Young EFILA in conversation with… Fahira Brodlija

Fahira Brodlija is the Rule of Law Advisor for a regional GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) legal reform project focusing on investment disputes in the Western Balkans. Fahira is also an adjunct lecturer at the International University of Sarajevo. She frequently writes and speaks on topics related to the reform of the investor-State dispute settlement system, as well as commercial and investment arbitration. Fahira is a proud Vis Mootie and a Vis Moot coach of law faculties from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region since 2016. Fahira is a member of Association ARBITRI, an NGO founded by young attorneys in Bosnia and Herzegovina, seeking to enhance and promote the arbitration system in the country. She obtained her BA degree in 2016 from the University of Sarajevo Faculty of Law and her LL.M. degree in 2017 from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Young EFILA sat down with Fahira to learn about the beginnings of her career, her predictions for the future of international arbitration and her tips for aspiring young lawyers.

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

Fahira Brodlija: My interest in international arbitration grew organically from my participation in the Willem C. Vis International Arbitration Competition. I was lucky enough to be part of the first team from the Faculty of Law of the University of Sarajevo, which received a full training program sponsored by the US State Department’s Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP).

Starting with very little background knowledge about the law and practice of arbitration, I was fascinated with its dynamics, wealth of expertise, internationalism and elegance. My Vis Moot experience resulted in a full scholarship for an LL.M. degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and my first internships in international arbitration.

I have remained in the field ever since, particularly focused on capacity development for public and private stakeholders, and in academia, researching, writing and teaching on international commercial and investment arbitration. It will come as little surprise that I am also a Vis Moot coach for teams in Bosnia and Herzegovina. All of these experiences have contributed to my deep love and commitment to international arbitration.

YE: How do you see this field changing in the next ten years?

FB: International arbitration is at the centre of some important debates of public and private interest, and this trend is likely to continue in the future.

In the context of the energy transition process and the broader ESG considerations, commercial and investment tribunals alike will increasingly face such issues as important factors in jurisdictional and substantive claims. It will be interesting to observe how tribunals will interpret the underlying issues and how they will manage the transparency and the participation of interested third parties (such as civil society organisations).

In the next decade, we are also likely to see the first case brought under the modernised investment treaties, including those that have replaced traditional investment arbitration with standing tribunals. As a general matter, it will be interesting to see the types of claims that will be brought on the basis of modernised investment protection standards, such as fair and equitable treatment.

I anticipate that the arbitration practice will be further enriched with a cohort of new practitioners with subject matter expertise suitable for the next generation of disputes.

YE: What do you think about work-life balance?

FB: Work-life balance is important, but I am always cautious when commenting on anybody’s working habits and workload. Most of us have entered the professional world with the perception that long nights at the office and running on fumes while chasing deadlines are the hallmarks of a productive arbitration lawyer. This notion has only recently been turned on its head. The most important parameter should be the inner sense of balance and fulfilment, and not sacrificing their health and family life in pursuit of professional goals. This balance depends largely on each person’s priorities and sense of purpose, and this cannot be measured in a ratio of working hours versus leisure time. It is important to remember that there is enough time in every day, and we should make a conscious effort to find a moment to unwind and recharge. Luckily, I see more and more colleagues doing exactly that.

YE: Is formal mentorship more valuable than informal mentorship?

FB: Good mentorship comes in many shapes and formats. Formal mentorship is important for long-term and targeted professional development, as well as demanding academic endeavours, such as PhD research. However, in all other scenarios, informal mentorship can be very effective because it allows a more flexible approach and continuous learning from multiple persons with unique qualities.

It is important not to miss learning opportunities in pursuit of a steady and formalised mentorship. Periodical Zoom calls, listservs and online forums can be a rich source of knowledge and advice. It is also important not to forget the value of peer-to-peer exchange and mentorship because of the proximity in age and experiences. If you cannot find the network you need, consider making one yourself.

Good mentorship is invaluable, so take it in any form that you can.

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

FB: I am lucky enough to know and collaborate with many excellent arbitration lawyers, and each of them has a special combination of skills that makes them unique. Some of the qualities that are common among the very best are patience and dedication, attention to detail and flexibility. They are very knowledgeable and constantly work on their craft and expertise.

Good arbitration lawyers are also inherently curious and open to new ideas and innovations in the field. They are also attentive, excellent communicators and efficient, both in their interactions with their clients and the arbitral tribunal. Many of them are proficient in at least two languages.

Last, but certainly not least, good arbitration lawyers have superb writing skills and craft their legal arguments clearly and effectively.

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

FB: Good networking should not feel like a chore, and it should not be overly rehearsed or scripted.

Most successful arbitration practitioners and academics are approachable and interested in a good conversation which may lead to opportunities for work or collaboration. However, they are all too often faced with young people who are trying to pitch their project or get hired during a conference coffee break. Therefore, I would always advise sparking a conversation about common areas of interest, allowing the ideas and suggestions for collaboration to emerge more naturally.

Although we mostly think of networking as socialisation following formal events, it is much broader, and it can take place online, on webinars or via e-mail. If you have established contact with a person remotely, this can be a good icebreaker at a subsequent in-person encounter. In any case, it is important to listen, be genuine and express interest in the other person to leave a good impression.

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

FB: Malcolm Gladwell’s “Talking to Strangers” is a book I have revisited several times as a sobering and insightful illustration of the inherent biases and weaknesses in our assessments and understanding of others.

Lawyers, particularly those in the field of international arbitration, are constantly working with people from different backgrounds, relying on their inner judgment to understand their perspectives and intentions. Arbitrators have to assess and understand the positions of the parties and their representatives, particularly when interpreting complex contractual issues and witness evidence. Therefore, it is crucial to understand one’s own biases and to take into consideration whether and how they affect our judgment of others.

This book provides important clarity and vocabulary for that purpose.

YE: Many thanks for your time, Fahira!

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

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