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”.
“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.