Landing your first arbitration appointment can be daunting. After years of honing your skills in the legal profession, you are now ready to take the next step in your career. But where do you start?
We spoke with leading international arbitration expert, Sophie Nappert, about her experience and what she believes are the most important things to prepare to land your first arbitral appointment.
How Did Sophie Land Her First Appointment?
When Sophie started in arbitration 25 years ago, it was not as widely practiced as it is today. After finishing her master’s, she was hired by a law firm who just received its first arbitration case. Since arbitration was new, the firm was not too sure what was needed, but they knew they had to have someone with civil law training, which Sophie did have. After that case, she started growing her practice.
Sophie recalled her first official arbitration appointment which sounded like something out of a James Bond movie.
“It was an investor-state case, and I was acting for the government of a Southeast Asian state. And it was quite a case out of James Bond. I was drugged on the eve of cross-examination. Our deliberating room was bugged with microphones … And obviously, that was very high stakes … It was like warfare.” Sophie tells us, quipping how she should really write a book about this.
Years later, she stumbled upon a friend who was friends with her opponent from that action-packed arbitration case. She learned that her former opponent wanted to appoint her as an arbitrator for a case he was handling. Sophie took the case, and as they say, the rest is history.
How Can You Land Your First Appointment?
- Be Professionally Mature
“You can’t sell your services and your abilities if you don’t know what they are.” Sophie opens when we ask what’s the first thing a new arbitrator should prepare.
She suggests that new arbitrators should be frank with themselves and be introspective about their strengths and weaknesses. For your strengths, you have to know how to market them. On the other hand, you must know how to complement or assist your weaknesses. By doing this self-assessment, you would be able to understand if you really are ready to take this next step in your career.
- Acquire More Skills
In line with assisting your weaknesses, Sophie suggests acquiring skills that would help you navigate the things you don’t do well.
“For example, many lawyers are uncomfortable with numbers, calculating compound interest, and things like loss of profit, understanding quantum experts. Well, I would say get to work,” she says.
- Know Your Market
By knowing yourself, you could know what value to bring to the market — this is Sophie’s advice. “I knew the market of arbitration quite well, [I knew] what users of arbitration were looking for in an arbitrator and I tried to find a place because I started fairly young.” she said.
Sophie told us how she would actually spend time reading the documents and doing the work to be prepared. This preparation helped her compliment senior colleagues who had less time to do the legwork. By doing this, she was able to acquire the necessary skills to know how she could pitch herself to the market.
- Expand Your Network
Arbitration is the same with any type of business in that you need to network to grow. It’s important to make friends in the industry because it is a field wherein you make your business from those you know and those who know you.
When starting out, Sophie recognizes that approaching institutions is a good way to go. “Institutions have understood that there’s a pool of talent amongst the young arbitrators that it’s worth investing in them and giving them smaller cases, or putting them on a panel with more established arbitrators to train them up,” she says. If an institution knows you or has your CV, you’ll have a very good chance of landing your first appointment.
- Have a Deliberately-Written CV
“Make sure that your CV has the right keywords” Sophie advises. Since things have gone online now, it’s important for arbitrators who are looking for their first appointment to be smart with their CV.
If you are starting out in digital arbitration, Sophie suggests that you have to make sure that you are visible in search results. To do that, you must include your fields of practice as these are the ones that would pop out in the searches.
That’s it! Once you land your first appointment, keep in mind these tips when starting out as an arbitrator from another arbitration expert, Ben Giaretta.