1. Hi Ophélie, would you mind recalling us briefly your background?
I have a rather unconventional background for an arbitration lawyer (at least for an arbitration lawyer of my generation, when the masters in arbitration are sufficiently present in the field). After receiving a High School diploma in literature, I did a two-year preparatory course in literature [French hypokhâgne and khâgne, designed to integrate Higher Schools afterwards]. These were two fascinating years where I quenched my thirst for literary and philosophical culture as well as for my love for languages, and where I also worked at my writing and oral expression.
At the end of khâgne, I was admitted to ESSEC, that I integrated with enthusiasm. After two years of general studies and despite all the experience that I achieved, my heart necessitated to ascertain my future profession that would make me feel useful from day to day. I cherished my literary flair, enjoying at the same time an introductory class in law tought at the first year at ESSEC. I therefore integrated the legal studies, and followed it in parallel with my studies at ESSEC (first bachelor degree at Cergy, then the first year of my Masters at Paris I).
Once passed the entrance exams to the French Bar School after the first year of my Masters, I did an LLM in Oxford. There my studies were focused on international law (and, in particular, arbitration) and contract law (English and comparative law). I sit the French bar exam following my return and final internship at Hogan Lovells in Arbitration. In October 2014, I joined DLA Piper, where I still practise.
2. As you said, you undertook an MBA in France and LLM abroad. How does this help you in your professional life?
Yes, and that goes back to your first question. My ESSEC background was one of the reasons I was hired by DLA Piper. The partners looked for a lawyer who was able to read financial statements and was good with numbers, that are finally at stake at almost all the disputes!
More generally, the experience I archieved at ESSEC is very useful on a daily basis. In particular, a two-years training contract that I undertook with PwC tought me to deal with a number of issues that I come across in my current practice. The first part of this contract, which I went through as a consultant, exposed me to the team work, the customer relationship management, the constraints linked to management of an assignment and the need to constantly learn about new professional areas. All these challenges one may attribute to arbitration. The second part of my contract I spent at PwC (former Landwell, now PwC Avocats), in mergers and acquisitions. At DLA Piper I am dealing with a number of post-acquisition disputes. Therefore, the understanding of the general logic of an M&A transaction that I acquired during this second year is very useful to me in this regard.
In addition, my friends from ESSEC practice in a wide range of fields and often bring me useful insights into the background of technical issues in my cases!
As for LLM, the year spent in England, of course, improved the fluency of my written and oral English, that I use on a daily basis in the cases I handle and in my dealings with the clients.
I also keep in touch with many of my fellow students who now practice in a multitude of different countries. Such contacts may be very useful when a case raises a question of foreign law and/or involves the use of local counsels.
Finally, the open-mindness, implied and reinforced by the confrontation with different legal and cultural backgrounds, seems to me a valuable quality in any professional area, and a requirement for a career in international arbitration.
3. You have recently participated in pro bono project teaching international arbitration to women lawyers in Nepal. Would you please tell us more about it and pro bono projects in international arbitration in general?
DLA Piper is very involved in pro bono initiatives, and gives to the associates the opportunity to participate in numerous interesting projects.
I will ptovide you with some examples that concern me directly. Last December I traveled to Nepal to deliver during a week, together with 8 other partners and associates from other DLA Piper offices, to 60 Nepali women lawyers classes on international arbitration, intellectual property law, company law, ethics and to give some practical advice on the enhancement of the legal activity and network.
Last February I also intervened on behalf of an international organization, with my colleague from Paris, in the negotiations of amicable settlement of a dispute with its supplier, thus avoiding arbitration.
Moreover, with three other Spanish-speaking colleagues from my team, we also coach a team of the Masters in Arbitration and International Business Law of the University of Versailles for the Madrid Moot in Spanish.
4. With regard to the project in Nepal and to the movement for gender diversity in arbitration, where do you think we stand and what can we do?
The question will obviously not receive the same answer in Nepal and in France… in Nepal the legal profession is being feminized but we are very far from the rates of almost 80% of women passing the bar exam in France these last years! Even in France, the feminization of the legal profession is not yet reflected on the senior level, arbitration not being an exception.
I think that the things will naturally evaluate with time taking into account a high number of women commencing the profession and a societal movement encouraging gender equality more and more. At the same time, it seems to me that we can contribute to accelerating this change. It can be achieved, for example, by promoting the appointment of female arbitrators, and at our level, by taking personal initiatives (such as organizing or intervening at the conferences): the responsibility that we bear all!
5. Can you give some tips for young students who want to start an international career in arbitration?
Know yourself: be frank about the assets allowing you to differentiate from others (perfect command of a language, knowledge of a foreign law and/or jurisdictional system, use of numbers…) and use them (this implies in particular to learn about the type of cases dealt with by different law firms). At the same time, you should also keep your eyes wide open, by taking advantage of any new opportunity to discover different types of cases and different laws as of a chance to boost your expertise.
Be patient with your weaknesses and do your best to correct them. Be very thorough (in your legal reasoning, your writing and your oral expression). Make sure to be sincerely enthusiastic about arbitration because it is exciting but very demanding in terms of time, especially the first years.
In summary: love what you do and do it well!