Case study

Chartered arbitrator — Dr Mohamed Raffa

After starting his career in finance, Mohamed now combines his knowledge with law to work as a prominent international arbitrator in the field

How did you get your job?

I started my career in finance, before making the switch to law. Over time, I built my arbitration experience and sat the relevant exams. To begin your career in this area, it's essential to have a minimum of three years' experience and cases under certain authorities, such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

For students who wish to build experience, I'd recommend pro bono work and volunteering in law clinics. I would also consider taking part in the International Commercial Arbitration Moot in Vienna. It's a great way to network, get advice and meet potential future clients.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

I have a law degree, as well as an LLM in International Arbitration from Robert Gordon University. In 2017, I obtained a PhD in Banking and Financial Arbitration from the University of East London. My financial background and PhD has really helped me speak the same 'language' as my clients. It's enabled me to become an expert in this field and build my credibility in the sector.

Of course, my LLB and LLM are also relevant, as they've given me the solid legal knowledge to go on and specialise my practice.

What is the work of an arbitrator like?

Firstly, a good arbitrator should never accept more than six cases a year. This then gives you 45 - 60 days for the majority of the process: gathering evidence, organising and attending hearings and making the final decision. Some sectors, such as finance, need results very quickly, so I have to take this into consideration. A typical day involves working on the arbitration process mentioned above. I combine this with my teaching duties.

What do you enjoy about the job?

It is a very interesting and varied job. I enjoy being able to use my knowledge and skills to help get the best possible result(s) for my clients and network.

What are the challenges?

Being an arbitrator is very busy and it takes a lot of concentration. Also, because you're the only judge (like the solo captain of a ship), there's a heavy duty on you to make the right decision. I can sometimes feel that pressure.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

Whilst I am still a practising arbitrator, my role has developed to also include teaching. I'm currently a lecturer and Director of Training at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. I'm also a lecturer of law at Coventry University London. It's so rewarding to be able to pass my experience to others.

In the future, I wish to build connections with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and higher education institutions, to widen opportunities for students to obtain chartership status.

Any words of advice for aspiring arbitrators?

  • Learn a language which is business relevant. This is a really big selling point and great way to market yourself, especially if you wish to become an international arbitrator. Words to an arbitrator are like a paintbrush to an artist. They are the tools to your career in this area of law.
  • Qualifications are also important, so make sure you have them as well as the relevant experience.
  • Work in a law firm which specialises in arbitration. The financial rewards are better and you'll be able to more easily build your experience and reputation. After this, you can consider self-employment or consultancy work.

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