Distinguished India-based alumna, Priti Suri, earns prestigious ABA award

Delighted to congratulate of our our distinguished LL.M. alumnae, Priti Suri, recipient of one of the most prestigious American Bar Association awards. (photo credit)

The ABA Section of International Law bestowed its Mayre Rasmussen Award for the Advancement of Women in International Law upon Suri Wednesday, at a luncheon during the Section’s Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C. Regarding Suri’s award, the Section said:

“Priti’s role as a mentor and in opening doors for women and women lawyers in India make her the perfect candidate for the Mayre Rasmussen Award.”

In a LinkedIn post, Suri responded:

“I feel truly humbled, as the first Asian, to receive ABA’s Mayre Rasmussen career achievement award. To everyone who contributed – my incredible family, my friends, my co-workers, my teachers and to every single person who has been with me on this journey – a very big thank you. Miles and miles to go still….”

Suri is the founder-partner of PSA Legal Counsellors, an Indian business law firm with offices in New Delhi and Chennai. Its practice spans many industries, and includes cross-border M&A transactions, strategic investments, joint-ventures including tender and exchange offers, venture capital financings, structuring private equity deals, leveraged buyouts, and divestitures.

This week’s ABA honor comes not long after another: last October, Suri was named to the India Business Law Journal A-List of India’s top 100 lawyers.

Since earning her Master of Laws degree from in 1989, Suri has remained active in the University of Georgia School of Law community. She frequently welcomes Georgia Law students as part of our Global Externship Overseas, and she has been an officer of the LL.M. Alumni Association.

The ABA Rasmussen Award is named after “a pioneer in the field of international business law” who died in 1998, and is given

“to individuals who have achieved professional excellence in international law, encouraged women to engage in international law careers, enabled women lawyers to attain international law job positions from which they were excluded historically, or advanced opportunities for women in international law.”

Among the prior Rasmussen Award recipients is another member of our Georgia Law community, Associate Dean Diane Marie Amann.

Brava!

Third-party funding a focus of Atlanta international arbitration conference

meganIt’s our pleasure today to publish this post by Megan Alpert, a member of Georgia Law’s J.D. Class of 2018. Along with 2 other students who posted yesterday, Megan recently took part in the 5th annual conference of AtlAS, the Atlanta International Arbitration Society. She served as a rapporteur for a roundtable on “The Rise of Third-Party Funding: Flattening the Playing Field between Haves and Have-Nots?,” featuring attorneys Carlos Forbes (Center for Arbitration and Mediation of the Chamber of Commerce Brazil-Canada and Mundie Advogados, São Paulo, Brazil), Andrea Menaker (White & Case), Eloise Obadia (Derains & Gharavi), Lawrence S. Schaner (Jenner & Block), and Tim Scrantom (JD’83) (Scrantom Dulles International), and moderated by John Watkins (JD’82) (Thompson Hine). Reflecting on this panel, Megan (above left) writes:

atlantamapAtlanta’s infrastructure and legal framework have made it a major seat for international dispute resolution. To secure that position and foster its continued growth, the Atlanta International Arbitration Society (AtlAS) facilitates a conference where representatives of the international legal community discuss various topics relating to international arbitration. I had the privilege of attending the 5th annual AtlAS conference, “International Arbitration in a Not So ‘Flat’ World: Practical Considerations for Counsel and Their Clients.” Here are some things I learned from the panel for which I served as student rapporteur:

► This particular panel focused on the role of third-party funding in cases of international arbitration. Third-party funding, or more simply “TPF”, is a process by which a claim-holder, either on its own behalf or by means of an attorney, approaches and asks a third-party funder to take an interest in the case by agreeing to provide the funds necessary to carry the case forward. The need for TPF typically stems from the so-called “David versus Goliath” cases, in which claim-holders are practically barred from bringing or defending a case because of a lack of funding.

► TPF agreements involve large investments of capital and large amounts of risk, so it’s no surprise that the “reward” sought by third-party funders is also quite substantial. The typical matrix for the funder is a contingency fee split between a fixed and variable return. Often, the funder not only wants to see its capital returned, but also wants to receive a multiple of that investment dispensed on a preferential basis. The fixed return is typically phrased as “investment plus 200%” or “three times capital invested.” The variable return, on the other hand, is roughly 10%-15% of the final award. This arrangement is, in some respect, a means of obviating the risk of not getting paid, but also insuring that some of the risk remains with the firm so they maintain an interest in the case.

► Challenges with TPF present themselves mostly on the battlefield of professional ethics. Panelists alluded to specific challenges for attorneys and their firms, such as:

  • The potential for a conflict of interest or violation of American Bar Association Model Rule 1.8.
  • Issues of disclosure and finder’s fee implications.
  • Practical concerns of jurisdiction and transparency.

It ultimately depends on the characteristics of the specific tribunal but, in general, these hurdles are not insurmountable; rather, they are areas for exercising caution. They require parties to cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I’.

► From the point of view of a third-party funder, the biggest issue seems to be in understanding the legal jargon and its minutiae. The difference in “privilege” and “work product” seems to be especially troubling. Third-party funders operate outside the bounds of the attorney-client relationship, and may themselves seek opinions or advice from outside counsel. It’s extremely important that all parties pay close attention to the transfer of documents as well as communications in this web of relationships. To properly operate with these challenges, an attorney will most likely require a confidentiality agreement involving the third-party funder and assurances of protection from any outside counsel having knowledge of the matter. This agreement seeks to make sure none of the parties improperly turns over protected work-product and that there isn’t any leakage of confidential or privileged information once it passes beyond the bounds of general attorney-client privilege.

atlas-logoPanelists broke down the issues into understandable bite-sized pieces, yet still managed to tackle the tough and more technical issues. They brought to light common issues and misconceptions of the use of third-party funding in hopes of correcting any misunderstandings and encouraging those who may have previously been on-the-fence to not shy away from this avenue for funding. Because of their diverse backgrounds, panelists were also able to provide different perspectives on the issues, including the international application of third-party funding for non-US tribunals. All in all, this panel was incredibly informative – especially considering I had absolutely no idea what TPF was prior to my arrival.

Atlanta international arbitration panel surveys recent developments

johann_cropIt’s our pleasure today to publish this post by 2 Georgia Law students,  Johann Ebongom, an LL.M. candidate, and Brian Griffin, a member of the J.D. Class of 2019 and a Dean Rusk International Law Center Student Ambassador. Johann and Brian recently took part in the 5th annual conference of AtlAS, the Atlanta International Arbitration brian2Society. Along with another student whose post will appear tomorrow, they served as rapporteurs for a roundtable on “Recent Developments in International Arbitration,” featuring attorneys Edward A. Marshall (JD’02) (Arnall Golden), Eric D. Johnson (CARE), Kirk W. Watkins (JD’75) (Womble Carlyle), and moderated by Randall F. Hafer (Kilpatrick Townsend). Reflecting on this panel, Johann (top left) and Brian (lower left) write:

Atlanta, Georgia, is fast becoming a preferred seat for international dispute resolution. This is in part due to the efforts of the Atlanta International Arbitration Society (AtlAS), whose primary goal is to promote Atlanta as a venue for the resolution of international commercial and investment disputes. AtlAS hosts an annual conference in pursuit of this goal, and so provides a forum where practitioners, experts, and others interested in international arbitration can network and exchange ideas related to this rapidly evolving field.

atlantamapWe had the privilege to represent the University of Georgia School of Law as student rapporteurs at the 5th annual AtlAS conference, “International Arbitration in a Not So ‘Flat’ World: Practical Considerations for Counsel and Their Clients.” The particular panel we attended focused on the use of arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism in the payments-processing, international nonprofit, intellectual property, and construction industries. Here are a few things that we learned from the panelists’ presentations:

Arbitration is a binding dispute settlement mechanism whose basic concept is that it is beneficial for somebody with a deep understanding of the context of a dispute to decide the outcome of that dispute. The practice of arbitration first came about when merchants decided that they wanted fellow merchants to settle their disputes instead of judges, who often lacked knowledge necessary to fairly settle a dispute in a particular commercial context. These merchants they believed that because other merchants were the people with the best understanding of their particular industry, they were more likely to fairly settle their disputes than anyone else. The practice of arbitration has continued through the ages, but arbitrators in this day and age are almost always lawyers with expertise in a particular field. However, non-lawyer industry experts still play a vital role by providing information that helps the arbitrators decide the case.

► The payments-processing industry facilitates use of credit and debit cards. When someone uses a credit or debit card, the payment must first pass through a processor to get from the bank to the receiving business. Most disputes in this industry are currently resolved through litigation, but experts in the field see value in moving clients to arbitration. Litigation is often cost prohibitive and the public forum is an inhospitable place to settle disputes in the payments processing industry in general. The confidentiality of arbitration would be a great benefit, as it would allow companies to better protect consumer data.

► In relation to international nonprofit organizations, disputes generally arise between the charity and private companies, governments, or employees. However, formal disputes are not common in the non-profit industry, and when they do arise charities tend to favor courtrooms over arbitration. This is because charities are often seen as sympathetic parties, which can increases their chances of winning a judgment in court as opposed to arbitration. However, international charities often find it hard to get a balanced approach in foreign courts, as they are often subject to local bias and trust issues while litigating in foreign legal systems. Arbitration might be the solution for international organizations looking for a fair resolution to disputes arising in foreign countries.

►There are many opportunities for arbitration to be utilized in the intellectual property industry. As the cost of litigation rises, more businesses are electing to pursue cost-effective means of dispute resolution, like arbitration, in lieu of protecting their rights in court. That said, generally three categories of disputes arise in the IP industry:

  1. In the first, the two parties are unknown to each other before the dispute arises. In this situation, one party is usually alleging that the other party has infringed upon their patent rights, and they go to court to settle their dispute.
  2. In the second, parties have a contractual relationship. This can be between licensor-licensee, manufacturer-distributor, or supplier-purchaser. Because of the prevalence of arbitration clauses in contracts, these disputes are often settled through arbitration.
  3. In the final category, companies lack agreements between themselves, but work in the same industry. Typically these companies are not likely to arbitrate; however, given that litigation is very expensive, some companies do arbitrate in order to keep their legal costs down.

► The construction industry is worth many trillions of dollars worldwide. International construction projects often produce massive and complex disputes that usually cost more than is necessary and take longer than they should. The construction industry has traditionally looked for alternative ways to settle disputes. Arbitration is quicker and cheaper than going to court, and still provides an enforceable resolution to the dispute, making it preferable to other more traditional methods of dispute resolution like litigation. Arbitration is also valuable in that it provides the ability to have a dispute decided by others working in the same industry, as most construction clients would prefer that arbitrators knowledgeable about the construction industry decide their case instead of a judge or a jury with no knowledge of the industry.

atlas-logoAttending this year’s AtlAS Conference was an enriching experience. We learned about the use of arbitration as a dispute settlement mechanism in the context of four different industries and we took full advantage of the opportunity to meet and network with practitioners and experts in this rapidly growing field, many of whom were willing to share their experiences and impart helpful advice in regards to our academic journey at the University of Georgia School of Law. In doing so, we forged important professional relationships that we hope will last for many years to come. Finally, we thank Georgia Law for this wonderful opportunity to represent our law school at this important and highly educational event.

Women’s voices cast in leading role at 33d annual Edith House Lecture

evansLeading Georgia Law’s annual celebration of its 1st woman law graduate this year was an extra special, and especially inspiring, alumna.

Delivering the 33d annual Edith House Lecture, Stacey Godfrey Evans (left) treated students, faculty, staff, and others in the law school community to a talk entitled “The Voice of a Woman Lawyer: Why it Matters and How to Use It.”

It’s a subject for which she’s well qualified, as 3L Hannah Byars (below right), leader of the Women Law Students Association, made clear. Byars related that after Evans earned her J.D. in 2003, she practiced as an associate at BigLaw firm, then opened a small firm with a handful of colleagues. Evans established her own firm, S.G. Evans Law LLC, in 2014. And since 2011, she’s represented District 42, in Smyrna, as a Democrat in the Georgia State Assembly.hannah

Evans opened her talk by reciting the still-low percentages of women at high levels of the legal profession and politics, then urged the women in her audience to let their voices be heard.

“When you change who is in the room, you change the conversation,”

Evans said at one point, and added that women should not fear to be controversial when the situation merits. She concluded by encouraging women to run for office.

houseIt was a fitting tribute to the namesake of this lecture series, depicted at left: Edith House (1903-1987), whose portrait hangs in the law school rotunda. She and another student in the Class of 1925 were Georgia Law’s 1st women graduates. House was co-valedictorian, and went on to a distinguished career, including a stint as the 1st woman U.S. Attorney in Florida. Thanks to a Women Law Students Association initiative (see this great online scrapbook at p. 53), lectures have been given each year in her honor since 1983.