International arbitrator shares tips with UHLC students

Lorraine Brennan, who has spent most of her career in arbitration of international contracts, answers questions from UHLC students about succeeding in the demanding specialty.

Lorraine Brennan, who has spent most of her career in arbitration of international contracts, answers questions from UHLC students about succeeding in the demanding specialty.

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Sept. 10, 2013 – A career specialist in complex, international arbitration gave University of Houston Law Center students hard-learned tips on how to get into and succeed in the growing field.

Lorraine Brennan, managing director of JAMS International, a mediation and arbitration service provider, was trained as a litigator and worked for several law firms before realizing her goal of practicing international law and gravitating to arbitration of commercial contracts.

“I had a goal, but I didn’t have a plan,” she told students Monday in a roundtable discussion hosted by Jim Lawrence, director of the Blakely Advocacy Institute. As a child Brennan dreamed of visiting faraway places and succeeded, having worked in 37 foreign countries.

“International arbitration is very, very demanding,” she said, adding, “you spend a lot of time on planes.”  Cases are complex and the field is hard on marriages, she said, the work routinely requiring seven-day weeks, but she wouldn’t choose any other career.

“Very few people get up in the morning and really want to go to work; many people hate their job. Do something you really like,” she advised the students.

She offered a number of tips, some general, some specific to international law and arbitration:

  • Keep an open mind. Look at every job as an opportunity even if it does not meet your hopes for salary or prestige; you may learn “lawyering” at a smaller firm and the experience might open doors that lead to bigger things. Brennan said it took her eight jobs with law firms and various international arbitration organizations to get where she is most happy and comfortable today.
  • Always strive for excellence in what you do and be honest if you are overworked. Do not let one project slide in hopes of finishing another: “Partners have long memories.”
  • Part of finding a career is learning what you are not good at; be honest with yourself about your skill set.
  • Learn to adjust to various cultures and customs. For instance, early on in her career Japanese businessmen would not deal with women in legal cases. Brennan also said she sometimes needed to tone down her approach in order to finesse a point during an arbitration.
  • Learn as many languages as possible even if you are not conversant enough to handle the arbitration in a foreign language, it is invaluable to be able to read and understand foreign documents. It also helps  in forming a relationship with others involved in the process.
  • Join and get involved in as many international organizations as possible to meet and learn from other professionals.

Brennan has taught as an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School and Georgetown University Law School and as a visiting professor at Shantou University Law School in Guangdong, China. She is an accredited mediator and frequent speaker on international dispute resolution at conferences and seminars throughout the world.

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