Dr Crina Baltag, FCIArb is Associate Professor (Docent) in International Arbitration at Stockholm University and a qualified attorney-at-law with almost twenty years of extensive practice in various aspects of international dispute resolution, private and public international law. A well-rounded practitioner with very diverse experience, Crina sits as an arbitrator (ICC, LCIA, SIAC, SCC, FAI, VIAC etc.), is the managing editor of Kluwer Arbitration Blog, and publishes extensively on commercial and investment arbitration topics.
Crina sat down with us to tell us what first attracted her to the field, share insights and tips for the next generation of international arbitration lawyers, and talk about innovation in arbitration.
Young EFILA: What attracted you to a career in arbitration?
Crina Baltag: In the late 90’s, arbitration was an unexplored field in the legal landscape in Romania, although the Court of International Commercial Arbitration attached to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania was established in 1953 and administered arbitrations between the Romanian state-owned companies and foreign companies, even during the communist period. As a student of the Faculty of Law, University of Bucharest, I was part of probably the first generation of law students to study arbitration in the undergraduate courses. While it was a very general course, it managed to convey the relevant academic learning experience.
After graduating, as a young lawyer, I had the opportunity to have training and later work on transactional matters (at that time, the privatization process of the state-owned companies in Romania was in full progress, as well as the increase of FDI, which meant substantial M&A and corporate work) and civil and commercial litigation. From an early stage of my career, I represented clients in domestic arbitrations, and, as such, the undergraduate arbitration course proved very useful in this context.
My dedication to international arbitration came with the Micula v. Romania (I) ICSID Arbitration. At that time, I was a lawyer with Schoenherr, leading CEE law firm and the law firm representing the claimants in the ICSID proceedings. I worked on the matter up to the jurisdiction decision, and I had the privilege to collaborate closely with Prof Christoph Schreuer and Dr Gerold Zeiler. While involved in the case, I studied for my LL.M. degree in International Commercial Arbitration Law at Stockholm University and after graduation, I joined the Vienna office of Schoenherr, continuing to integrate the team of the Micula case, as well as expanding my arbitration portfolio with ICC, VIAC and other international arbitrations.
I am completing twenty years of practice in arbitration, and I can say that ‘luck’ played an important role in the choice of this career path. But once on this path, I was hooked!
YE: What do you enjoy the most about your work?
CB: As I mentioned, I am completing twenty years in arbitration, and I have or had the opportunity to experience various roles, as counsel, head of an arbitration institution (Amcham Arbitration and Mediation Centre Brazil), professor, arbitrator, legal expert, editor of leading arbitration publications, author. These roles opened new perspectives on arbitration. And, in each of them, I have – or I had – the opportunity to meet wonderful practitioners or future ones. The arbitration community is the first reason that I would mention in response to your question. The sense of collegiality is probably unparalleled in other fields of law.
The second reason is being able to have a new experience. And in this area of law, this occurs every day, either when involved in a new arbitration, or when researching on an arbitration-related topic, or when engaging in an in-depth discussion at an arbitration conference, or when in the classroom, surrounded by exceptional future arbitration practitioners.
YE: What is the best professional advice you have ever received?
CB: It is very important to have people that trust you and that give you a chance. I was blessed to have many mentors along the way. And one of the best pieces of advice I have received was to understand that arbitration is not a race; it is a marathon. That means that one must start by building a solid foundation on which one can slowly but steadily build the career by working hard, seizing every opportunity, continuing the development and fuelling the interest in arbitration. Like an athlete, we ‘run’ the long race, and talent without perseverance is futile.
YE: What do you think about work-life balance?
CB: We are living in a society in which everything happens very fast, access to information is ubiquitous, and communication is instantaneous. This creates a lot of pressure.
Swedish people have a word, ‘langom’, which means ‘just the right amount’ – not too much, not too little. And for each individual, ‘just the right amount’ can be a different thing. This means that, before anything, we need to know ourselves well enough to be able to find the perfect work-life balance – for us as individuals.
No doubt that arbitration is a demanding field, and as the Director of the LL.M. program in International Commercial Arbitration Law at Stockholm University, I often remind my students of this. But one can achieve work-life balance in arbitration.
YE: What would you do if you were not working as an arbitration practitioner?
CB: I would be a transactional lawyer. I worked intensely on M&A, IP law, commercial contracts, insurance, and banking, before dedicating my practice to arbitration. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I would definitely practice in any of these areas.
YE: Could you please share with us an unpopular opinion that you hold about working in arbitration?
CB: I think that arbitration is a very successful field of law. With all its success, there are certain areas where we need to see more evolution, and one of them is diversity. The arbitration community must be a ‘mirror’ of the diversity of its users. There is progress done, but much more is needed in order to achieve diversity in all of its forms. I recommend the readers to take a look at the 2021 SCC Report on Diversity in arbitrator appointments in SCC cases 2015 – 2019, as numbers are relevant.
YE: Is there room for innovation in arbitration? If yes, what forms does innovation take?
CB: There are two aspects here.
First, there is the technical side of innovation. We have seen quite a lot of development on this front in the past two years. I have recently contributed to a book on digital hearings, edited by Mika Savola, where we are looking at different aspects of digitalization in arbitration (Mika Savola (ed.), ‘Digital Hearings – Civil Procedure and Arbitration’, Norstedts Juridik, 2022). I wrote the chapter on the new ICSID Arbitration Rules, which bring more digitalization in the way disputes are being handled before ICSID.
Second, the other side of innovation, which is not necessarily related to technology, is the evolution of the mechanism of dispute resolution itself. It is visible that in the past years, we have evolved from approaching arbitration and other dispute resolution mechanisms as ‘alternatives’ to litigation to considering each mechanism as an ‘adequate’ mechanism for the resolution of that particular dispute. And here, it is wonderful to see how users and institutions suggest various useful tools which can be employed in the resolution of the dispute or as a tool in achieving the final resolution of that dispute. For example, as a member of the SCC Board, I am particularly proud of the SCC Express tool. This is a type of dispute resolution mechanism for users who do not want to go through the length of the arbitration or the cost of the arbitration. They want something fast, and the SCC Express can offer a nimble process, represented by a legal assessment of the dispute in three weeks and for a fixed fee. Therefore, I think that innovation can also come from understanding that each dispute is a particular type of dispute, and we have to think outside the box in order to have what is appropriate, adequate for its resolution.
YE: Thank you, Crina!
**** This interview was conducted by Ioana Maria Bratu and forms part of Young EFILA’s Interview Series with Arbitration Practitioners ****