In keeping with our objective of connecting our readers with some of the most qualified persons in the field of ADR, we interviewed Ms. Supritha Suresh and Mr. Simon Weber in the Fall of 2020. They give an insight into a career in ADR by taking us through their journey so far.
Please tell us about yourself
Supritha: I am currently an International Associate at Three Crowns LLP (Bahrain). My experience includes advising States and private corporations in commercial and investment treaty arbitrations. Previously, I was seconded to the Government of Bahrain where I advised on investment treaty matters, related domestic proceedings, and global investigations. Prior to the secondment, I spent time in Three Crowns’ Washington, DC office and at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID, World Bank Group).
Simon: I am currently in the final year of my Ph.D. project at King’s College London, where I additionally assist Prof. Martin Hunter. Subsequently, I will be moving to Zurich, Switzerland to work for an international dispute resolution law firm. My research and daily practice focuses on investment disputes but I am starting to gain an interest in getting involved in pharmaceutical and financial arbitration disputes. India is very close to my heart, which is for two reasons: First, some of my closest friends are of Indian origin. Second, Prof. Martin Hunter introduced me to the legal landscape of India through trips to Bangalore and our collaboration on ‘Arbitration in India’ (which is how I met Supritha).
How and when did you decide to study law?
Supritha: This wasn’t a single event, and I continue to find reinforcers. My motivation is driven by the idea of justice and that everyone has their own perspective, their own side of the story.
Simon: In addition to my keen interest in constitutional and international law, I realized at a young age that languages had to play a role in my educational journey. Therefore, I read German-French law in Paris and Potsdam before moving on to London in order to cover all three languages I speak with a law degree from the relevant country.
What motivated you to pursue a career in ADR? How has your journey been so far?
Supritha: My eagerness to pursue dispute resolution / settlement grew from a series of happy coincidences. Participation in moot courts, simultaneous editorial work on investment arbitration (for a journal) and courses during my undergrad studies all piqued my interest in the field. I have been immensely fortunate with my journey so far. I am blessed to have mentors who have looked out for me.
Simon: The people I met. During my Ph.D. and before, I assisted renowned international arbitration lawyers and learned a lot from them. These experiences strengthened my wish to embark on a career in dispute resolution. As of May 2021, I will be working for an international dispute resolution law firm in Zurich and sit the Swiss bar exam.
What motivated you to pursue further studies in the field of ADR?
Supritha: I was stubborn to have a solid academic understanding before I began practice, and hence the decision to apply for an LL.M.
Simon: I wanted to build up on my knowledge of International and European Law. Dispute resolution seemed like the logical next step. Before deciding to go to King’s College, I spoke to Holger Hestermeyer and he convinced me of the dispute resolution program at KCL.
What were the main factors which you considered while choosing a university for your postgraduate studies?
Supritha: I wanted to pursue a Masters in a specific field (i.e. dispute resolution). Therefore, the universities I shortlisted were all those that offered a specialized LL.M. (five at the time). The faith and support that Young ICCA and Miami Law offered, even before I began the course, was pivotal. Other factors included UM’s reputation for providing a stimulating academic environment, a well-rounded curriculum and leading faculty.
Simon: Two of my three postgraduate degrees were the logical consequence of my German-French dual degree and a development of the skills I acquired during my undergrad at Université Paris Nanterre and the University of Potsdam. I simply enjoyed life in Paris and the curriculum offered. During my fourth year, however, I wanted to take the next step towards a career in international law and started looking for LL.M. programs. My criteria were the following: taught in English, in Europe, renowned lecturers and flexibility in choosing the modules of the LL.M.. I applied to most of the prominent LL.M. arbitration/dispute resolution programs you have heard of and finally decided to go to KCL, as, in my eyes, it offered the best mix of my criteria. Retrospectively, I could not have taken a better decision. I finished the LL.M. in 2017 and continued with a Ph.D. at KCL.
Did you take up any other courses while you were pursuing your LL.M.? How did it help you in understanding ADR better?
Supritha: Being a specialized International Arbitration LL.M., the focus was on dispute resolution/settlement. But the Program has a very malleable structure. It is what you want it to be. The Program Director and staff ensure that the year is as individualized as possible, diligently accommodating your every need. In addition to more than a dozen different arbitration classes, there are a plethora of activities/courses one can get involved in – moot courts, externships with leading firms, research assistant positions and options to attend J.D. classes. These opportunities and experiences expand perspective. I often advise new students: Make the most of the program and sign up for everything! You will not regret it!
Simon: I did not – the dispute resolution modules at KCL are challenging and given that you can model your curriculum yourself, you can ensure that they are coherent and contribute to your general knowledge of dispute resolution. There is one thing that helped me get more acquainted with the world of international dispute resolution though: the King’s Forum on IDR.
What were your most essential take-aways from your LL.M.? What impact did it have on your career?
Supritha: I look at my time at Miami Law as a foundation to my career, any which path it might take. I came out of UM with not only a better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of the field, but also with a primer on the practicalities. The LL.M. helped me enter the field and begin my career and also gave me the opportunity to meet some truly remarkable people who have since helped me with personal and professional growth.
Simon: Clearly, the most essential take-aways were a solid understanding of international dispute resolution and the friends I made all around the globe. The LL.M. kickstarted my career.
How has your time pursuing a Ph.D. at Dickson Poon School of Law been so far?
Simon: The Ph.D. is probably the most exciting project I have ever taken up. The first time working on your own book is challenging but you grow with every step you take. Being a Ph.D. researcher makes you flexible in terms of time – which allowed me to co-teach seminars with Martin Hunter, travel to conferences all around the globe, where I met outstanding people (in particular from India) and to contribute to research with paper projects. I can only recommend doing a Ph.D.!
Did you participate in any Dispute Resolution Competitions (moots, mock negotiations, etc.) during your undergraduate or postgraduate studies? How did it help you in engaging with ADR?
Supritha: I participated in several national and international moot court competitions during my undergrad and postgrad studies (including the FDI Moot and Vis). I was part of the bench brief committee and an arbitrator for the FDI Moot subsequently. I coach teams and sit as a mock arbitrator / mediator since. Moots provide you an opportunity to bolster research skills, better understand a niche question of law and refine oral advocacy.
Simon: I participated in the FDI Moot, and coach the KCL team since 2017 – I was a mootee during my early Ph.D. years and I could not spend as much time on it as I would have hoped. But it taught me the importance of oral advocacy. Ever since, I have arbitrated at the VIS Moot, the PCA VIS-Pre-Moot, the NLSTIAM and the German Jessup National Rounds (in February 2021). I highly encourage every student to participate in a moot if you have the opportunity!
Do you feel that there exists a gap in what we are taught at law school and the actual practice specifically with respect to ADR? How do you think students can bridge this gap?
Supritha: Whether there is a gap between theory and practice depends on the initiative of the administration, faculty and students. I’ve found that skills-based courses, mock trials, innovative assessments, internships, conference participation, candid conversation all allow students to read between and beyond the lines.
Simon: I think it is very important to first focus on the knowledge before you think about skills teaching. But once the knowledge is there, a university must start to teach skills to their students. Generally, teaching at universities is focused purely on transposing knowledge instead of teaching skills. Of course, in a lot of systems this is achieved during bar school or in the first years at the law firms. Yet, most students end up in practice without any proper skillset required for their job. Martin Hunter has always been an advocate for skill-based workshops and we have taught together on witness cross-examination or the taking of evidence. Participating in a moot is a good first start as well as internships (but make sure to not get exploited!).
Do you have any advice for our readers on pursuing a career in ADR?
Supritha: Work hard, stay positive, heed mentorship.
Simon: Never stop learning. Essentially, this means flawless knowledge of the law and of current developments. Finally, one of the most important skills to acquire is the proper drafting of a text (signposting, structure, easy language, short sentences, unpretentious formatting).