Professor Dr Comair-Obeid is the founding partner of Obeid Law Firm, and a professor of law at the Lebanese University. She is a member of the ICC executive board and the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA); companion of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb); and former president of CIArb (2017). She sits on the ICSID panel of arbitrators and conciliators. She has been systematically identified as one of the world’s leading practitioners in the field of international arbitration and dispute resolution by internationally renowned legal publications. She is fluent in Arabic, French and English, and is qualified to practise at the Paris and Beirut Bars.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO ENTER THE LEGAL PROFESSION?
I entered into the field of law based on my desire to implement the rule of law and principles of justice in Lebanon and the MENA region. As a woman, I also wanted to show that women can succeed in the legal field at both the domestic and international levels.
WHAT WAS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED WHEN ESTABLISHING YOUR OWN FIRM?
Forty years ago, when I became a lawyer, it was rare for women to engage in law, especially in the Middle East. When I started my career in Lebanon, I knew that asserting myself as a woman in my profession would be challenging. I regularly saw inequality between women and men in the society I lived in.
I began my career with the goal to first become a lawyer, then ultimately a judge, but not just in one jurisdiction. My goal was to have diverse, international experience and to develop arbitration in my country through education and practice. I pursued this path even though it was full of challenges, as arbitration, especially in the MENA was (and is still) male-dominated.
I aspired to found and lead one of the first law firms in the Middle East established by a woman. I did not want to only have this firm recognised locally, but for it to reach international acclaim. I am proud that I met the challenge and founded my own firm, Obeid Law Firm (OLF), which I still head 30 years later and is now recognised among the top firms in arbitration by GAR 100.
HOW DOES OLF REMAIN A LEADING FIRM FOR ARBITRATION IN A HIGHLY COMPETITIVE MARKET?
OLF is a full-service international law firm operating across the MENA region from its headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon. Today, we are widely acknowledged as one of the leading law firms in the Middle East.
OLF has established a first-class international arbitration practice that is particularly recognised for its commitment to excellence and expertise in Middle Eastern legislations. Our lawyers act as a party’s counsel, arbitrator or expert. We advise clients at every stage – from drafting complex arbitration clauses to enforcing arbitral awards. We have managed cases worth billions of dollars and across multiple jurisdictions, including those of Egyptian, Jordanian, Kuwaiti, Lebanese, Qatari, Syrian, Tunisian, UAE, Libyan, Yemeni, English, French, Swiss, American and Indian law.
I believe OLF has remained a consistent regional leader due to our team’s dedication to producing only the highest calibre of work. We work hard to uphold our reputation for consistently providing unmatched legal services to our clients. Our painstaking focus on quality often requires long hours and intense devotion, but we believe the excellent results we gain for our clients are worth our efforts.
Part of our adherence to quality is incorporating a multicultural approach within our team. Our members come from a diverse set of ages, nationalities, backgrounds and expertise, and are collectively fluent in Arabic, English and French. We believe these factors strengthen our multifaceted approach to cases.
For over three decades, our lawyers have advised on legal reforms across the MENA region and specialised in complex cross-border matters where expert knowledge of multiple legal systems is required. Operating across multiple jurisdictions often requires not only an academic knowledge of a region but also life experience, and our team offers this deep understanding necessary to succeed.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT PRACTISING INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION?
I enjoy the multicultural environment arbitration provides and the challenges in solving complex disputes – and, in particular, the thrill of engaging in international law.
I especially enjoy practising in the Middle East. Staying in Lebanon, I have a message and a mission: to be among my peers, and spread awareness and knowledge. As arbitration is still a developing field in the region, I have the opportunity to educate others on the subject, which is one of my great passions.
Understanding and meeting parties’ expectations is important to me, as is upholding the greater ethical standard of arbitration. The enforceability of arbitral awards is significant in upholding international justice across jurisdictions. By nurturing a vision of fairness and justice, arbitrators act as architects of peace through their appropriate use of advanced dispute resolution methods. Integrity is the cornerstone of our practice.
WHAT STEPS CAN YOUNGER ARBITRATION PRACTITIONERS TAKE TO IMPROVE THEIR CHANCES OF GETTING APPOINTMENTS? IS THERE AN IMPORTANT ROLE TO PLAY HERE FOR MORE EXPERIENCED LAWYERS IN THE FIELD?
I am aware that in order to be able to act more efficiently, the younger generation needs to be given opportunities to act. The international arbitration world can seem impenetrable to some young lawyers trying to exercise in this field.
So how do young people unlock this seemingly closed door? The key is education. Arbitration is becoming increasingly specialised and diverse, so it is critical that young arbitrators foster a multicultural background as early as possible. They should not only be fluent in several languages, but also have a comparative law background.
I also firmly believe experienced lawyers should take an active role in mentoring younger arbitration practitioners. It is the duty of the experienced generation to educate the younger generation to grow beyond themselves in the world of arbitration.
It should be common practice for law firms to foster a culture that welcomes youth and new talent. An integral part of OLF’s ethos is to grow as a socially responsible organisation and, to this end, we are committed to playing an active and responsible role in all levels of society both in Lebanon and the greater MENA region. OLF firm members regularly engage in pro bono activities to raise legal awareness among youth in the general public. We also work to help future generations of legal professionals bolster their local expertise and gain greater exposure to the international arbitration arena.
YOU FREQUENTLY ACT AS ARBITRATOR AND COUNSEL– HOW DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE IN EACH ROLE ENHANCE YOUR PRACTICE IN THE OTHER?
Both roles enhance each other.
I have a clear understanding of what to focus on when drafting a submission, how to convey key points to the tribunal, and how to gain a tribunal’s trust. I am also familiar with how counsel should address key points through avoiding too much muddling explanation and striving for concise clarity. I know how a counsel should focus on its goal and pertinent issues.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE GREATEST CHALLENGE FACING THE GENERATION OF ARBITRATION PRACTITIONERS BEHIND YOU?
The legal field now must adapt to changes in technology, online dispute resolution and the inclusion of artificial intelligence, notably in arbitration.
LOOKING BACK OVER YOUR CAREER, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE?
Establishing one of the first law firms in the MENA region founded by a woman has been my greatest achievement, and promoting arbitration education in the Middle East and Lebanon has always been my passion. I have taken an active role in spreading education through trainings, conferences, and events that share information about arbitration and ensure that practitioners in the region understand they must be trained in both procedure and law. This commitment to education culminated in my election as president of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb), and later, companion to the president.
It is my privilege to have the opportunity to continue to uphold and build upon CIArb’s achievements, including promoting the resolution of private disputes through education and training, developing the learned society, and facilitating advanced dispute resolution.
It is crucial that dispute resolution professionals of all ages constantly educate themselves. By educating ourselves, we not learn only to adapt and apply different methods, but also to stimulate our minds and welcome innovation.
Nayla Comair-Obeid is a distinguished name in the African market, with peers noting that she is a "legendary lawyer" who is "really prepared, knows the issues and gets it right".
Professor Dr Nayla Comair-Obeid, founding partner of Obeid Law Firm, heads the firm's dispute resolution practice. Author of The Law of Business Contracts in the Middle East, Professsor Comair-Obeid publishes prolifically and is regularly invited to lecture at world-renowned academic institutions where her articles and scholarly publications are often cited as reference works.
Throughout her career, Professor Comair-Obeid has held and continues to hold prominent positions in several major international arbitration institutions. Professor Comair-Obeid chaired the board of trustees of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) in 2014, she is past-president of CIArb for 2017. In 2018 Professor Comair-Obeid was appointed as CIArb Companion. Professor Comair-Obeid is also a member of the LCIA Court; trustee of the Cairo Regional Centre for International Arbitration; council member of the Institute of World Business Law of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC); and a member of the ICSID panel of arbitrators and conciliators. In August 2018, she was appointed as a member of China's international commercial expert committee of the Supreme People's Court.
A specialist in international business law and Islamic and Middle Eastern legislation, Professor Comair-Obeid regularly serves as counsel or arbitrator in complex international arbitrations conducted in Arabic, French or English, both ad hoc and under a variety of international arbitration rules. Professor Comair-Obeid is also often called upon as a legal expert on various aspects of Lebanese law and Middle Eastern legislations in foreign courts and arbitral proceedings. Professor Comair-Obeid is referred to as “pre-eminent in her field” and a “leading authority in international arbitration” by international legal publications.