Legal Business

Perspectives: Jan Paulsson, Three Crowns

I didn’t start school until I was 13. I grew up in Liberia and it was wonderful growing up in the jungle because there were no schools! But my parents were increasingly nervous about how they were ‘mistreating’ their only son and told me I had to go to school. They had previously taken me to Sweden but having grown up in West Africa I didn’t care for Sweden’s winters very much. So they found some people in Los Angeles who would take me in, and I started in a public high school. Later, I would go to Harvard and Yale.

I started practising law in 1975 not having any idea of what I was doing. I began my career at Coudert Frères in Paris and like most people starting off, I didn’t know long I would do it, or whether I liked it, and whether Paris was the right city for me. I had no idea what practising law, or arbitration, was all about. My arrival coincided with a crisis for one of the clients in the firm – there was a dispute between the Libyan American Oil Company and the Libyan government. The concession agreement called for international arbitration under principles common to Libyan law and international law. I had studied international law at Yale and right off the bat the senior partner walks up the hall and asks if there was anybody who had studied it. That was the start – I never did anything else.