The IBA Arb40 Subcommittee launched a competition to compile and publish poignant stories from this period, forming a distinctive compendium of shared experiences. Exploring the depths of the international arbitration community, the IBA Arb40 Common Heritage of International Arbitration Competition for the Most Meaningful Personal Stories unfolds a tapestry of diverse narratives.
Spanning the globe, these stories capture the human side of international arbitration, showcasing triumphs, challenges, and the interconnectedness that defines our professional journey. Each article in this collection offers a unique lens into our Common Heritage of International Arbitration, underscoring the significance of camaraderie, mentorship, and shared experiences within our global community.
The following article emerged victorious in the “How it all started” category of the competition.
My first encounter with international arbitration, or should I say, international arbitrators, occurred 25 years ago. I was studying for an LLM in EU & International Trade Law at the University of Amsterdam, where the visiting faculty included international arbitrators.
A year later, I found myself serving as a legal officer at the United Nations Compensation Commission, where almost all panels, including the E3 panel to which I assigned, featured well-known international arbitrators. It was there that I caught the international arbitration bug.
However, instead of pursuing a career in international arbitration abroad, I succumbed to the call of home and returned to my native Ireland, where at the time, there was little scope to practice international arbitration. In doing so, I cast away a wonderful, unexpected potential opportunity to work with an upcoming international arbitration practice.
While I had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, some outstanding colleagues in Ireland, seven years later, I still could not shake off the international arbitration bug. I had obtained a diploma and had begun to publish in the area, which provided me with some fulfilment, but did not satisfy my longing to work in international arbitration.
And so, instead of becoming a full equity partner in 2007 in Ireland, I joined an international arbitration practice in London as a junior associate in order to begin my international arbitration career. It was gruelling to begin at the bottom of the ladder in my late 30s and to try to ascend the vertiginous slopes of international arbitration with a purely academic understanding.
There was a terrible personal cost too for my three young daughters and me, as it involved my living away from home and precipitated the end of my marriage. Following spells in Paris practising international arbitration and in Cork practicing Irish law, I moved to the Middle East to join the Abu Dhabi office of the largest law firm in the region. In the meantime, my daughters grew up, with me absent for much of their childhoods..
I have been blessed over the years to work with, and across the table from, some extraordinarily talented international arbitration practitioners, from whom I have learnt much. I have travelled to many countries in my practice. I have formed a few close friendships and have done my best to mentor younger colleagues. I have continued my efforts to contribute to thought leadership in the area and to the international arbitration community, which can be challenging considering the intellectual firepower that is characteristic of the field.
I have enjoyed modest success at great personal cost for my loved ones and for me. Perhaps if I had pursued my interest in international arbitration much earlier in my career, the sacrifices that one must bear if one is to succeed in this field would have been mine alone to bear.
So, what is the lesson from this deeply personal account?
If you feel strongly attracted to working in this fascinating area, then pursue a career with focus, determination and commitment from the earliest opportunity. Aim to work for the best. Strive to gain an outstanding reputation for probity, integrity and outstanding client service. Work harder than you thought was possible. Seize unplanned opportunities. Be humble and retain a sense of humour and perspective.
Having put your hand to the plough, don’t look back.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Gaffney is a Senior Counsel with the Abu Dhabi office of Al Tamimi & Company, where he practices commercial arbitration. He is admitted to practice in both England & Wales and the Republic of Ireland, where is an Adjunct Professor at the UCC School of Law. In addition, John serves as an Editorial Board Member, ICSID Review – Foreign Investment Law Journal, and is a Member of the ICC Commission for Arbitration and ADR (for Ireland), Co-Editor (for the Middle East), ASIL Commentaries on Private International Law, a Country Reporter for the Institute of Transnational Arbitration Board of Reporters, and a Guest Lecturer at the Sorbonne University, Abu Dhabi. He is a former Case Notes Editor of The European International Arbitration Review and reporter for European Parliament Study on Arbitration (January 2015). John is listed in the Legal 500 Arbitration Powerlist, Who’s Who Legal, and Euromoney Guide.
This article was first published on the website of the Arbitration Committee of the Legal Practice Division of the International Bar Association, and is reproduced by kind permission of the International Bar Association, London, UK. © International Bar Association.
Available at: https://www.ibanet.org/Arb40-Competition