Anna Kirk, Barrister
Employed by Sir David Williams QC, Bankside Chambers, Auckland, New Zealand
Length of time in current role: 6 years
LLB(Hons): University of Waikato (2000); PhD: University of Cambridge (2006)
Describe a typical day in your job?
I work in the field of international arbitration.
My role primarily consists of assisting international arbitral tribunals hearing disputes. These disputes may be either international commercial arbitrations or investment treaty arbitrations. Occasionally, I might also be involved in litigation before domestic courts related to arbitration proceedings.
In any given day, I might do some or all of the following tasks: prepare emails or letters to the parties or members of the Tribunal; communicate with international secretariats; legal research into specific issues; draft parts of orders/awards/decisions at the direction of the tribunal; read submissions and evidence for the purpose of assisting the tribunal; attend hearings in the capacity of a tribunal assistant; any other tasks associated with the smooth running of an arbitration.
I also spend time writing academic articles/book chapters/conference papers.
How did you get into this job?
I began my career as a commercial lawyer in a major New Zealand firm.
I then went overseas to undertake my PhD was in the area of international human rights law and business. This involved extensive analysis of international litigation against corporations invoking international law principles. This led to an interest in international investment disputes.
After my study, I went to work at a large London law firm in Arbitration and Public International Law Group. I spent 4 years practising international arbitration in London and retuned to NZ in late 2010 following the birth of my first child.
In early 2011, I got in touch with the only New Zealand practitioner I knew doing international arbitration full time – Sir David Williams QC. It was fortuitous timing, as he needed assistance to complete a book he was co-authoring on international arbitration.
I began working 2 days a week on the book. After it was finished, I moved to assisting Sir David with his arbitration case load, and increased my hours to 3 days a week which has also allowed me to balance work with a young family.
Are there particular study subjects or working experience you would recommend to prepare for a similar role to yours?
It is important to work overseas in one of the large law firms to gain exposure to international arbitration. Without international experience, it is very difficult to get the level of exposure to international disputes required to fully understand the field.
It is also useful to have litigation experience and, in the field of commercial arbitration, having practiced in a commercial firm would provide a solid understanding of the requirements of large commercial clients.
The study of international law would be useful for those wishing to practice in the field of investment treaty arbitration.
What are the highlights of the job?
Fascinating work with extremely intelligent people from around the world.
International: the parties, lawyers and arbitrators are from all over the world. The applicable law could be from anywhere in the world or it may be international law. The dispute might involve governments and have significant implications for whole populations.
Constant variation: not just the subject matter of the dispute, but the personalities involved, the law applicable (be it international law or the domestic law of any given state), and the relationship between the parties. No two cases are alike or follow a similar pattern.
Intellectual: many of the issues require extensive analysis and are both intellectually stimulating and challenging.
What are the challenges of the job?
As with many legal fields the challenges of the job include: maintaining work-life balance; working to deadlines; dealing with some intensely difficult legal issues and with parties who have significant investments which will be affected by the result.
Working in the international sphere can mean dealing with language and cultural barriers, as well as dealing with time zone challenges!
What kind of personal qualities are suited to this job?
The work is academically rigorous at the international level, but also very stimulating. It is a good field of law in which to practice if you enjoy writing articles, giving lectures and thinking critically, as this many of the top international arbitrators are also academics or contribute significantly to the development of jurisprudence in the area.
You need to be hard working and be prepared to put the time into the training (including, as suggested above, traveling abroad to gain experience).
Other qualities include the ability to think logically and clearly, structure and present a persuasive argument, and being capable of dealing with aggressive or aggrieved counter-parties.
What one thing do you wish someone had told you at law school?
It is important to gain a strong understanding of the range of roles out there for lawyers. It is very easy just to follow the well-trodden path of others and not think outside the square. I wish I had had a better understanding of the options and opportunities in the international sphere when undertaking my law degree.
Any other advice for law students wanting to get into a similar role?
Go overseas and do some postgraduate study – it is the best way to get into the arbitration field. However, I would advise spending a couple of years working in New Zealand first to gain a good understanding of what you really want to do. New Zealanders are generally well-trained and highly regarded lawyers, so it is important not to be afraid of getting “out there” and seeing how far you can go.