Name of arbitration practitioner:
- Juris Doctor & Global Law Scholar, Georgetown University Law Center
- Masters degree & Juris Doctor Equivalent, La Sorbonne University
Countries qualified to practise:
- New York, United States
- Paris, France
- Igbo (beginner)
Name of law firm/institution:
Omnia Strategy LLP
Area(s) of specialisation:
International Dispute Resolution, International Law and General Commercial Matters
- Member, Young ICCA
- Member, Lagos Court of Arbitration
- Member, Roster of Arbitrators, Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce
What influenced your interest in arbitration?
I am the product of a “Benetton” family, being French-Nigerian-American-Ghanaian, with relatives from Iran and Armenia. At an early age I developed an abiding interest in international issues and conflict resolution. International arbitration feels a bit like home with different languages and traditions, and strong personalities.
What are some of the challenges faced by young arbitrators working on disputes in Africa? What do you think can be done to address these challenges?
The lack of geographical diversity in international arbitration is appalling, especially considering the international nature of the work, as is the lack of gender diversity. Let’s get rid of the pale, male and stale bias once and for all. Arbitration institutions are making a concerted effort to change this state of play. We now need to educate the arbitration users – the clients –about the need for and benefits of diverse arbitrators on arbitral tribunals. Law firms have a very important role to play in that regard. There are many younger diverse arbitrators who are less known to clients. We want to help these diverse arbitrators increase their profile and visibility so that clients have confidence as to their experience and are willing to appoint them to tribunals. Initiatives like Africa Arbitration are a step in the right direction.
What role(s) do you think arbitration institutions/organisations can play in equipping young practitioners?
Promoting diversity (see the recent complaints from US rap artist, JAY-Z, against the AAA), appointing young arbitrators in suitable cases and providing affordable courses designed for young practitioners. I think institutions such as ICCA, the ICC and the LCIA are doing a good job but a lot remains to be done to enable young practitioners, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, to become the leaders of tomorrow.
What do you think can be done to make African states more attractive seats?
Political stability, more supportive local courts, better facilities, less restrictive visa procedures and cheaper flights to the continent. That is no small feat so let’s get to work!
Is there any dispute you have worked on or notable event that you will like to share?
I will never forget one of the first hearings I attended while working as a clerk for international arbitrator and mediator Edna Sussman in New York. Under cross-examination, the Respondent’s chief witness lost it. Edna recognized the situation and diffused all tensions with class and dignity. That is when I realized that being an effective arbitrator required some emotional intelligence, not simply good legal skills.
Do you have any role model(s) or mentors in the field of arbitration? What impact have they had on your career?
Cherie Blair CBE, QC, who needs no introduction, and James Palmer, Head of Disputes at Omnia Strategy. Cherie is a role model for both female and male practitioners, whose advocacy and legal skills are only surpassed by her expertise in international affairs and generosity. James is a young but charismatic leader with extraordinary (Etonian) people skills. I am grateful to both of them for giving me a chance to contribute to the growth of Omnia Strategy.
What advice do you have for other young arbitration practitioners?
Find the right outfit and mentor(s). Be committed and build your advocacy skills. Practical experience is absolutely key in this field, and the broader your experience the better. Also, find ways in which you add value to a case or to your practice group generally.