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Thought Leaders

Thought Leader

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

Peers and clients say

"Karim is highly energetic and thorough"
"Relentlessly hard-working and professional"
"Top-tier - a thought leader"
"He provides a high quality of service"

Questions & Answers

Dr Karim A Youssef is the founder and chairman of Youssef & Partners. He heads the international arbitration and international law practices at the firm. His practice focuses on commercial arbitration, investment treaty arbitration and international law. Karim features as counsel, arbitrator and legal expert in some of the highest-profile, most prominent, and most complex commercial and investment treaty claims in the MENA region. He provides strategic advice to some of the region’s most powerful corporations across a wide array of industries and critical sectors. He also heads the firm’s high net-worth individuals practice. 

What is your story with arbitration, and why did you choose it as a career?

My story with arbitration started in the summer of 1994. As a freshman making career choices, I went to meet with Professor Ahmed El-Kosheri. I desired to study law, and I was also determined not to do anything for a living that would be considered “ordinary” or “banal.” In that meeting, my question – “What is it to be an international arbitrator?” – the answer to that question unfolded in an hour or so. The grandiosity and mystical universe of international arbitration painted for me in that conversation sealed my fate. I knew what I wanted to do for a living, even before starting law school. 

What is your core value in arbitration?

My core belief, and what defines who we are and what we do at Youssef & Partners, is cosmopolitanism. It is embedded in everything we do and part of the firm’s DNA. As I mentioned in my keynote speech at the ICC MENA Conference in February 2020, cosmopolitanism is my “big why” to do arbitration. I was always attracted to the idea of cosmopolitanism and being a citizen of the world. Once I started exploring international arbitration and my practice developed, I fell in love with the practice’s global, cosmopolitan universe. I realised what transpired in that original conversation with Kosheri – and what drove me to choose arbitration as a profession: it is the idea of cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitanism is the big why for the arbitration system as a whole. 

You played a significant role in Egypt’s Arab Spring arbitrations. Tell us more about that, and how has your practice changed in the past decade, following the events of the Arab Spring?

I started practising arbitration outside of Egypt, in Paris and New York, and returned to Egypt at a critical moment for international arbitration in the region. It just so happened. I was starting my practice in Egypt at this fateful moment in time. The Arab Spring was a transformative experience for Egypt and the MENA region, including in international arbitration. It brought a significant influx of disputes, particularly foreign investment disputes. I acted in one capacity or the other in many of these disputes. Today, as Egypt’s premier international arbitration practice, the firm’s global outreach is second to none in the region. We handle major local and international disputes and advise some of the world’s leading corporations across the MENA region, including in some of the most prominent cases to come out of the Arab Spring. We are also famous for brokering significant settlements for our clients in disputes with government entities. 

73 per cent of lawyers at your firm are women, and 92 per cent are under 45. Why was it important to you to diversify your firm in this way? And what were the implications for the practice?

I am simply a firm believer in unlocking the potential of fantastic talent, whether youth or women. The impetus here is simple and goes how much I value mentorship and the importance I place on allowing brilliant talent to unleash itself.

The Y&P team is young, dynamic and very inclusive because I believe in the power of investing in youthful ambition and talent, and mentorship is genuinely a centrepiece here. We also have the highest ratio of women lawyers in Egypt, the region, and I think globally. This results from our practical and functional approach to championing diversity and removing structural barriers to women’s and youth empowerment. My core belief is that genuine mentorship and removing these barriers for brilliant young and women practitioners to unleash their potential are a large part of what allows us to be an unbeatable machine – an explosive power force. 

What qualities distinguish Youssef & Partners Attorneys from its competitors in the market?

For one thing, we’re very exclusive. We focus on the top layer of complex disputes because I have found that this is where our machinery and modus operandi work best and maximise results. Our team prides itself on being unique and disruptive. We value merit and excellence beyond seniority and ranking, and we focus on our clients and – we win. These are principles that guide our practice, our success, and our position in the market. We do things differently in many ways. 

What do you think the future of arbitration looks like in Egypt and the wider MENA region?

Covid-19 and the post-pandemic new normal have accelerated and changed the answer to that question fundamentally. Arbitration will confirm its status as the default and natural system for settling commercial and international disputes, and will also become a very influential and pervasive dispute resolution mechanism for local disputes as well. Arbitration will also become more technological, more virtual, and the MENA’s arbitration hotspots, including Cairo, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, would become top sites and regional arbitration centres, including the Cairo Center solidify their status as leading institutions.

What advice would you give to young and up-and-coming practitioners looking to make a name for themselves in international arbitration?

That’s always a tricky question, but it’s also the most important one. Today’s global arbitration is a very complex and evolved business. But I would say two things by way of advice. 

First: be ambitious and rediscover your abilities. Know where your strengths and weaknesses are and improve yourself in the genuine sense of the term, ie, win against yourself and constantly make yourself better. The other thing, which goes hand in hand: choose who you work with carefully – work only with, and around, those who empower you. Life is too short to be limited from within.

Global Leader

Arbitration 2021

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

Peers and clients say

"Karim is highly energetic and thorough"
"Relentlessly hard-working and professional"
"Top-tier - a thought leader"
"He provides a high quality of service"

Biography

Dr. Karim A. Youssef is founder of Youssef & Partners, a Global Arbitration Review (GAR) 100 law firm, and a regional leader in dispute resolution. Karim leads the international arbitration and international law practices at the Firm. His practice focuses on commercial arbitration, investment treaty arbitration, complex high-value disputes, and international law, and he is world-renowned in the respective fields. Karim represents key Egyptian and regional clients and some of the World's most significant global corporations in high-profile local, regional, and purely international disputes and large-value and complex claims. Karim has featured and continues to feature as counsel, arbitrator, or expert in some of the highest-profile and largest commercial and investment treaty claims in the MENA region. Karim also spends part of his time giving strategic advice to some of the region's most powerful corporations across a wide array of key industries and sectors. He also heads the Firm's high net-worth individuals practice.    

Karim has received some of the highest distinctions from peers and clients. Among others, he has been described as "a leading light in international arbitration" (Legal 500, 2018), and "Karim Youssef is recognized in the market as a "top arbitration guy." He has an impressive, region-spanning practice that sees him represent international companies in investment treaty disputes and other arbitration claims against state entities. With expertise in international law, he frequently represents clients in multibillion-dollar arbitrations seated around the World. A client was glad to say that Youssef has "proved to be an effective advocate." (Chambers Global Guide, Arbitration and Dispute Resolution, 2020). Karim has also been described as "a highly regarded arbitration specialist who is praised by peers for his high caliber practice. He has a vast range of arbitration experience, having acted as counsel in numerous commercial and investment treaty cases. One of his clients enthused: "He has an incredible knowledge of international law, and his negotiation skills are also impressive." (Chambers Global Guide, 2019). Karim's distinctions also include earning the 2018 GAR Award for best global speech and being appointed to CRCICA's Advisory Committee. He also wrote a well-known book on multi-party arbitration and consent issues prefaced by Jan Paulsson.

Karim's docket of arbitrator and counsel work exceeds 121 international arbitrations across four continents, focusing on the MENA region and GCC countries, as well as major cosmopolitan seats, including Cairo, Dubai, Paris, London, New York. Karim's "sharp intellect" and "responsiveness as an arbitrator" make him a favorite on the international arbitration circuit." (Who's Who Legal, 2018). He is frequently represents clients from the construction and oil and gas industries. Karim also spends a significant portion of his time acting as a legal expert on Egyptian and Arab laws and has testified on numerous occasions in arbitral and foreign court proceedings in high-profile regional disputes. Karim's testimony and cross-examination have often had an outcome-determinative effect on proceedings in which he is involved reflecting the Firm's phenomenal success rate. Karim was educated at Yale Law school (LL.M, JSD) and Paris 1 (Sorbonne), and Cairo universities.

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