Young EFILA in conversation with… Mary Mitsi

Mary Mitsi is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Commercial Law and International Arbitration at Queen Mary University of London. She is also the Director for Executive Education at CCLS contributing to the training of industry professionals. She delivers training programmes for practitioners, government officials, and courts. Mary has also led and worked on projects by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other international institutions. Mary has experience with arbitral practice in civil and common law systems and has worked on international arbitration cases (LCIA, ICC, HKIAC, ICSID). She is admitted to practice as an Attorney (Thessaloniki Bar Association) and she has also served in the past as Special Legal Advisor at the Greek Ministry for Development advising on issues relating to competition law and Entrepreneurship. Mary’s publications include the monograph on ‘The decision-making process of Investor-State Arbitration Tribunals’ (Kluwer Law International 2019).

She has sat down with Young EFILA to talk about her perspectives on a career in arbitration that includes academia and private practice and to share her tips for aspiring lawyers.

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

Mary Mitsi: I always knew that I wanted to study law. My father is an international lawyer, and he inspired me to become a lawyer as well. Looking up to him, I was fascinated by his work and the fact that he was travelling very often and meeting new people.

The time came when I had to make concrete choices of where to study and which system of law I wanted to specialise in. After completing my undergraduate studies in Law at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, I flew to Paris to do a Masters in European Law at Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne. Whilst writing my memoire, entrenched in the French legal system, I came across articles on arbitration, and everything seemed to fall into place. I liked that it was commercial, international, and very challenging. This is how I decided to apply for a PhD in International Arbitration at the Queen Mary University of London.

YE: You now have both perspectives of academia and private practice. How do they compare in terms of personal satisfaction, time management, and daily challenges?

MM: I would say that as an academic, keeping one foot in practice is essential for me. Bringing theory into practice and vice versa, offers a holistic perspective to arbitration and keeps the connection with the reality of the field.

It is not easy to build a practice in arbitration, as arbitration is an attractive field to many talented people. Therefore, one must take it step by step. In this sense, academia gives you a push. It opens up your network and provides a rounded perspective. Conversely, practice helps with teaching; it gives your teaching that practical edge.

It is very fulfilling to do both, but also requires a lot of effort, as both demand 100% of yourself and your time.

YE: What is the most memorable moment in your career?

MM: I think one of my most treasured memories is working with one of my mentors, Julian Lew, at Twenty Essex. I felt very humble and honoured to assist him. He actually helped me more than I helped him. He taught me so many valuable lessons, one of which is that common sense is very important with regard to arbitration, along with respecting the parties.

YE: What is the best professional advice you have ever received, and what is a piece of advice you would like to pass on?

MM: On the academic front, Stavros Brekoulakis, who was my PhD supervisor at Queen Mary, was tremendously supportive in guiding me through my PhD. He helped me understand how academia works and that it is important to spend some time knowing how arbitration is practised.

My advice is that whoever enters this competitive field should consider every ‘no’ they receive as a delayed ‘yes’. They should keep trying to achieve what they want and not get easily disappointed. Being patient is a great virtue.

YE: What do you think about mentorship?

MM: I talk to my mentors, Julian Lew and Stavros Brekoulakis, often. Whenever I need advice, I call them, and we have a chat. Having this type of support has been very helpful.

From the other end of the line, I try to become a good mentor myself. I was involved in the ITA Mentorship program as a facilitator and enjoyed that experience.

I think that is also the role of an academic – to support students and to help them arrive where you are, if that is what they are seeking, by helping them understand the reasoning behind some of your choices or the challenges to be considered. A mentor aims to unveil, at least a bit, the mystery of the path because, when you choose a path, it is pitch black, there is no light. You cannot fully anticipate and understand what you are going to find along the way. A mentor, in a way, sheds some light on this path.

YE: How does one become a better writer?

MM: At first sight, there may seem to be a difference between academic writing and writing for a client.

However, in both cases, when a specific topic in arbitration is analysed, one should try to connect that topic to practice, for example, through references to arbitral case law, or to developments in the field. A thorough and concise approach is an additional trait that should guide the writer.

An effective communicator should always think of the reader – who is the audience?

Because you are not writing for yourself, you are writing, inter alia, to explain, describe or suggest a position. Therefore, you need to demonstrate that you have a clear and consistent reasoning process that can be easily followed.

I see writing as a circle. You start with a general point in mind, you make your reasoning, you analyse different views, and then you end up with a specific conclusion. Having this structure in mind can help young writers to keep their thinking a bit more streamlined.

YE: What would you do if you were not working as an arbitration practitioner?

MM: I always had some other options but never something that would take my mind away from the law. For example, I also briefly considered being an architect or studying Greek literature. But law always prevailed.

YE: Many thanks for your time, Mary!

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