Isabelle Michou
Office:
6 rue Lamennais
75008
City:
Paris
Country:
France
Tel:
+33 1 73 44 60 00

Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Arbitration

Isabelle Michou is a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP in Paris. Canadian and French, she is dual-qualified in France and in England. Her practice focuses on commercial and investor-state arbitration, under all major arbitration rules, and covers a broad range of sectors including energy, large-infrastructure projects, telecoms, hotel management. She acts as counsel for both corporations and states, and also regularly sits as arbitrator. She appears in courts in arbitration-related litigations in France. Isabelle has been deeply involved in publishing and speaking on international arbitration, including on advocacy.

DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.

I grew up in Canada, then moved to France to study private international law at the University of Pantheon-Sorbonne (Paris I), a postgraduate degree that has long been run by professor Pierre Mayer. Right from the start, I wanted to focus on international contentious work. International arbitration was a compelling choice for me. I started my career in the late 1990s at the Paris office of Herbert Smith before going to their London office for several years. The first case I was given to argue during my first year as an associate was an objection to the jurisdiction of the French court based on an ICC arbitration clause. This was my first advocacy experience. In London, I had an opportunity to focus exclusively on international arbitration. Since then, I have never stopped working in that field. When I returned to Paris, I was made partner and, some years later, head of practice and a board member. Recently, I decided to join Quinn Emanuel to embrace a new challenge and contribute to the amazing growth of an arbitration practice that literally did not exist just a few years ago. 

WHAT IMPACT HAS YOUR WORK AND EXPERIENCE AS COUNSEL HAD ON YOUR APPROACH TO PROCEEDINGS WHEN ACTING AS ARBITRATOR?

Each complements and nurtures the other. When sitting as an arbitrator, I can better understand the constraints and challenges that counsel may sometimes experience with their clients. For instance, acting for states often leads to structural difficulties and delays in obtaining instructions and documents which may require, in turn, longer periods of time for the filing of written submissions or document production. On a different note, as counsel, I particularly enjoy doing closing argument at a hearing. It is often one of the best moments to really interact with the arbitrators and nail down the points that may remain open in their mind. As arbitrator, I therefore invite parties to do closing arguments whenever appropriate. It is a good opportunity to test a party’s best case, once all the evidence is in.

Conversely, my work and experience as arbitrator has given me useful insight into what works and what does not work as counsel. For instance, I always try to draft my written submissions in a way that is short, efficient and user-friendly because I like it that way as an arbitrator. I am a firm believer in the “less is more” approach (which in fact requires more work). A large and complex written submission will often be better served by a short and well-articulated argument, using simple language. Hundreds and hundreds of pages may bury not just the lead but the entire point.

SINCE YOU BEGAN YOUR CAREER, WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN RELATION TO THE WAY THAT ARBITRATION PROCEEDINGS ARE CONDUCTED?

There have been several recent big changes in the way arbitration proceedings are conducted (less time and costs, more transparency, more diversity, more arbitrators’ disclosure to avoid conflicts, more ethics). Often, these changes have been triggered by the criticisms towards international arbitration and a demand for improvement.

Just to elaborate on one example, there is an increasing appetite for procedural tools to expedite proceedings. For instance, emergency arbitrator provisions have been introduced in most institutional arbitration rules and are increasingly used by the parties. There’s the introduction of expedited/fast-track proceedings for smaller disputes which can be opted-in for larger disputes; the use of some sort of “summary judgment” or early determination without going through the whole process, in case of claims or defences that are manifestly unmeritorious or outside the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction; and the use of financial sanctions in case of arbitrators’ delays in making their award. These tools, albeit not necessarily all new, are there because arbitration proceedings have often become too long and there is a need to address these delays.

YOU ARE WELL KNOWN FOR YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE ENERGY SECTOR. TO WHAT EXTENT IS INDUSTRY SPECIALISM NECESSARY IN THE ROLE OF A COUNSEL?

I have always enjoyed working in the energy sector, including in disputes involving electricity and renewable energy, in both commercial and investor-state arbitrations. Industry-specialism is important to understand the insights into a particular business. However, one of the most exciting aspects of being an arbitration specialist is that you get to work on a large caseload across a number of different industry sectors. I have done cases in other sectors such as telecoms, finance, aeronautics, defence and technology. Each case is unique and gives an opportunity to learn about a business from the client’s perspective. The key is to bring in our expertise in resolution of international disputes and arbitral processes, combine it with our knowledge and understanding of a client’s business and determine what is important to achieve the best result.

WHAT CHANGES DO YOU EXPECT TO ACCOMPANY THE EMERGENCE OF NEW REGIONAL ARBITRAL SEATS AROUND THE GLOBE?

Over the past few years, we have seen the emergence of regional arbitral places around the globe. Regional knowledge is valuable when negotiating a contract and an arbitration clause, when navigating into the arbitration processes. However, we should avoid generalisations. There is not one way of doing arbitration in Africa, or in the Arab world. Arbitration is – and must remain – an international and neutral dispute resolution mechanism.

The key for emerging arbitral seats will be to gain a good track record of cases and have a safe and attractive legal framework which in turn requires good arbitral laws and courts that apply the law with a view to facilitating arbitration agreements and arbitral awards, with no interference with the arbitral process except in support of arbitration.

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION HAS COME UNDER FIRE FOR THE UNDER-REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN AMONG ITS PRACTITIONERS. WHAT STEPS DO YOU BELIEVE THE COMMUNITY NEEDS TO TAKE TO OVERCOME THIS CHALLENGE?

The arbitration community has already taken steps to overcome this challenge and things are already changing, even if more efforts can be done.

Diversity should not, however, be limited to gender; it should also extend to generational and regional changes.

HOW DO YOU SEE THE FIELD OF INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION DEVELOPING OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?

One interesting development to watch will be in the field of investor-state arbitration: how will arbitral tribunals react to the March 2018 Achmea judgment of the CJEU? The Court’s judgment relates to the matter of compatibility of arbitration provisions in bilateral investment treaties with EU law, in disputes between an EU member state and an investor from another EU member state – often called “intra-EU BIT claims”. The judgment has, in my view, a limited reach. It is not binding on arbitral tribunals. It is not relevant for commercial arbitration. Nor is it relevant for ICSID arbitration or arbitrations based on the ECT. If this judgment were to be given a general reach (and it should not), it would create many problems. It is not, however, so much of a stretch to visualise that the landscape for investors within the EU will change in the future. It is hoped that the EU will find a more harmonious, and less ideological, way to approach promotion and protection of foreign investments. It will be key to keep the availability of a neutral international forum to resolve disputes.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH OTHER LAWYERS WHO HOPE ONE DAY TO BE IN YOUR POSITION?

One key piece of advice is to start with a robust academic education in private law and international law. International arbitration can be learnt later in private practice (in a dedicated international arbitration team). Excellence must be a key goal throughout a career. This requires not only hard work but also a great deal of perception. It is also important to get advocacy experience as soon as possible. And remain curious and open-minded at all times.

Biography:

Who's Who Legal Arbitration: Lawyers

Isabelle Michou is a partner at Quinn Emanuel, based in the firm’s Paris office. She has extensive experience in international arbitration (both investor-state and commercial) in a range of industries, including large-scale infrastructure projects, oil and gas, telecoms and hotel management, often in cases involving Africa, the Middle East and Europe. She has appeared as counsel before numerous high-profile arbitral tribunals, under the auspices of the major institutional rules, including ICC, ICSID, LCIA and Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, as well as ad hoc arbitrations under the UNCITRAL Rules.

Isabelle also appears in arbitration-related proceedings before the French courts as well as before the courts of some Francophone Africa countries, in cases involving objections to jurisdiction based on arbitration clause, issues of interim or conservatory relief, enforcement and challenges of arbitral awards and sovereign immunities.

She is regularly appointed arbitrator in arbitrations under various sets of rules (ICC, LCIA, SCC, PCA’s Optional Rules for Arbitration of Disputes Relating to Natural Resources and/or the Environment).

She is French and Canadian, and dual-qualified as a Paris avocat and a solicitor of England and Wales.

She has been involved deeply in publishing and speaking on international arbitration. She also teaches advocacy in international arbitration at the law school of Sciences Po in Paris and at the School of International Arbitration at Queen Mary University of London. She is on the executive committee of the Swiss-based Foundation for International Arbitration Advocacy (FIAA).

WWL says: Isabelle Michou has "tremendous commitment" and offers "intelligent representation" to clients. She is particularly known for her "significant expertise in the energy sector".

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Arbitration which can be purchased from our Shop.

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