The post-banking crisis boom in litigation has put disputes work back at the centre of global law. As the economy recovers, can it last?
Six years on from the financial crash and at least four years since many of the City’s leading litigation departments began giving their transactional counterparts a run for their money, one could be forgiven for wondering if doubts are creeping in over the sustainability of that progress.
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.
I grew up on a military base, I was an army brat in what was then West Germany, and they didn’t need lawyers; they had commanding officers and lieutenants.
I went to university in the US and happily studied history and religion. I thought being the professor was what I wanted to do. In my last year, my faculty announced a freeze on hiring and liberal arts education was in a bit of a crisis. So, with all other options ruled out, I decided to go to law school.