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Max Hulme L’16 on International Arbitration in Paris

November 09, 2020

The following post has been adapted from a discussion on Monday, November 9, 2020 with Max Hulme L’16, an associate in the International Arbitration practice at Shearman & Sterling.

Paris is a critical jurisdiction for international arbitration and the headquarters for the ICC. You’ve secured a competitive and prestigious opportunity in a multinational firm practicing under U.S. qualifications in a foreign jurisdiction. Was this your plan all along?

I started law school with an interest in international arbitration. For various personal reasons, I was hoping to find a job in Paris sooner rather than later. Obviously, it can be done. It’s not necessarily a typical path, depending on the field that you’re wanting to go into. I don’t know if things have changed, but when I was going through recruitment, a lot of the positions in London, for example, were capital markets. It was a little harder to find work in dispute resolution abroad through the OCI process. Not impossible, but not as typical of a path.

What is it like to be an American lawyer working in Paris?

Shearman, in particular, is quite an integrated firm. Our offices are very diverse. It’s a pleasure working with colleagues from all sorts of different legal and cultural backgrounds. Obviously, Paris is a capital city, so there’s a very strong, active legal community in every respect. Particularly in arbitration, it’s a wonderful experience. You’re constantly learning and coming into contact with different ways of thinking about legal issues.

You were a French major in undergrad and spent a year studying abroad as part of your undergraduate degree. Then in law school, you undertook the dual-degree program at Sciences Po. Can you tell us a bit about the course offerings that you undertook at Sciences Po? How did this add to your comparative understanding and/or exposure to current trends in international legal practice? 

Sciences Po was a great program particularly for people interested in arbitration, but not just arbitration. I was in the specialization called Global Governance Studies, which when I was there, was fairly focused on international arbitration. There was also quite a bit of human rights course offerings, also topics like international trade law, EU law, and IP. Coursework is always from a very international and often a European perspective. So, coming from two years of law school, all of the classes imparted some sort of comparative perspective, whether that was the intent or not.

Another great thing about the program was [that] a lot of the courses are taught by practitioners. So, you’re learning from people who do this on a day to day basis, which also gives rise to some networking opportunities as well. If you’re interested in arbitration, as you mentioned, the ICC is headquartered in Paris. For the Vis Moot–there’s a very active community for training, coaching opportunities, and things like that. And obviously lots of events.

The program is  structurally quite a bit different from Penn. You take a lot of classes. I forget exactly how many, but I’d say it’s seven or eight a semester. Plus you have these workshops which are like mini-classes that meet three or four times a semester and they focus on practical skills. I had a workshop on doing direct cross-examinations and in arbitration, things that are pretty cool opportunities. 

Sciences Po is well-connected. There are a lot of events. If you make the effort to take advantage of all the resources that they offer, you can have a really fulfilling semester and meet a lot of interesting people. There are lots of networking opportunities. If you’re interested in arbitration or international law, I really recommend the program. I think it’s great.

Can you tell me a little bit about your 1L summer experience (through the internship program now known as the Global Legal Practice Fellowship) working in-house for CNH International in France? How did this help you in your career trajectory?

It was a great first work experience in law, because it was in a business, so everything we were doing was very concrete. Just to give an example, I did work relating to French and European data privacy regulations and compliance. We were trying to put in motion a compliance project to make sure the company was doing everything it needed to do to protect customer data, employee data, etc. We also did some work looking at contracts and contract amendments.

Obviously, it was a French law position, so in some sense it was a little intimidating because obviously we weren’t trained or qualified in French law. One of the takeaways from that experience was how even after just one year of law school and in a different legal culture, the approach to things was surprisingly similar. Things were not as alien as I feared they might be; I was able to contribute to the work that our in-house counsel was doing. Our boss was really fantastic. He took us out to lunch with people who work in various law firms in Paris, so he gave us some networking opportunities as well. It was an exposure to French law and French business law and also in-house work generally. The internship gave me a sense of how things work that was useful in law school and once I actually started working at the firm after graduating.

Can you tell the students a little bit about what you do as an international arbitration attorney? What is your day to day type of work that you do?

It can be quite varied. Obviously, it’s dispute work. Arbitration is different from US litigation and in numerous respects, I think the first thing that shocks a lot of people would be the length of these submissions that we prepare, which can number into the hundreds or sometimes even thousands of pages.

There’s much more flexibility than there is in the court system–there’s planning the strategy, executing the strategy for the dispute, whether it’s an offense or defense. That involves all sorts of factual research, legal research, then the actual drafting of submissions. There’s a lot of work with expert witnesses, fact witnesses, helping them to prepare their reports or their statements.

Then, at the end of a dispute, you get to the hearing, which is usually a week-long affair, where you sleep very little. At my level, you are there mostly to support, although there are opportunities for advocacy as well. When I was a summer associate, I did a rotation in international arbitration. I got to attend a hearing, which was a really great experience. I was surprised at how civilized it seemed; it really is people sitting around, sitting around the table trying to resolve the dispute through advocacy.

I think that pretty much covers at a high level the sorts of work that we do. There’s a lot of drafting and then a lot of procedural work. In arbitration, often there’s a set of applicable rules. There are many applications to try and get a favorable timetable for the proceedings or there can be applications for interim measures. So, there is a lot of procedural work. If you have an interest in procedure, that can be very exciting as well.

What are the major differences between the French legal job market and the US? Anything from salary considerations to the cost-of-living, career ascension opportunities, anything that you can share as to your prospects and your career trajectory.

I guess I’ll start by saying that I’m by no means an expert in the French market or how recruitment works. The typical path for a French law student would be to finish studies through a master’s program. Then typically, the French bar is an 18-month process with a series of different tests and part of that involves mandatory internships. So, there’s a very strong and quite competitive market for internships in French law firms. When I was at Sciences Po, a lot of my fellow students were finishing their French legal education; their plan was to do a series of internships for two years in French firms with the hope that one of those would lead to a position. So, it’s a different structure if you’re going directly through the French market.

My own experience was through OCI. I was a summer associate, at Shearman. I split my summer between New York and Paris. My hope was to get a position doing arbitration, and specifically in Paris, as soon as possible. Ideally right out of law school, and if not, down the road. Through a mix of researching firms, reaching out to people, trying to get my foot in the door, and a little bit of luck, things worked out. I actually started in litigation in New York. But I was able to transition to arbitration in Paris after about six months.

So, there are ways to do it going through the OCI system. If you go through the French system, it’s a different approach, but there are other opportunities there as well.

How did you navigate making the decision on whether or not to qualify for the French bar as opposed to just taking the New York bar? Have any challenges have come up with regard to your New York qualifications?

To take the French bar, if you have the New York bar, there’s an equivalency exam, which is considerably easier than the full French bar exam. I have not done that just because of a lack of time. I would like to do that someday, as soon as I’m able to prepare for the exam, because it still requires quite a bit of preparation. I did my summer at Sherman, and got the offer for a position, so I knew I would be taking the New York bar.

I had a friend in my program at Sciences Po who went to Northwestern Law School who did both the New York bar and the French bar. She married a Frenchman and knew she wasn’t going back to the United States. She went the internship route and took the French equivalency exam after passing the New York bar. Fairly quickly, she got a position. I think she is doing an anti-corruption investigation work.

How important is your location for being involved in international arbitration?

Based on my understanding, the city is fairly important for arbitration because there are cities that are real arbitration centers. Washington D.C. is one in the United States. There’s a lot of investment arbitration work in D.C. Miami has a lot of Latin American-focused arbitration work; if you’re a Spanish speaker, there could be opportunities there as well. In Europe, London and Paris are probably the two largest. In the Middle East and in Asia, there are opportunities in Hong Kong and Singapore in particular. So, if your goal is to work in arbitration, I think a natural way to focus your efforts and to look for opportunities would be focusing on cities where you know there is a large and active arbitration legal market.

The presence of an arbitral institution is a sign of a sort of arbitration capital. In Paris, you have the ICC; in London, you have the LCIA; in Hong Kong, there’s the HKIAC; and there are many others. While the ICC is headquartered in Paris, it’s active throughout the world. There is the physical location of the hearings (right now, I’d say almost everything is being done virtually as a general rule) but then there is also the legal location of the arbitration, which is separate from the physical location of the hearings.

I’ve been at Shearman for four years. I’ve attended hearings in Paris, but I’ve also worked on matters where the arbitrations were seated, as they say, in Hong Kong. There were telephone hearings and in-person hearings as well. I’d say generally, firms have a lot of business that’s managed out of the Paris office, but arbitration can take place all over. It can really be almost anywhere.

Any parting words to current students at Penn Law?

I’m always happy to give advice for people who are interested in arbitration. It’s a great field. There’s a lot of diversity in the work. I didn’t have time to speak on that today, but my cases have covered all sorts of different subjects. It also tends to be quite hands-on. Things are done with smaller teams than in your typical large US litigation practice, which is an opportunity to have much more responsibility from the get-go. It’s a great field to work in for people who are interested in international law and disputes. Other than that, just know that I wish everyone the best of luck and to stay safe.