Harout Jack Samra is an attorney in DLA Piper’s international arbitration practice. He has experience in proceedings administered under the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR), United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) arbitration rules. Harout is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. He also received B.A. (cum laude) and M.B.A. degrees from the University of Miami.
Young ICCA: What drew you to the world of International Arbitration?
Harout Samra: International arbitration practitioners, by the nature of our practice, have a strong interest in international affairs, are adept at cross-cultural challenges, and eager for cutting-edge scholarship. This is to say that I suspect I was drawn to the world of international arbitration before I even knew it! Growing up in the mosaic that is South Florida to a family of Armenian descent, the first two of these interests have always been a part of my life. Finding a practice that allows me to exercise those energies has been immensely rewarding.
YI: When did you start laying the groundwork for a career in International Arbitration? (e.g., was it while in law school, during a moot court, during your career or placed on a case within your firm)
HS: During my second year of law school, a professor suggested that I write an article on ICSID arbitration for a seminar. That was the spark. After writing and publishing that article, I went on to do significant research and writing in the field as a student, which to a large degree led to my first job in international arbitration right out of law school.
YI: What kind of groundwork did you do to set yourself up? (e.g., what steps did you take to enter the field?)
HS: In addition to taking as many of the courses available during law school that I could, I worked independently to learn about the area by reading and writing in my spare time. I jumped at the opportunity to edit articles being published in my law journal on international arbitration. Perhaps most importantly, though, I worked very hard to improve my language skills. My first language was Armenian, which I continue to speak, but my predominant language is English. I have studied Spanish since I was 10 years old, but have continued to work to improve my language skills. This included studying in Buenos Aires during law school. The vast majority of my work today is in Spanish, so this effort has been amply rewarded.
YI: Describe a pivotal moment in your career in arbitration and how did that affect your career (e.g., an opportunity to work with a prominent arbitrator/on a pioneering case?)
HS: It is difficult to reduce this to a moment, but I have had the opportunity to work at two firms that have invested in me and allowed me to explore my practice. The last five years at DLA Piper have been particularly rewarding in this respect as I have become more senior and more of a protagonist in many of my cases. I have been given the opportunity to work with colleagues from around the world, including by teaching international arbitration as part of a pro bono initiative in Tanzania.
YI: If we look at arbitration as a battlefield, what are the three metaphorical weapons any lawyer needs, and why?
HS: Taking the long view: (1) integrity, (2) intellectual curiosity, and (3) the ability to sleep on airplanes. First, integrity is particularly important in our practice because it is a communal effort of practitioners, institutions, and arbitrators; reputation is central. Second, intellectual curiosity is rewarded more generously in our practice than in any other. Not a day goes by without a significant change in the law somewhere. Finally, if you can’t sleep (or work) on airplanes, you will have to learn fast.
YI: Upon reflection, are there any decisions you made that you feel aspiring arbitration practitioners could learn from?
HS: Get to know the practitioners in your area. Find mentors and work to develop those relationships. Sometimes these can even be former opposing counsel (it has in my case).
YI: Is there any additional candid advice or insight that you can offer to assist those who are entering the field, deciding whether to enter the field, or already are in the field of International Arbitration?
HS: If this is really what you want to do, be persistent. I have seen many young practitioners whose persistence was rewarded, if not in the first instance. The practice is much harder to enter today than it was even 8 years ago when I started my career. Do not allow yourself to be discouraged. Keep attending the events, reading and writing the articles. It will pay off.