Nayla Comair-Obeid is "a renowned international arbitrator" with "a mastery of arbitration issues" as well as "excellent knowledge of the legal aspects, be it civil or common law".
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; the international commercial expert committee of China’s Supreme People’s Court; and the London Court of International Arbitration. She is also a companion of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) and former CIArb president, and sits on the ICSID panel of arbitrators and conciliators. She is recognised as one of the world’s leading practitioners in international arbitration and dispute resolution. Fluent in Arabic, French and English, she is qualified to practise in Paris and Beirut.
What has been your most interesting arbitration to date as an arbitrator?
It is hard to identify one particular case as the most interesting. Each of the arbitration cases in which I have acted as an arbitrator, whether large or small, presented thought-provoking issues and arguments. Equally interesting, and at times challenging, is the interplay between counsel and arbitrators’ varied backgrounds and legal cultures. Observing the interactions between global players and different legal cultures at work is part of the beauty of international arbitration.
How has the market changed since you first started practising?
Over the span of my 40 years of practice, the market has evolved greatly; it is now larger and more competitive. Arbitration in recent years has become far more contentious, in the sense that the practitioners are more pugnacious and confrontational than in the early years of my career. Also, cases have grown in complexity, and encompass a broader range of areas. As a consequence, the average duration of international arbitrations has lengthened. A decade ago, the conduct of cases was smoother, and proceedings were shorter.
How did your role as president of CIArb enhance your practice?
I was in close contact with different actors at all levels of the organisation, including the various local branches of CIArb around the world. This role, as well as my involvement in the organisation of three flagship conferences (held in Dubai, Johannesburg and Paris) during my presidency, enhanced my practice by considerably enriching my knowledge of the issues and challenges faced by those participating in shaping international arbitration policy and practice worldwide. My interactions with a wide range of practitioners and the judiciary, coming from various cultural and legal backgrounds, has been very inspiring and refined my approach and understanding of what constitutes best practices in international arbitration and other ADR mechanisms.
As a founding partner at the firm, what are your main priorities for Obeid Law Firm’s development over the next five years?
Obeid Law Firm’s top priority is to continue to offer the highest calibre of work to its clients; this is our most important value. We work hard to uphold our reputation for consistently providing what I believe are unmatched legal services in our region. One of our main strengths is the multicultural approach adopted within our team. Our members come from a diverse set of nationalities, backgrounds and expertise, and are collectively fluent in Arabic, English and French.
As an ICSID panel member, what do you make of the planned proposals for a multilateral investment court?
As an ICSID panel member, I have witnessed growing criticism directed against the current investment arbitration system.
I am apprehensive of replacing the autonomous mechanism for the resolution of investment disputes with a mechanism that provides limited autonomy to both parties. I believe that changes can be implemented while keeping in mind the role that investor-state dispute settlement plays in supporting investment and economic activities worldwide, and with a view to promoting both states’ and investors’ complementary interests.
What advice would you give to younger practitioners hoping to one day be in your position?
Having practised and taught law for over 40 years, I encourage young practitioners to pursue their education, as it is the most powerful asset for lawyers. They should have a clear purpose, set ambitious goals and targets, and constantly seek to perform with professional excellence. It is inevitable that various challenges will come their way. However, they should learn to embrace them, and to keep moving with full energy and determination. I encourage them to savour the journey, and display courteous manners and empathy.
What is the greatest challenge that arbitrators face in commercial arbitrations today?
Arbitration is facing a crisis of legitimacy, as a result of which legal actions and challenges against arbitrators are increasing. It is important for arbitrators to act with integrity in order to protect the sustainability of the profession. The profession also needs more robust arbitrators who know how to strike the balance between efficiency and preserving due process and the right to be heard.
You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
Throughout my career, and up to this day, I have aimed to support the empowerment of women worldwide, and particularly in the Middle East where opportunities for women to meet their full potential and have accomplished careers in the long run remain scarce. I would like to pursue this avenue further in the years to come. I am convinced that women can contribute to solving many of the current global issues, including with respect to conflicts and crises. We have witnessed the pivotal role played by women in the management of crises, such as that created by covid-19, and I am convinced more generally that they are capable of groundbreaking leadership.
Global Elite Thought Leader Nayla Comair-Obeid is a “renowned international arbitrator” with a “mastery of the issues at hand” as well as “excellent legal knowledge”.
Professor Dr Comair-Obeid is the founding partner of Obeid Law Firm, a professor of law and associate member of 3VB Chambers in London. She is a member of the ICC Executive Board; the international commercial expert committee of China’s Supreme People’s Court; and the London Court of International Arbitration. She is also a companion of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) and former CIArb president, and sits on the ICSID panel of arbitrators and conciliators. She is recognised as one of the world’s leading practitioners in international arbitration and dispute resolution. Fluent in Arabic, French and English, she is qualified to practise in Paris and Beirut.
What do you find most interesting about working in arbitration in the construction sector?
I have been engaged in mega construction projects in the MENA whether as an arbitrator or as counsel and have developed an expertise and knowledge of the ins and outs of complex construction disputes in the region. I thus witnessed the relative complexity of construction disputes, notably the mass documentation and the wide range of technicalities and legal issues related to each case. I am particularly drawn to the intellectual challenges that come with each construction dispute.
How do you effectively handle disputes spanning several jurisdictions?
As a practising counsel and arbitrator, I regularly deal with contracts based on FIDIC forms of contract with Sharia law influences. Considerable attention should be given to the legal principles of the applicable substantive law in the MENA region. Hence, effective handling of such disputes requires a strong grasp of both the legal and technical issues at stake.
What are currently the greatest sources of construction disputes, and how can clients best mitigate the risk of them?
While conflicts may arise at every level in a project, the most common sources of disputes are related to contract termination, unforeseen events, design changes, interpretation of employer’s requirements, delays, liquidated damages etc. These disputes could be avoided through the early resolution of the project issues. This could be achieved through the inclusion of a dispute board provision in the contract. In the Middle East, encouraging the recourse to dispute boards could help clients mitigate the risks of escalating their dispute into arbitration.
What are the main challenges currently facing lawyers in the construction sector?
The main challenge lawyers are facing is the competition in the construction industry. Comparative legal expertise and technical skills are key tools to succeed and become recognised as specialist in the industry. Another challenge in the construction market is the ability to provide cost effective legal services.
It has been noted that mediation is increasingly being used to resolve construction disputes. Why do you think it is becoming more popular as a form of dispute resolution?
Mediation helps maintain the relationship between the parties when conflicts arise on a project. I have witnessed an increasing recourse to mediation in infrastructure projects in the MENA region. I believe that, with the covid-19 pandemic and the liquidity issues related thereto, parties will be inclined to resort more often to mediation as a cost-effective means to resolve their dispute.
What is the key to successful negotiation in dispute resolution?
Successful negotiations should start at contract drafting, especially regarding the dispute resolution clause. The key to successful negotiation here is for the parties to be well prepared, anticipate the other party’s arguments, and clearly define their obligations and the allocation of risks.
In your opinion, where does the future of arbitration in the Middle East lie?
The MENA region is witnessing considerable developments in terms of modernising its arbitration legislation with a continuous increase of disputes being referred to arbitration. The region will no doubt remain a major market for construction disputes in the years to come. The covid-19 pandemic will generate additional disputes in various sectors which are likely to be referred to arbitration. The different actors will also need to adapt and implement new technologies to save costs and time.
What advice would you give to younger lawyers looking to specialise in construction law?
My advice to the young lawyers would be to specialise in construction law, build their comparative legal skills and perform with professional excellence by acquiring the necessary practical knowledge.
"She is calm, polite and not afraid to make decisions which will keep an arbitration on track"
"She is excellent lawyer, speaks several languages, perfectly knows the cases in which she is working, and made important contributions to the procedure, especially to the drafting of the award"
Professor Dr Nayla Comair-Obeid, founding partner of Obeid Law Firm, heads the firm's dispute resolution practice and is a dual-qualified lawyer admitted to both the Beirut and Paris Bars. She is also an associate member of 3 Verulam Buildings (3VB). Author of The Law of Business Contracts in the Middle East, Professor 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, pre-eminent positions in many of the major international legal institutions. At present, she is a member of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) executive board; companion of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb); member of China's international commercial expert committee of the Supreme People's Court; member of the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA); member of the Institute of World Business Law of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris; and trustee of the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA). She also sits on the ICSID panel of arbitrators and conciliators.
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.
“Nayla is a key practitioner in the construction sector”
“She is absolutely brilliant”
Professor Dr Comair-Obeid is the founding partner of Obeid Law Firm, a professor of law and associate member of 3VB Chambers in London. She is a member of the ICC executive board and the London Court of International Arbitration. She is also a companion of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and former CIArb president, and sits on the ICSID panel of arbitrators and conciliators. She has been identified as Arbitrator Intelligence’s “Presiding Arbitrator of the Year” for 2020. Fluent in Arabic, French and English, she’s qualified to practice in Paris and Beirut.
Professor Dr Comair-Obeid has been engaged in mega construction projects in the MENA as an arbitrator or as counsel and have developed an expertise and knowledge of complex construction disputes in the region. She regularly deals with contracts based on FIDIC forms of contract with Sharia law influences and has extensive knowledge in the legal principles of the applicable substantive law in the MENA region. Through her comparative legal expertise and technical skills, she performed with professional excellence and gained the reputation of a specialist in this industry.
Professor Dr 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. Professor Comair-Obeid has been systematically identified as one of the world’s leading practitioners in the field of international arbitration and dispute resolution by the internationally renowned legal publications, referring to her as "grand dame of Middle East arbitration", "legendary lawyer" who is "really prepared, knows the issues and gets it right".