An interview with Sophie Nappert, among Global Arbitration Review’s Top 30 List of Female Arbitrators Worldwide

Sophie Nappert is a dual-qualified lawyer in Canada and in the UK. She is an arbitrator in independent practice, based in London. Before becoming a full-time arbitrator, she was Head of International Arbitration at a global law firm. Sophie is trained and has practised in both civil law and common law jurisdictions. She is the peer-nominated Moderator of OGEMID, the online discussion forum on current issues of international investment law, economic law and arbitration. She is ranked in Global Arbitration Review’s Top 30 List of Female Arbitrators Worldwide and is commended as a “leading light” in the field by Who’s Who Legal.
Areas of expertise include energy and natural resources, infrastructure, hotel and leisure, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, joint ventures, concession agreements, emerging economies and notably Russia, Kazakhstan and the Caspian region, the Energy Charter Treaty, investment treaty disputes, investment law and EU law, and disputes against State parties.
Sophie is the author of a Commentary on the 2010 UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules: A Practitioner’s Guide (Juris, 2012). She is a regular speaker at conferences and seminars on issues of arbitration and international law. She is also a guest lecturer at Columbia Law School, Harvard Law School and McGill University Faculty of Law.
She has created the Nappert Prize in International Arbitration, open to young scholars and practitioners worldwide, and administered under the auspices of McGill University. Sophie delivered the Inaugural Annual Lecture at the European Federation for Investment Law and Arbitration (EFILA) on 26 November 2015, on the topic of ‘Escaping From Freedom? The Dilemma of an Improved ISDS Mechanism’. The lecture won the GAR Award 2016 for Best Speech or Lectur.

Sohie has done her Bachelor of Laws (Common Law) (LL.B.), Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) from McGill University (Canada); LL.M. (Masters Degree in Law) with Merit from King’s College London, University of London and Diploma in Public International Law from Institute of International and Comparative Law (Magdalen College, Oxford). Sophie spoke about her work in an interview with Alok Vajpeyi, student of Institute of Law, Nirma University.

1. What motivated you to pursue law, as a discipline and a career?

Firstly the stimulating demands that the study, and practice, of law places on one’s intellectual capacities; secondly the fact that it is infinitely diverse and has to adapt to changing times; and thirdly because the rule of law is a defining feature of every democracy.

2. Please tell us about your time at King’s College London and McGill University (Canada) and how those experiences helped in shaping your career?

Studying at world-class Universities was a privilege for which I am immensely grateful. McGill Law essentially taught me legal thought and reasoning, and the Socratic method favoured by its Faculty developed my skills at critical analysis. I graduated with degrees in both common law and civil law, so I am thoroughly a comparative lawyer by training. McGill’s location in the heart of the exciting city of Montreal was also a real bonus!

My Master’s Degree at KCL opened up the world of international law and international arbitration, and London won me over with its cultural diversity and the quality of its legal market.

3. You were Head of International Arbitration at Denton Wilde Sapte LLP, for seven years before becoming a full-time arbitrator. What challenges did you face in your transition from a counsel to an independent arbitrator?

Of the many challenges that the transition from counsel to arbitrator entailed, the following two particularly stand out.

First, as a decision-maker I had to train myself to keep an open mind about the merits of a case until both parties were fully heard. It sounds an obvious proposition, but it is a very different skill from that of counsel, where you adopt a one-sided position and seek to persuade the tribunal that it is the right one.

The second challenge was to come to terms with the reality that the task of a decision-maker is a very individual and isolated one – this is felt especially acutely when one hails from the world of large law firms, as I did, in which decisions are taken as a team. Even on a collegiate tribunal, an experienced arbitrator is expected to do his or her own preparation, and come to his or her own view, before the deliberation exercise. This requires a degree of self-knowledge, and maturity of thought, that must be honed as one grows into the role of arbitrator so as to develop one’s own internal compass.

4. Since you are ranked in Global Arbitration Review’s Top 30 List of Female Arbitrators Worldwide, so what characteristics do you identify in the new generation of arbitrators?

My generation tends to see the arbitrator’s role as that of a provider of services in a competitive market. Thus we cannot afford to be complacent or take that role for granted. In addition, we had to contend with unprecedented criticism of arbitration as a dispute resolution model, latterly with ISDS. This development forces us to be creative in our thinking, more transparent in our ways, more diverse in our approach, in order to adapt arbitration to the needs of users whilst maintaining integrity and credibility.

5. You have also created the Nappert Prize in International Arbitration, what motivated you for such initiative?

I wanted to give back to McGill (who administer the Prize) and also to give a voice to the younger generation of arbitration scholars and practitioners. I have been thrilled with the enthusiastic response that the Prize has attracted, and the quality of the submissions.

6. Where do you see the future of International Arbitration, analysing the increasing efficiency of Artificial Intelligence?

AI has the potential of making the arbitral process cheaper and more efficient, provided it is kept in its proper place – that of facilitating logistical tasks (legal research, document disclosure). The challenge is to ensure that AI is not used as a substitute, or shortcut, for human decision-making which, although fallible, can factor in elements of fairness and compassion, which are psychologically powerful for disputants to feel that they have “had their day in court”.

7. You recently came to India, to judge the finals of the Xth NLS-Trilegal International Arbitration Moot. What do you have to say about the quality of law students in India?

It will come as no surprise that the law students who participated in the Moot were extremely talented. I have observed first-hand the high quality of law students in India, as the Winner of the first edition of the Nappert Prize is a lady hailing from India, Ms Ridhi Kabra.

8. You are the author of a “Commentary on the 2010 UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules: A Practitioner’s Guide”. Are you currently working on some other projects also which the readers can expect in near future?

I have just turned in a contribution exploring the role of international arbitration as a tool of global governance, to be published in The Oxford Handbook of International Governance (OUP). In it I observe that the exercise of substantive discretion by arbitral tribunals has so far proven to be the Achilles heel of international arbitration in its governance function, and I offer some thoughts on how that weakness might be addressed.

9. What would you advice to students who want to make their career in Arbitration?

Be intellectually curious; make friends and be generous. And enjoy!!

 

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