1. Hi Jeremy, thank you for accepting this interview. To begin with, could you briefly remind us of your background?
I started my law studies in 2005 at Paris II Pantheon-Assas University, where I did my Bachelor degree and the first year of my Masters. I was rapidly attracted by international law. I therefore opted for the public law department at the end of my Bachelor degree, to follow classes in public international law exclusively. I then discovered private international law, international business law and international economic law in the first year of my Masters in international law at Paris II. For the second year of my masters, I decided to pursue the Masters in Arbitration and International Business law at Versailles Saint-Quentin University. If the masters was relatively new – I belong to its fourth promotion – its dynamism immediately seduced me. During the year, the director, Professor Thomas Clay, asked whether there were people interested in doing a thesis. I contemplated this idea for a long time, so I went for it. Thomas Clay agreed to accept my thesis on the condition that I ranked in top three of the class. I managed to meet the condition and I started the thesis in 2010. At the same time, I had the chance to obtain a sponsorship for three years from Versailles University. Afterwards, I was recruited as a teaching assistant at Paris II University, thus getting the funding for two more years. It took me four and a half years to finally defend my thesis in December 2014. Meanwhile, I was qualified by the National Council of Universities, which allowed me to apply for a position as a Junior Lecturer. However, I took two “tours de France” to be recruited in September 2016 at the Technology Institution of the University of Lorraine. The same year, in June, I successfully passed the national aggregation in private law and criminal sciences. I have since been assigned to the University of the West Indies.
2. Why did you choose the arbitration academic path? According to you, what are the differences between the academic world and the practical world? Are they incompatible?
Many things pushed me to choose an academic path. I was interested in research – both doctrinal reflection and legal technique – and teaching. Moreover, freedom granted to lecturers-researchers has always been the main reason of my interest in academic path. I have great freedom in managing my tasks, my timetable and my interests. In contrast, I have never been attracted to practical path, in particular because of the inherent constrainsts faced by a junior lawyer. That being said, the academic and the practical worlds are far from being incompatible. As Thomas Clay has recently mentioned (“Education and Research in arbitration law”, Cah. Arb. 2017, p. 419), both are closely tied. Many scholars have ties with practise and many practitioners are involved with the university – through both research and teaching. While I am not practising at the moment, it is a balance that I would like to find in the future.
3. We know that you wrote a brilliant thesis on “the State control of international arbitral awards”, what tips and tricks would you give to secure a thesis?
Not everybody is made to carry out a thesis. It is necessary to have an appetite for research which is a long and lonesome work. Ironically, the secret is to escape these two traps. Firstly, a thesis cannot be that long anymore as the time to write it was reduced and could not exceed five or six years. Then, at all costs, avoid being lonesome. This applies to both personal and researcher lives. Without a doubt the two years spent at Paris 2 helped me the most. Rubbing shoulders on a daily basis with various phD students, exchanging, confronting my ideas and realing the scope of the task awaiting me. Last but not least, it is necessary to like the thesis’ subject. The thesis preoccupies the phD student everyday, during holidays and weekends. The advantage being that you can advance at any time – personally I “built” my introduction during my trail running trainings in Fontainebleau – but the fact remains that it can be weighty over time.
4. Do you have any tips for young people wanting to start an academic career in international arbitration?
If I have one tip to give, it is to have a plan B. The university career is absolutely ruthless and not everybody can go for it. Yet, it is important to have in mind that feeling a sense of failure at 23 years old, after 5 years of studies, is not the same seeing a door close in front of your unique goal when you are 30 or more, after ten years’ studies or even more. Between the thesis defense, qualification of the Conseil National des Universités (French national council of universities), lecturer recruitment and the potential aggregation, there are many obstacles before getting a position. For my part, I had some troubles during my first attempt to be recruited as a lecturer. In addition, there are inherent difficulties in choosing arbitration as a research subject. Positions in arbitration are very rare and having an overly specialised profile can prevent one from getting a generalist position. Finally, success depends as much on luck and as on sacrifice. It is therefore essential to invest 100% in one’s objective while being realistic about the chances of success.