My name is Christian Sopuruchi and at the time of writing this, I am concluding my full-time LLM Program in SOAS University of London for the 2019/2020 session. One of the modules I was offered was International Commercial Arbitration (ICA). Dr Emilia Onyema who is a Reader in International Commercial Law was the convener and Mr. Ian Edge was a lecturer in the course.
Learning ICA as a postgraduate taught module in SOAS was remarkable for many reasons. The most prominent for me was the form of instruction employed by Dr Emilia. ICA classes were fun, engaging and filled with valuable information. I had previously studied ICA both as an undergraduate student in Imo State University Owerri Nigeria and during my LLM with Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka Nigeria. The difference for me with the manner the module was taught at SOAS was the amount of practicality involved. This practicality was exhibited by the occasional invitation of practitioners to the classes and the incorporation of a moot into the module.
I looked forward to 3-5pm every Wednesday when the classes held. I would easily classify the module as one of the most exciting I ever took in SOAS. The diverse collection of different students from different countries, especially the global south made the classes resemble a mini UN assembly. The interactive sessions reflected the spread of legal systems and cultures which influenced each person’s opinion. I was able to see firsthand through the class discussions, the influence of different legal cultures on the subject of arbitration. Arbitration is a unique legal phenomenon for the fact that even though international treaties like the New York Convention try to standardize the practice, local courts systems still play a significant part in influencing the validity and enforcement of awards. There was this convivial atmosphere which enabled learners in each class to easily participate and interact with one another. Even though I joined in the third week of lectures due to visa and funding issues, the materials available in the Moodle page were enough to get me started.
The most challenging part of the entire course for me was the Groups. We had to work in groups for a mock arbitration in one of the reputable law firms in London. The mock arbitration experience is indelible in my mind as it brought home the challenges I could face when confronted with a real arbitration. The moot experience enabled the module to come alive for me as it simulated a real arbitration experience. We were grouped according to the local jurisdictions of our home states. One particular advantage of this grouping system was that within a group, legal discussions would reflect an admixture of different legal systems. The challenging part was that this grouping meant that each individual’s legal training interfered and influenced the procedure for developing arguments in the group. There were periods we resorted to voting in order to determine what to include or exclude in our skeleton arguments!
The moot stages of the competition were a simulation of an actual arbitration experience held in the seminar room of an arbitration firm in London before practicing arbitrators. Each group was an arbitration team. The moot experience deserves to be discussed in a separate blog post of its own! Ian Edge facilitated the classes during the period of our training for the moot. Ian’s approach was different from Emilia’s as he leaned more towards a practical understanding of current arbitral procedures in different jurisdictions. Ian showed he was well versed with the subject and inundated us with very recent cases.
There were a number of challenges we faced as a group. First was that as a group we had issues arriving at a proper meeting time that was convenient for everyone. Secondly, when tasks were distributed, some group members did not take it seriously enough to achieve it within time. Thirdly, one or two people in the group were unable to speak publicly due to anxiety. We tried to overcome these challenges; for the first, we had to meet virtually. Part of our virtual meetings was a WhatsApp group we created to improve communication. Resolving the second challenge required that some of us had to work harder than others. For the third issue, some of us had to volunteer as speakers more than once and I personally handled the arguments for the last session alone. All our challenges were not resolved through these means but these processes helped greatly. I would recommend for any group to first divide tasks and insist that everyone put in work from the start of the project. Once excuses are ever entertained, it becomes difficult to insist on a disciplined approach to the group tasks. Further, group leaders should be firmer in their decision making. I realise that the fear is that if the task is not completed everyone suffers, but this should not be an excuse to overwork some people while others do not get to feel the heat. Further it would really be invaluable for every member of the group to be more present and participate actively in the group tasks.
The ICA module concluded with a portfolio assessment. The portfolio assessment constituted 50% of the entire marks in course. It was a summary legal opinion on all that had transpired throughout the moot process. One of the worries many learners had was that there were no sample portfolios to consult. We all would have benefited immensely from a sample!
I feel international commercial arbitration is a business person’s international legal safeguard against the peculiar difficulties of local legal regimes. This understanding becomes more apparent to me as I reflect further on the subject. It is appropriate to describe ICA as a stabilizing undercurrent above which flows the strong waves of different national legal systems.
My ICA experience in SOAS is largely responsible for my ability to work on the SOAS Arbitration in Africa Survey. My role as a research assistant in the Survey included extracting information from websites of African arbitration centers, sending out virtual questionnaires and proofreading. I am really grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Emilia on this. This survey provided me a heightened awareness of how much international and local arbitration was going on in Africa. I was unaware that there was a strong presence of Commercial Arbitration on the continent and working on this Survey helped bring this knowledge home for me. The entire experience was really enlightening. Anyone who desires to know more on the survey can access it online. The survey provides vital information on arbitration on the continent which is critical for arbitration researchers interested in knowing the state of arbitration on the continent. In all, my ICA experience in SOAS has armed me with invaluable practical and conceptual experience which will impact my appreciation of the concept going forwards.
- https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/33162/1/2020%20Arbitration%20in%20Africa%20Survey%20Report%2030.06.2020.pdf ↑