Baiju is currently an international arbitration lawyer at Ivanyan & Partners, based in London and Moscow. In this deeply insightful episode, he shares his story and perspectives on this fascinating and consequential area of the law.
Having graduated from Oxford, he’s worked for the likes of Fulbright & Jarwoski, Crowell & Moring and Jones Day, practicing in both the UK and the US. In the episode he discusses more about his present and past roles, going over some of his most memorable cases and describing his current responsibilities (which varies from choosing furniture for the new office to arbitrating major geopolitical asset disputes).
Also covered is:
- His arbitration strategy, and why it can be likened to chess
- His work supporting arbitration operations in East Africa
- Why he understands the millennial hesitancy about becoming a partner
Rob Hanna (00:00):
Welcome to the legally speaking podcast. I’m your host, Rob Hannah this week. This week I’m delighted to be joined by Baiju Vasani. Baiju is the current managing partner and global head of international arbitration at Ivanyan & Partners LLP based in London and Moscow for nearly 20 years, Baiju has focused exclusively on international arbitration matters. He has served as counsel and arbitrator sole, wing and chair in international arbitrations involving various courts, including but not limited to the ICC LCIA bilateral investment treaties and lots more. He has also advised states on the negotiation and drafting of investment treaties and investors on the restructuring of their investments, for maximum treaty protection consortium with tax corporate government strategies. Baiju is the senior fellow of SOAS University of London, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and sits on the panel of several arbitral institutions. If that all wasn’t enough, he also holds four degrees in law and LLB two masters and JD admitted as a solicitor advocate in England and Wales and an attorney at law in the district of Columbia USA. So a very, very big welcome Baiju!
Baiju Vasani (01:24):
Thank you, Rob. Good to be here.
Rob Hanna (01:26):
That certainly wasn’t the easiest of introductions, Baiju it has to be said, but testament to all of your hard work and everything you’ve achieved to date. And before we go through all of that, we do have our customary icebreaker question here on the legally speaking podcast, which is on the scale of 1 to 10, 10 being very real. How real would you rate the reality series Suits in terms of its real?
Baiju Vasani (01:53):
I have to say I, I don’t watch it particularly religiously. I did watch the first few episodes, but it is unfortunately Hollywood rather than reality. What it doesn’t show you of course is the mundane nature of legal practice, particularly in the, uh, in the junior sphere. And as much as we’d all like to be Harvey Specter and go around, you know, solving cases with our intelligence and wit. It is more about hard work and communication and perseverance. So unfortunately I have to say a four.
Rob Hanna (02:28):
Fair enough! We will move on and we’ll start where we like to start with, with all of our guests really at the beginning. So would you be kind enough to maybe tell us a little bit about your, your family background and upbringing Baiju?
Baiju Vasani (02:40):
Yeah, sure. Um, no, not particularly in falling, but my parents were born in East Africa, but of Indian origin and then like many East African Asians during that period, they left actually not of their own accord in the late sixties, early seventies and settled in London. And then, uh, my brother and I were born in London and I had a, I would say a pretty nice middle-class, uh, London, suburban upbringing. So, um, yeah, really likes it, you know, nothing I could look back on and say, well, that was a tough period. So, you know, thanks to my parents, but a nice London upbringing.
Rob Hanna (03:21):
Great stuff. And we must kind of move into the, the world of arbitration. For our listeners curious to know a little bit more, why don’t we tell them a little bit about what your practice area involves and explain if there are various sub practice areas of arbitration and how it may differ from say litigation?
Baiju Vasani (03:41):
Yeah, absolutely. So, um, yeah, so I would say at this stage I am exclusively focused on international arbitration. I did start though Rob in litigation early in my career. I always say to, to junior practitioners that it’s always good to, even if your heart is set on arbitration from the off, it’s always good to, to understand litigation, to pick up on those skills. So I would say at least for the first four or five years of my practice, I had some litigation, whether that was, I did employment tribunal work, I did insurance litigation in English High Court. I’ve done Texas State Court litigation when I moved to the United States, I’ve done Federal Court litigation. And it really does hone your skillset. But I have to say that that as soon as I got bitten by the international arbitration bug, I realized that was for me.
Baiju Vasani (04:33):
I don’t like the constraints of court procedure. Um, if you look at the book that one has to look at for court procedure, it’s massive, it’s like an encyclopedia and tells you, you know, how many pages, how many words, what you can do, what you can’t do. And I do like freedom and the flexibility that arbitration vines. So I have now for the last 15 years specialized in just international arbitration. And I would say my practice is sort of 45% treaty, uh, which is investor, state arbitration, where primarily you are talking about an investor versus a state. And the basis of consent for the arbitration is a bilateral or multilateral investment treaty. The other part of the practice is commercial arbitration, which is more similar, I would say to litigation where an international business dispute occurs. And one has an arbitration clause in the contracts between the parties. And, you know, I, I think naturally, uh, I tend to do more London based work, not necessarily English law, but London based disputes. I’ve recently started to do more work for, uh, the Russian Federation in the ECHR and the INCJ and UNCLOS, which are more what I would call pure public international law specialties. I don’t do much of that. Um, but it’s definitely something that is an interesting icing on, on the arbitration cake.
Rob Hanna (06:06):
Brilliant. And thanks so much for, for talking us through that. And I guess in terms of explaining things, you, you now sit as the, the Managing Partner and Global Head of International Arbitration for Ivanyan & Partners. It’d be great if you could talk us through what a, what a day in the life looks like for you in that role, what do you get up to are two days the same?
Baiju Vasani (06:27):
It’s hard to explain because I guess what, what does a day look like in the middle of a pandemic is I guess very different from what a day would look like had there been no pandemic. Obviously I spent about 20 years just under 20 years in what I would call big law, um, which is my firms just happened to be all US law firms and, uh, you know, being a partner in a, in a law firm, uh, let’s see, all my firms were at least the smallest was 600 lawyers. And the biggest at Jones Day was I think 2,400 of which there were 900 partners. So that was a very different experience. And coming out to, uh, Russian Law firm Ivanyan & Partners, um, where there are, you know, only, I think really 12 of us and certainly in London, only two, it’s a very different animal. I mean the, well, some will say enviable, some would say unenviable position about actually working to establish the London office.
Baiju Vasani (07:28):
So I’m working on lease space, SRA approval, picking furniture, unfortunately, but at the same time, maintaining a practice, which is absolutely phenomenal, um, where our, uh, our main work at present is defending the Russian Federation in cases that have been brought in relation to Crimea, uh, where alleged Ukrainian investors are claiming for expropriation of their assets in Crimea. And that is pretty much what I do from a remote basis is 90% focusing on the work and then 10% I’m calling, uh, our solicitors here. Um, um, you know, working on establishing in the office, looking to hire and create a team.
Rob Hanna (08:13):
Great. And you’re doing a fantastic job. It has to be said. And I mentioned in the intro, you’ve served as an advocate, an arbitrator and dozens of sort of high value international arbitrations across a range of sectors and industries, which one or ones stand out to you in your career to date and why?
Baiju Vasani (08:33):
I would say there are a few that always stay in my mind. Um, I guess the first time I ever advocated, I think that will stay in the mind of all, all junior lawyers. All I did was a direct examination, so it wasn’t particularly brilliant advocacy, but just, you know, being front of a tribunal, the room full of people, hearing your voice in the microphone, feeling that tension and thinking, well, this is something super cool that always sticks in my mind. The first case I won, um, or was probably the winning team that was nice. And you sort of hold the award and think, wow, just think back on the years that this is taken, the hard work that’s taken to ultimately calm and exit and this piece of paper, which means that we were, we were right. We, we win. And that was a very special feeling.
Baiju Vasani (09:27):
But I think in terms of an actual case that I look back on, I think that that’s a cool case, uh, is the case of WWM versus Kazakhstan, where in a nutshell, the client is a Canadian company who invested in Kazakhstan in 1996 was expropriated in 1997, actually now treated unfairly and inequitably in 1997, and had tried to bring commercial arbitrations and a litigation in the United States, which both got knocked out on jurisdiction. And then, uh, did not know that it had any particular recourse to dispute resolution process until I was approached, uh, God, back in 2007 with the notion of bringing a case for WorldWide Minerals, for WWF against Kazakhstan under the Canada, USSR Bilateral Investment Treaty on the notion that Kazakhstan had succeeded to the Soviet Union Treaty at its creation, or soon after its creation. Now, as you can imagine that say too many people that would be a fanciful notion, but, uh, it all turns on whether there is either express or tacit agreement between Canada and Kazakhstan and then all the facts over the years, uh, from Kazakhstan’s creation to the point, one can say that there has been tacit approval.
Baiju Vasani (11:05):
Um, and we went very painstakingly through the material and, um, brought the case and we won on jurisdiction. Uh, and then ultimately also one on the merits. Uh, although that case is still ongoing, the, you know, just taking that concept of, “Hey, come, do you think we can bring a case against Kazakhstan and under the Canada Soviet Union Bilateral Investment Treaty?”, And then seeing that culminate in a jurisdictional award and then a merits award, uh, definitely for me, that’s one of the highlights of my career.
Rob Hanna (11:37):
Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for sharing that. And you have particular experience in creating a managing winning, as you say, global strategies for both investors and States and high stakes and sensitive disputes involving sort of geopolitical issues or major, um, criminal allegations. You’ve mentioned your sort of primary geographical focus is on disputes in Russia and Eastern Europe, Africa, North Africa, South America, middle East everywhere. What is the key to all of your success?
Baiju Vasani (12:10):
Uh, um, well, I I’ll take success with a pinch of salt, although thank you for the kind words, but for whatever reason. Um, and certainly I haven’t chased it, but the work that has tended to come my way has been these sort of high-value disputes, where for the investor, it’s either a wealthy individual or family that have fallen out with a country that usually the fiscal rulers of that country and are now seeking recourse through the investors state arbitration, uh, system. And, uh, I’ve done that in relation to Kazakhstan in relation to Turkey, um, and, uh, in relation to Uzbekistan, uh, Kyrgyzstan and, and plenty of other places, uh, Africa, uh, some African examples come to mind. I guess what I would say is the key on those is strategy because you know, it is a chess game in the sense that if you look at those cases, in one dimensional terms, you could say, okay, this is the law.
Baiju Vasani (13:19):
These are the facts, and this is how it works. But in those cases, there is so much going on behind the scenes. There is so much going on on the sidelines that you have to play the game three dimensional. You have to know that if you take this chess moves, then the reaction will be that. But if you do that chess, move the reaction will be something else. Now something made me the right move, you know, in the arbitration ordinarily a form of playing a one dimensional game, hat’s the move you’d make, that’s the obvious move, but you play a different move because you’re trying to move pieces that are not within the arbitration, but outside of the arbitration. So in other words, I think one has to think broader than just the dispute itself broader than simply the arbitration itself, so that ultimately you’re getting a solution for your client.
Baiju Vasani (14:10):
Now that may be money, but it also may be settlement. It also may be trying to get a sale, let’s say for your clients to sell out their business to someone else, there may be a lot of different factors at play for your client. So I think ordinarily, if there was a basic commercial dispute breach of contracts, you know what you’re doing here, um, there are so many different elements that play that one has to think, see the mansion. So I always say, um, to anyone who wants to do this kind of work, that, that chest, and if you’re seeing the Queens down that, which I recently, so I think it’s fantastic. It’s that sort of, if they do this to you, we’ll do that. If you do that, they will do this. That is a very important game theory that one has to play out in one’s head in all the different moves before one plays.
Rob Hanna (14:59):
Get playing chess folks. Um, so we, we must move. Uh, we must move on Baiju to sort of tell us a bit more about your active pro bono practice, you know, centered on using sort of international dispute resolution techniques to further the global rule of law. As I believe you’re passionate about bringing all facets of diversity into the international arbitration field. So tell us about that.
Baiju Vasani (15:22):
I like international arbitration, my descendants national arbitration, uh, I usually send ISGs because I think it’s a good system and probably a faster system than a standing course, or trying to force everything through commercial arbitration and certainly home state litigation where I can’t defend the system. And where I struggled myself is the lack of diversity of arbitrators. You know, you’ve got, I think 20 arbitrators have decided 70% of the cases and they tend to be from a particular region of the world. They tend to be male. They tend to be older. And, you know, if one thinks about international arbitration as a truly global scheme, then it really should be heard by arbitrators who are truly global, not only in their outlook, because I’m sure there are many very smart, internationally minded people in Western Europe and North America and Australasia.
Baiju Vasani (16:18):
But the point is one has to have arbitrators that reflect the users. Um, and so I think we, we, as a community have done a better job still long way to go, in trying to get more gender diversity into the international arbitration sphere. I think we’re still really badly lagging behind on, uh, ethnic diversity or geographical diversity. Uh, and that’s something that I’m, I’m very keen to try and address in a lot of different ways in terms of rule of law, there is a romantic part of me that believes, uh, dispute resolution in its own way, does promote the rule of law particularly IFCs where one is keeping States, correct in their approach to investors and, you know, it’s our belief that investment and foreign direct investment is a good thing that brings prosperity that shares know how and therefore if one holds States accountable, then that is a good thing for the rule of law.
Baiju Vasani (17:23):
And equally in defending States, because you know, there are States that are wrongly accused of doing that. And if one defends States, then you also defending the rule of law because the state has abided by the rule of law and one has to show that. Where I’ve, I’ve done a little more is, in my work in Somalia. So, uh, I’ve helped them with their legislation to exceed to the Neok convention, um, looking at the bilateral investment treaties. And I am heading up a task force to create a, uh, dispute center in Djibouti. Uh, that horn of Africa is a, is a huge port center for East and Africa. Uh, and it would be very good to have a methodology for dispute resolution there. I’ve also looked at, um, opening a dispute resolution center in Mogadishu, um, with the idea that the more places one has to allow people to come together and try and resolve their disputes through ADR arbitration, the less conflict one has, uh, the more prosperity one has the less regulation, the less friction, um, and it all leads to, you know, happiness and prosperity. Now, uh, it may seem a little far fetched Robert, but I think one has to balance one’s life as a, as a corporate lawyer, um, and say, well, you have to do something good. So I do try
Rob Hanna (18:45):
Sticking with the theme of international. You’ve worked in London, Houston, Washington, London, and now Moscow in various legal roles, which location did you most enjoy? And, and why?
Baiju Vasani (18:58):
You know, I have to say they’ve all been incredibly different in their own way. So, so just taking those in order. I mean, when I started out in London, I was a junior not making much money. Um, and in those days, sadly, Rob, uh, it’s not like it is today where you start off with a great salary. I started off on £24,000. I still remember it today. I thought I was, I was a rolling, like a King on that salary. And that was great because you’re, you’re, when you’re a junior, you’re just, you just want to do as much work as you can and as much different work as you can. And just learning off the people you work with. So, you know, from that period, it was, it was simply, um, just finding someone that I thought was excellent and just spending as much time watching them and learning from them as I could.
Baiju Vasani (19:45):
And my boss at the time, who is Jane Owen at Payon was just a phenomenal manager, a phenomenal lawyer. And I learned a lot from, uh, I then went, I went to the U S I went back to law school, uh, and did my JD. And then I ended up in Houston and there, again, I learned from, from Mark Baker and RF Lee, uh, at Fulbright, and I did huge energy oil and gas cases in LA, primarily in Latin America, particularly Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Houston is such a fantastically diverse city. It gets a bad rap in America, but the type of work it does is there is, is absolutely phenomenal, then in Washington DC, again, a whole different ball game. Um, so you know, doing much more diverse work outside of the oil and gas sphere, but again, far more international. And DC is probably my favorite city to live in.
Baiju Vasani (20:42):
Um, because it’s, it’s a very livable city and yet it’s just, you know, it’s all about power, but people don’t take themselves too seriously in the sense that, uh, every time I used to visit New York, I’d always looked at my clothing and think, well, I would look how, look, how snazzy everyone’s dressed in their sharp suits and looking great. And in Washington, people are not like that. You know, they they’re in their cords and their shirt. And, you know, because it is, it’s less about show and more about authority. So, so I have to say, I, I did like DC. And then when I came back to London, it was about building the practice at Jones day. And then Moscow is just, is a phenomenal city. It’s an absolutely brilliant city. The history of that city from the Royal Monarchy period through to the Soviet era, through to the modern day. The mix of, of what I would say is sort of Asia or Baltic influences to the European influences and then just Russia itself. Is, for me, it’s just one of the most exciting periods of my life. So if you had to pick all of them, if you say, where would you live? I’ve lived in DC, but where would I like to hang out? Probably in Moscow?
Rob Hanna (21:45):
Well, I’ll, I’ll see you there because I’m yet to visit Moscow. And I’ve heard lots of great things. So it’ll be on the 2021, hopefully when we’re allowed to travel a bit more, to-do list and, you were partner in Washington for Crowell & Moring. And you mentioned Jones Day, you were partner in London as well. What was some of the differences of being a partner in the U S versus in the UK, if any?
Baiju Vasani (22:09):
Um, probably not that many as I was with a US firm the whole time. And particularly I was a partner in, in, in London with Jones Day and Jones Day, as you know, is, is one firm worldwide. In other words, it’s not a verein, but it truly operates as a single profit center, uh, and one single entity. So, you know, there was no differentiation as such between a partner in London or a partner in Taipei or a partner in Perth. It operated pretty much globally. I would say more different would be just operating in the market. London has more opportunity than DC, for example, but it’s obviously a more competitive market. There are, there are just a lot of lawyers. So it was more about really trying to operate within the particular market. Then I would say differences between, between being a lawyer in one place or another.
Rob Hanna (23:05):
Yeah. And thanks for sharing that. And we hear, you know, our, our, our recruiting hat on, through KC partners from time, you know, that certain lawyers, um, say that some US firms who have entered the UK market do not have as much appetite to invest in arbitration over more traditional transactional areas say corporate banking. What’s your view on this, following your experiences of working with US firms in London?
Baiju Vasani (23:30):
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, uh, it, you know, I have to say it’s a tricky one. Um, because each firm will be will know what its clients want. I think it really depends… The one thing for sure, that’s different about arbitration than potentially other areas is that it, it tends not to be too repeat player oriented, you know, unless, unless you’re working for a state that tends to get sued a lot, and there are a few of them, uh, unless one is doing even the smaller cases for some of the big multinational companies, but if you’re operas…and those would tend to be, uh, if you’re, if you’re doing the repeat work for the, uh, the countries, then those tends to be certain law firms that do that. If you’re doing the, what I would say is, the repeat lower level work for multinationals, then it would usually be sort of a mid-sized firm with a lower billable rate.
Baiju Vasani (24:31):
But if you’re, if you’re at the top of the tree, in terms of a law firm doing arbitration, it is very unlikely that someone has that many arbitrations B is going to turn to you for each of those arbitrations, considering your rates and considering who you are and the level at which you operate. So all of which to say is that arbitration at that level tends to be more beauty parade oriented. So, someone has a dispute and that person will then look for a lawyer for that dispute. It’s not often that one gets that, that sort of the institutional client that keeps coming back to you. Now, corporate work tends to be a little different. You get companies that want to keep buying assets from a factory to, you know, spinning off a division, uh, there you’d have a repeat this. And so I think it really depends on, on what you’re betting on.
Baiju Vasani (25:27):
If you want the corporate work that will keep on with an institutional client. It makes sense to me too, to just have that. But if you want to get into arbitration, it’s lucrative if you can win those beauty parades and you’ll win those beautiful parades by having no names who really know what they’re doing, it’s not an area for dabbling. Uh, it’s not an area for people to say, well, I do I do now and again. Okay. But if you want to make money on it at headline rates, then you have to be a name.
Rob Hanna (26:01):
Yeah, no. Well, well said, and, you know, I know, um, you know, notable arbitration partners, you know, and yourself, of course, Baiju who have made a real name and you have to be committed and dedicated to, to, to get that. So a hundred percent hear what you’re saying, I guess, to a more blunt point. If I may, if I was to say to you that following my legal recruiting day job, that over 50% of current practicing lawyers, associates, we speak to have no desire whatsoever to be a partner in a law firm. Where do you think the industry has gone wrong in trying to shift that mindset and can take action to retain that quality sector talent in private practice? And what do you enjoy about being a partner?
Baiju Vasani (26:44):
Yeah. You know, it’s a great question. And I would say if you asked a lot of more senior lawyers that they’ll give you a politically correct answer, and then they’ll turn the, they’ll turn this off and say, Oh, you know, who’s fault it is it’s these new generation millennials and gen Z. And because, because they don’t know how to work hard and they’ve had it too good and you know, all this kind of rubbish, it’s not true. The truth is that this sector is too driven by a few different things. One is profits at the partner level, right? The, the, the profits, it’s always a drive for, for more and more profits. And what does more and more profits mean? Well, the way that law firms operate, that the structure, which they have is the billable hour. Um, okay. So you make more money by more hours.
Baiju Vasani (27:31):
Okay. Then you say, okay, uh, who does those more hours? Well, if the partner, uh, if I, if I do 2000, 2,500, that’s great. I’ll make a particular amount of money. But if I replicate that by one associate, two associates, three associates, for the more army of associates, I have working as hard as possible, the more money I make. And so it becomes this pyramid where you bring in the world and you just put an army on it, which works by the billable hour. Uh, and you know, all that money then slows to the top and you, you charge high rates and then you, you, you think that, well, the way I’m going to, uh, uh, get the associates to do that work is simply to pay them a lot of money as if money, uh, is their driver. Now, maybe my generation that’s probably somewhat true or so, or at least it was true before than it is now.
Baiju Vasani (28:29):
And it, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Now. I think people value experience. They value being valued. They value learning. They value life outside of work. There are all these different things that make a happy lawyer today, which is not just, “I get paid a high salary”. So, I think that that whole model now there’s so many articles written that, “Oh, that model is ancient. It’s going to go to billable hours dead”. And I don’t think that’s the case, but, uh, my answer to that is you have to make the life of a lawyer happy. And how do you do that? Well, variety of interesting work, you know, don’t make it all about how many hours someone builds, but overall contribution, little things like dress code, you know, do you really have to wear a suit to the office every day? Why can’t you work at home every so often?
Baiju Vasani (29:25):
Certainly we’ve all learnt that we can do it. So why does that someone has to have face time? Um, why do you prove your worth only through billing and billing and billing and grinding? For me, it’s always been nonsensical to me. I’ve done it, don’t get me. Um, and I learned a lot from it, but do I understand why people don’t want to do that? Absolutely! And in my new practice, I’m like trying to do things differently. Yes. I really would like for it to be a holistic experience and for people to feel part of a team, uh, and to buy into what you’re doing as a project. So I think that’s very important.
Rob Hanna (30:04):
Absolutely. And thanks so much for, for sharing all of those insights. Cause I, I agree whilst the, the money can be one thing, all of those other points you mentioned, if they were sort of universal, shall we say across many, many firms, I’m sure a lot more people who start out in the law will want to continue to aspiration to, to make partner, um, Baiju. It’s been, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show. If people want to follow or maybe get in touch with you about anything we’ve discussed today, what’s the best way for them to, to do that? LinkedIn or Emails?
Baiju Vasani (30:39):
Yeah. LinkedIn, I am active on LinkedIn and happy to engage with anyone who wants advice. Um, has a thought disagrees with something I said, I always liked that. Um, but please yet, please do get in touch and Robert, thank you for having me on I’ve enjoyed it.
Rob Hanna (30:58):
No, it’s been a, it’s been an absolute pleasure Baiju. Um, wishing you lots of continued success with, uh, Ivanyan & Partners and, uh, yeah, I’ll catch up with you in Moscow, in the, in the new year, but for now over and out. Thank you.
Rob Hanna (31:10):
Thank you for listening to this episode of the legally speaking podcast. If you enjoyed the show and want to help support us, remember to leave us a rating and review on Apple iTunes, you can also support the show and gain exclusive benefits bonus content and much more by signing up to our Patreon page, which is www.patreon.com/legallyspeakingpodcast. Thanks for listening.