Distinguishing Yourself in a Practice Area – Isaiah Bozimo, International Arbitration

Editor’s note – we are happy to introduce a series we have tagged “Distinguishing Yourself in a Practice Area”. As part of this series, we will be interviewing successful lawyers who have set themselves far apart from their colleagues in a particular area of legal practice. They will be sharing valuable lessons from their experience for those who might be creating a niche for themselves in that area or any other area. For the first part of the series, we interview Isaiah Bozimo who has distinguished himself in Arbitration practice in Nigeria and beyond.

Please tell us about your first few years in legal practice. 

I joined the law firm of Learned Senior Advocate, Patrick Ikwueto, as an NYSC Corps Member in 2006.

The firm’s core practice area was dispute resolution i.e. trial and appellate litigation and commercial arbitration.  The firm also provided commercial advice when the need arose. Given the firm’s practice areas, much of my work involved commercial dispute resolution. The experience was both challenging and rewarding.

It was challenging because as a relatively small but bustling firm, I wasn’t afforded the luxury of being “walked through” practice and procedures.  I had to learn the hard way – by jumping in at the deep end.  I did not wait for senior colleagues to give me work, but I observed what needed to be done and got on with it. This worked well for me because I was at a firm that rewarded competent work with even more tasks.

Inevitably, I made mistakes but I ensured that I learned and grew from them and this made the experience very rewarding.

How did you discover Dispute Resolution and why did you decide to follow this path?

Dispute resolution was a natural product of my early years in practice.  I spent a lot of time preparing for, observing or participating in court proceedings.

As a result of this, I fell (and still am) in love with the strategy and psychology behind winning cases.  Appearing before Judges or Arbitrators can be very enjoyable – but the truth is, cases are often won and lost in the preparation involved when building your case.

I suspect that I will probably have zero “street-cred” by the end of this interview, but I am one of those who enjoy preparing and cross-referencing trial bundles!  You must love dispute resolution to follow that path.

Please give us a brief overview of what Dispute Resolution and Arbitration practice are about.

Dispute resolution refers to the various options available to find a solution to a dispute.  The best-known options are negotiation, mediation, arbitration and litigation.

Arbitration is a private forum in which an independent arbitrator or arbitrators (where they constitute a panel) acting in a judicial capacity, makes an award, acting judicially, to finalise a dispute between parties.  Arbitration will only apply where parties have already agreed to employ it as a means of settling disputes either in a contract or otherwise. The involvement of an arbitrator is based on the parties’ prior agreement, and parties can only apply to the court in limited circumstances either to  subsequent involvement of a court is limited to support the process , or to set aside an award.  on limited grounds.

What did the Arbitration space in Nigeria look like when you decided to follow this path?

For a long time, litigation dominated the space, but there was a dynamic and growing arbitration community.  Today, the arbitration community is very prominent and continues to grow exponentially.

I did not want to restrict myself to litigation.  Empirical data points to the wider geographical adoption of arbitration as the standard means of resolving cross-border commercial disputes, particularly in Africa. Nigeria’s recent signing on the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement is a good example.  The growth of international trade increases the potential for cross border disputes.  Arbitration plays an important role here because it aims to resolve disputes in a neutral arena so that neither disputing party has the “home-field” advantage in its domestic court system.

I like to keep my options open and arbitration gives me an avenue to do that.

What were the challenges you faced when you started out in Arbitration and how did you overcome these challenges?

In arbitration, visibility is critical.  To succeed, you must demonstrate competence and to demonstrate competence, you must write articles, make meaningful contributions at conferences and events, volunteer time on committees etc.  All this takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money.

As a young practitioner, the challenge is finding the balance between billable hours for the firm and advancing a career in arbitration – with its accompanying time and cost obligations.  I overcame this challenge by helping to develop the arbitration practice at the firm in which I started my career.  This way, I was literally able to practice in my “backyard.”

Today, many options are available to overcome the monetary challenges.  For instance, young practitioners can attend conferences for free by volunteering their time to planning committees.  They participate in free events and network with experienced colleagues by joining young arbitration groups such as the ICC Young Arbitrator’s Forum (ICC YAF) and CIArb’s Young Member’s Group (YMG).  They can also demonstrate their competencies by participating in international moot competitions such as the one organized by the Lagos Court of Arbitration Young Arbitrator’s Network (LCA-YAN).

The opportunities are available – one simply has to put in the effort and take full advantage.

Did you acquire any additional skills or certifications (e.g. online courses Masters, PhD, etc.) to enable you to work in this practice area?

I have a Master’s degree in Commercial Dispute Resolution and I am currently a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK).  While these qualifications certainly help, they are not an absolute prerequisite in terms of securing work in arbitration.

I know very many professional colleagues who work in arbitration, but do not have formal certification in arbitration. I also know individuals with many academic certifications but no arbitration cases to their credit.

You have done very well for yourself in Arbitration – why would you say that is? What is the most rewarding aspect of working in Dispute resolution?

Thank you very much!  It has been a combination of hard work, luck and determination.  When I first started, I devoted a lot of time, money and resources without any financial return.  I volunteered my time for free on committees so that I could work with “gatekeepers” in the industry.  Whenever I had the opportunity, I demonstrated commitment and competence, which led to more work, but without pay.  I honestly did not mind at all, because I had my eyes on the prize. It gave me hours of invaluable access to more experienced and very senior colleagues.

I also made the most of networking opportunities.  Whenever I was offered a speaking opportunity, I accepted even when it was at great personal expense.  I remember speaking at an event in Paris in 2015, where I met Dr Emilia Onyema, an Associate Professor at SOAS University of London and Tunde Ogunseitan, a Counsel at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris.  I almost did not go because I had to pay for travel and accommodation.  After speaking, Dr Onyema invited me to speak at the SOAS Arbitration in Africa Conference in Lagos.  Of course, I said yes!

At the Lagos event, I met Tunde Ogunseitan again, who invited me to speak at an ICC Arbitration event in Nairobi and I gladly accepted. At the Nairobi event, I met Professor Dr Mohamed Abdel-Wahab for the first time.  Earlier this year, Prof. Abdel-Wahab invited me to join the Faculty of the CIArb. Oxford Diploma and of course I said, yes!

I continued this pattern for many years and I can say that my hard work is finally paying off in terms of recognition and remuneration.

How do you see your career in Arbitration progressing from here? What would be the pinnacle for you?

This is going to sound very cliché, but I intend to continue to put in the hard work and stay relevant.  If in 10 or 20 years from now, I am relevant in the international arbitration community, I would consider it to be a great success.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring lawyers looking to excel in Arbitration?

Though it is on the rise, international arbitration remains a niche discipline compared to litigation.  It’s never too early to start prepping.  Universities offer international dispute resolution LLMs with optional modules dedicated to commercial arbitration.  Also, international institutions such as the ICC, ICCA and LCIA offer internships every year.

Having said that, these qualifications are not necessary to start your career. What matters above all is demonstrating an interest. General litigation experience is valuable and background experience and practice in moot courts and other debate forums can go a long way.

It is also essential to stay in the know not only about international arbitration but in the wider commercial and political space. Look out for trends affecting international law as well as some of the significant arbitration cases hitting the headlines.


Isaiah Bozimo is a Partner at Broderick Bozimo & Company – a niche Arbitration and Litigation Firm in Abuja, Nigeria.

He has represented state-owned entities, corporations, and high-net-worth individuals in several complex disputes, both in arbitration and litigation.  He has been involved in arbitrations under the rules of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the Lagos Court of Arbitration (LCA).

Isaiah is the Chairman of the Advisory, Lagos Court of Arbitration-Young Arbitrators Network (LCA-YAN) and was an ICC Young Arbitrators Forum (YAF) Representative for Africa, the Middle East and Turkey.

He has vast experience in civil and commercial litigation at trial and appellate court levels, as well as intricate commercial arbitrations.

 

legallyengagedDistinguishing Yourself in a Practice Area – Isaiah Bozimo, International Arbitration

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