In fact, there is a massive market for such work, while there are only few lawyers qualified to do such work! This opportunity is only going to expand in the years to come.
In what capacity one may work in international arbitration?
Arbitration as a mode of dispute resolution can be of two forms:
- Commercial arbitration.
- Investment Arbitration
Commercial arbitration involves private parties whereas investment arbitration requires at least one party to be the Government or ’State’.
It is possible to work as arbitrator also, but usually, such honour is reserved for the most well-known jurists. You can get there with time if success and reputation is on your side.
Apprentice with arbitration lawyers
You are more likely to work as a lawyer arguing before arbitrators in international arbitration, or simply assisting more well-known lawyers with research, drafting, and briefing. Busy lawyers who are working on a lot of matters at once need great juniors who can give an amazing briefing. That’s how as a young arbitration lawyer you can cut your teeth.
Work in dispute resolution team of law firms
International law firms are on the lookout for arbitration lawyers who not only understand the Indian law but also those who can provide them with an insight into the culture as well as local aspects of the matter. There are also plenty of Indian law firms representing clients in tons of international arbitration. Sometimes they are just looking for lawyers who can help to enforce an arbitral award in another country.
In addition, with the widespread acceptance of institutional arbitration, various international arbitration centres like the LCIA, ICC, SIAC are offering various opportunities for Indian arbitration lawyers. Most of the time, you will be working on assisting arbitrators, or you may work in the registry or that secretariat.
How can I bag these international opportunities?
Opt for an arbitration LLM
The most important factor for any young individual looking for an international opportunity could be an education from that jurisdiction. The most common path is to get an LLM from a well known foreign University. This is a good place to start, especially if you manage to get into an arbitration related LLM program.
In such programs, you will come across a lot of arbitrators and arbitration lawyers who can open doors for you. This also provides comfort to the potential recruiters that one would have a relevant understanding of the laws and skills not only local but also from an international perspective.
Build a genuine interest and track record
It’s hard to get a job, or even a seat in LLM if you wake up one day and say you are very interested in arbitration. A lot of young people claim that they are very interested in arbitration but have nothing to show that demonstrate that interest. Let’s say you are applying for a scholarship. I have two people between whom I have to decide. You have decent grades, good co-curricular, a couple of years of work experience in IP but no specific experience in arbitration. There is another person who has written 14 articles on arbitration, has been volunteering to edit a blog related to arbitration for last 4 years, participated in an well known international arbitration moot (though did not win anything), has co-authored two papers with well known arbitration practitioners and have done all internships since 3rd year of law school in the field of arbitration. However, you have no work experience and you are not in the top 20% of your class.
Who should I choose? If your CV demonstrates a distinct interest held over a long period of time and initiatives like these, you will automatically be selected for the most coveted things. Not only LLM seats and scholarships but even jobs.
It’s hard to fake genuine interest. If you are genuinely interested in something your track record will show that. Take care of this and you are halfway there!
You need to start early to build such track record.
Take advantage of international arbitration moots
There are some very well known international arbitration moots. Most well known will be Vis Vienna and Hong Kong. There are tons of others in every country, especially Europe. Opt for the ones which are well attended by the international arbitration community. These are fantastic places to find mentors, score internships and build a network.
Apprentice with an arbitration lawyer
Honestly speaking, arbitration law itself may not be that much to learn, but practice of arbitration is huge. There is a lot to learn. You will probably not learn even 2% of what you need to know in law school. Please find a practitioner of arbitration, if not international arbitration, and work for them for free while you are still a student. Or even afterwards, because the chance of landing a paid job is less. However, people find it hard to say no to a person not looking for money but just wanting to learn in exchange of free labour.
I would totally do it because it is really, really hard to learn otherwise.
Remember that I am not talking about usual internships that last for a month or two. Apprentice with a lawyer for at least 6 months or preferably a year if you want to learn anything worthwhile.
There are tons of courses on arbitration out there. You can pursue any of them, will be probably helpful. But particularly look out for courses that will teach you drafting, strategizing your case, procedural aspects especially through mock arbitrations, and can help you to network with the international arbitration community.
Write articles, blog posts and publish
The easiest way to build credibility when you are a law student or a young lawyer is to write articles of high quality and publish. Remember that writing articles for law journals would not only be hard but these journals usually take a lot of time (months) to publish. You want to publish frequently and regularly on different topics. For this purpose, publishing in a blog may be better.
Also when you write in blogs, it is much easier to get more visibility and have more people read what you are writing. This helps you to build a bigger professional network and a wider audience for your articles leading to more recognition and more opportunities, therefore. Prioritize blogging.
Most important tips for an aspiring arbitration lawyer that I can offer are – start early, be flexible, find a niche, keep an open mind and persevere. Success will follow!
Note from LawSikho: If you are interested in a career in arbitration, then check out LawSikho’s Executive Certificate Course in Arbitration: Strategy, Procedure and Drafting, this is one-of-a-kind of course on successful completion of the course, you will be able to handle arbitration proceedings for your client or your business, carry our related work and be at ease with procedural and strategic aspects of arbitration. Even if you plan to become an arbitrator, doing this course will prepare you for what you are going to face ahead. The course will provide you with live sessions, feedback, coaching from trainer to help you improve the quality of the work that you produce. Most of the high performing students get a recommendation to top law firms for jobs and internships.
We are also giving you 30 days to decide if you want to claim refunds after enrolling in the course. Check out the refund policy for details.
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