06 Feb 2024
We speak to Manini Brar FCIArb about how dispute resolution chose her, why India is poised to become an international hub of arbitration, and why gender diversity is an important conversation in all workplaces.
What made you choose a career in law?
In school, I was head of the debating society and part of the dramatics club. I enjoyed the exchange of ideas, making a convincing argument and, sometimes, being beaten. I wanted to do more of it. For a very long time, I was torn between journalism and law. But I got to law school, and I just knew that’s where I wanted to be. I never looked back.
What made you interested in going into dispute resolution?
I think dispute resolution chose me, and not the other way around. After one year in the projects practice of a leading Indian law firm at the start of my career, I decided to dabble in litigation. It just so happened that the chamber I applied for had three parallel arbitrations concerning three hydro-power projects which landed on my desk. I thoroughly enjoyed handling those because the process was at once detailed and time-bound. To this day, I find it very satisfying that the outcome of an arbitration can be influenced simply by the manner in which claims are drafted, presented and argued, and nothing else.
After practicing in Delhi for a couple of years, I pursued an LLM at the University of Cambridge, with a focus on public international law and dispute resolution. Then I moved to Hong Kong to work as a Deputy Counsel with the office of the ICC Secretariat. By the time I came back to India in 2017, my career had taken a decided turn towards arbitration, and the Indian arbitration scene was more welcoming than ever before. Eventually, I set up a boutique arbitration practice in Delhi under the banner of Arbridge Chambers in 2021.
What legislative or other developments do you anticipate will impact your work as an arbitrator?
There has never been a better time to be a young arbitrator in India. We have a revamped arbitration act (the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 was significantly amended in 2015, after that there have been a few amendments in 2019 and 2021) and a new Model Bilateral Investment Treaty as of 2015, a huge push for arbitration from the Indian judiciary, and a surge of home-grown arbitration institutions of international standing (Delhi International Arbitration Centre, Mumbai Centre of International Arbitration, India International Arbitration Centre, to name just a few). All of this has made the process more accessible to small businesses, and therefore created a demand for younger, first-time arbitrators. The Delhi High Court has been at the forefront of promoting and appointing young lawyers as arbitrators and I’ve been fortunate to be one.
I’m excited about what the future holds. I can see India becoming a hub for international arbitration in the years to come, and being a very rewarding jurisdiction for an arbitration practitioner.
What should we do to continue improving gender diversity in the dispute resolution sector?
I think gender diversity is an important conversation for any professional setting, not only dispute resolution, and it must start with acknowledging the limitations women grapple with in everyday life. Harvard University Professor Claudia Goldin won the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences in 2023 for examining the reasons for gender gaps in the labour force, which indicates the burning relevance of the issue. It is only once we acknowledge the myriad challenges that working women face as primary homemakers and caregivers that we can start to change the work culture and parameters of success to accommodate them. You simply cannot compare a young woman in her early 30s, at the prime of her family-fostering phase, with a man in the same age-group. They have very different professional graphs. Institutions appointing arbitrators and corporates appointing counsel need to be mindful of gender before writing off a woman candidate as not “visible” enough or “active” enough.
That is the long answer. The short answer is, we need to focus the conversation on gender sensitivity.
What has been key to your success?
Success these days comes in many shapes and forms. What I am most proud of is doing it my way: as an independent practitioner, from my own office in Delhi, while having two kids and without attaching myself to any particular mentor or legacy (although I am grateful for the guidance of many senior colleagues). Of course, it is a solitary path to take, and takes much longer than otherwise, but I am finally in a comfortable space. I think the key is to stick it out and not get bogged down by formulas of success. You must persevere and believe in your own karma.
What do you wish you had known when you started your career?
I wish I had taken more holidays, read more, and done things outside of work. I took my career so seriously that even when I was not working, I was thinking about it. It only dawned on me much later that this is going to be a long haul, and I won’t get anywhere if I self-destruct. That’s when I started being equanimous about work, and miraculously more productive on a daily basis. I stopped feeling the pressure and started enjoying work, and that gave me the perseverance to keep at it.
Manini Brar FCIArb has acted as arbitrator in more than 15 domestic commercial arbitrations, and also Amicus Curiae in matters of public importance, pursuant to appointments by the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi. Since 2022, she is engaged as a Senior Legal Consultant with the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce, Government of India, advising on investment commitments in international treaties and related areas of policy. Manini has been practicing in the areas of international law and arbitration, both commercial and investor-state, since 2010. Her areas of expertise include infrastructure, real estate, and corporate disputes. Previously, she worked as a Deputy Counsel with the Secretariat of the ICC Court of Arbitration (Hong Kong), and acted as Tribunal Secretary, counsel in international commercial arbitrations. She also advised on and represented the Government of India in investor-state disputes, including as a consultant with the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance. Manini obtained her Masters degree from the University of Cambridge, with a specialisation in Public International Law and Dispute Settlement. She’s also taught a course on investment treaty arbitration as Guest Faculty at National Law University Delhi. She sits on the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and Thailand Arbitration Centre panels of arbitrators, is a Board Member of Indian Women in International Arbitration practitioner’s group, and member of the Global Steering Committee of the Young Arbitral Women Practitioners Group.
Join us for two events to mark International Women’s Day:
Manini will be a moderator on the event on 8 March 2024.
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