Young EFILA in conversation with… Michael Davar

Michael Davar is a senior associate in the International Dispute Resolution and Litigation practices of Squire Patton Boggs in London. His cases have set English legal precedent. The Legal 500 2023 features Michael as a key lawyer for both international arbitration and commercial litigation. He is also a named arbitrator in the Georgian International Arbitration Centre’s list of arbitrators, and a supporting member of the London Maritime Arbitration Association. He regularly speaks in conferences and for industry groups, and is the co-author of several legal volumes.

Michael sat down with us to discuss what first attracted him to the field, his observations about the world of arbitration and share insights and recommendations for aspiring lawyers.

Young EFILA: What attracted you to a career in arbitration?

Michael Davar: The work, the challenge, and the clients. Arbitration puts you in the driving seat. Unless you are instructed by a particularly sophisticated client – and even then – it is your skill, your strategy, and your analysis that is relied upon. Merge that with the quality of the individuals who practice arbitration, and the varied and interesting clients you represent – there is no better segment of the legal industry to work in. The only caveat is that, in my opinion, this goes for complex international disputes generally. Despite my preference for arbitration – disputes will include litigation, which is just as varied, challenging and interesting.

YE: How are arbitration practitioners different from lawyers specialised in other fields?

MD: I am not able to answer this with any real clarity. I have only ever specialised in disputes. With this caveat, from what I have seen, arbitration (and dispute practitioners generally) are in the driving seat. Most others are not. Deal makers and commercial lawyers, for example, incorporate the commercial terms that have been pre-agreed by clients – potentially with their involvement. Arbitration and dispute practitioners are, by contrast, there to sort out a potential mess or deal with a mess once it has arisen. Client instructions will, of course, be fundamental – but the strategy, the tactics, and the manner in which the client’s goals are achieved; well, that is up to you. The client will rely on you for this.

Additionally, because arbitration (and dispute) practitioners typically start off with very broad practices, any possible issue can arise. Disputes can arise in all industries. That means dealing with clients who are completely different from one another. From different countries and different cultures. Witnesses whose style will be completely foreign to you and who will use their own lingo to communicate. Similarly, you will deal with experts from a whole variety of different fields and will learn the nuts and bolts of specific topics you never knew existed.

Finally, in arbitration – unlike in many other fields of practice – you operate truly globally. Arbitration can be seated anywhere. The dispute can be governed by different substantive and procedural laws. You may, in one case, have to submit on a Middle Eastern law you have no experience in, whilst in another, a European law, you also have no experience in. What ties it all together is the practice of arbitration.

YE: Who influenced your career the most?

MD: There are a number of individuals who I will not name here. However, they practised both arbitration and litigation. One was a particularly excellent commercial lawyer. He knew his clients better than they knew themselves. He knew and understood their industry and was always fiery in their defence. Another I learnt a huge amount from was more strategic thinking and a great manager. A final one worth mentioning was an intellectual with an exceptional experience, and quite simply a brilliant person. They all had a part to play in my development and in how I decided to develop as a practitioner, a manager, and a person.

In general, everyone – however junior or senior they may be – has something to offer. I will always continue to listen and learn, both from those who are more experienced than I am, as well as those just learning the ropes.

YE: What qualities and skills make a good arbitration lawyer?

MD: I would say, the starting point is a real interest in the law. This is fundamental. Then, hard work, a desire to become better, and a proactive nature will certainly help make you a good arbitration lawyer.

Finally, I think it is getting the experience. Make sure you soak up everything you see. The strategies adopted. What worked, what did not. You have to be humble. You may not always be the smartest in the room, and you may not always be right. However, you can make sure you are the smartest in the room or that you are right the next time that same issue arises.

YE: What advice do you have for someone looking to improve their public speaking skills?

MD: Investigate the topic. Know it back to front. Write a full script. Practice out loud until you only need a few cheat sheets. Be comfortable in your style – but again – always learn from those you think do it well.

You will be brilliant.

YE: Please recommend to our readers a book that you’ve enjoyed and tell them why they should read it.

‘The World for Sale’ by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy. It is a book about the history and growth of commodity traders. It is both easy to read and fascinating. A real treat.

YE: Thank you for your time, Michael!

**** This interview was conducted by Ioana Maria Bratu and forms part of Young EFILA’s Interview Series with Arbitration Practitioners ****

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