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 received high commendation in the competition.
My fascination began in law school when I took a course on “Arbitration and other ADR mechanisms”. I was immediately hooked. Initially, because (unlike other subjects) it did not involve memorizing dozens of statutory provisions. A few weeks into the course, I was enthralled by a field that allowed for so many possibilities: any applicable law, seat, or language, the ability to nominate the arbitrator(s), and to adapt the process to the parties’ needs…. I was lured in by this flexibility and excited about the possibility of using my language skills, discovering other jurisdictions and working in a multicultural environment. “This is it” – I thought. Little did I know there would be a bumpy road ahead.
For most candidates trying to break into arbitration – particularly those trying in a jurisdiction that is not their own – there is an unwritten rule that candidates must go through multiple internships (often despite already having qualified as a lawyer), in the hope that they will end with an Associate offer. Sadly, this is how it works, and it can be very discouraging (and financially challenging).
As someone who went through the struggle, I want to share my top, practical tips for those trying to break through.
1) Develop a Thick Skin: Get Ready for Rejection
I cannot remember the number of applications I submitted. While I initially focussed on the “crème de la crème”, I soon expanded my list to almost every law firm that had an arbitration practice across three jurisdictions. Most of the time, I received no answer at all. Sometimes it was an email to say they were not recruiting, and others, more fortuitously, an invitation for an interview – but for an internship. A few months into this process, I met a partner at a leading law firm in New York who told me not to take any of these rejections personally or let them affect me in the slightest – it did not mean I was not a great candidate. He added that he had had plenty of rejections throughout his career, and look where he was now (literally speaking, he was in an impressive office on the thirty-something-th floor).
2) Chat or Have Coffee With a Wide Range of People
I did this consistently. I reached out to people to seek advice and many people kindly granted me a few minutes of their time. Even if no offers ever resulted from these chats, those people would often connect me to other people and give me helpful tips and encouragement. I remember meeting a partner in London who told me to keep persevering. He said I needed to keep going because to get the Associate role you had to be the “last one standing” after others had given up.
The associates or partners you reach out to are busy people and will often miss your email or forget to respond. Follow up at least once. When I submitted my application to the firm that eventually offered me my first Associate position, I emailed three or four members of the team and I made sure to follow up until one of them responded.
4) Build Relationships Every Step of the Way
Our field puts a lot of emphasis on networking. This is important, including for junior practitioners trying to break into the field. But aside from connecting with “strangers”, it is crucial to build relationships with peers at every turn: fellow interns, associates, counsel, or partners you work with during your internships.
During my internships, I developed some true friendships. One of those friends ended up being critical in securing my first Associate role: she advised me to apply to a law firm where she had previously interned because she knew that somebody with the same language skills as me had just left, and they might need to find someone to replace them. She was absolutely right, and I would have never been able to find that information online. The timing of my unsolicited application email ended up being critical.
Mentors can be extremely helpful in guiding you along the way, so sign up for mentoring programs or find informal mentors.
6) Don’t Give Up
Even if you don’t land an Associate role at a law firm and have to follow a slightly different route at first, look for other opportunities (institutions, governments, working for arbitrators, expert firms…), and keep trying!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Isabel San Martín is a Senior Associate at LALIVE in London, specializing in International Arbitration and Public International Law. Qualified in Spain and New York, Isabel has experience in commercial and investment treaty arbitrations, with a particular focus on Latin America and Europe. She has represented clients in a variety of sectors, including renewable energy, oil and gas, mining, construction, and banking and finance, among others. She also has experience in human rights law and other areas of Public International Law, having previously worked at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations. Prior to joining LALIVE, Isabel was an Associate in King & Spalding’s International Arbitration Group in Paris.
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