My summer school experience at Durham Law School

Ifeoma Olisaeloka

I spent a week over the summer at Durham Law School for their summer school on International Arbitration. The course presented a fantastic opportunity for me to gain practical knowledge on international commercial arbitration from leading scholars and practitioners in a comparative context and will immensely benefit my professional development after my studies here in Durham. 

I am passionate about the development of the Nigerian economy.  

This is because I come from Nigeria, a developing country, where a lot of foreign investors take advantage of the natural resources in the country through foreign direct investments in different industries. A major component of these foreign investment agreements is the arbitration clauses which have become a favoured mechanism for the resolution of disputes arising from the implementation of the agreements. The arbitration terrain in Nigeria has few professionals hence many local corporations resort to international arbitration practitioners from other jurisdictions to represent them before foreign investment tribunals. 

Summer 2022 cohort

My biggest learning? 

I learned and benefitted so much more from this one-week course than I have in any previous classroom training or discussion on arbitration. I particularly found the session on the arbitration process very insightful. It introduced me to a dispute resolution procedure and mechanism different from what I was accustomed to in my home country. I found myself constantly challenging previously held assumptions from my (solely common law) perspective on what an effective arbitration procedure should look like. I have certainly gotten broader and holistic perspectives and will take up further research on the subject. 

Learning on the summer school

The highly experienced faculty had an immense effect on me. 

The faculty was excellent and the debate among the faculty on varying perspectives on the law and practice of international arbitration was very enlightening. On a personal note, interacting with the highly experienced faculty at the summer course had an immense effect on me. The faculty which comprised of leading male and female arbitration practitioners helped deconstruct the hegemonic assumptions I previously held about international arbitration being a solely ‘white male dominated field’. Growing up and learning the practice of law in a jurisdiction where there are so few practitioners in international arbitration, it was easy to view the field of international arbitration as being very lofty and only for a certain category of persons. I had often been told that arbitration and dispute resolution was a terrain for men, and it was easier for women to stick to the corporate side of law. I have had to wade through the disappointing experience of being labelled an angry female whilst trying to advocate for, and demand for hands-on experience as my fellow young male colleagues. 

A group of students from the summer school

A very enriching experience  

The discussions at the summer school were of greater depths than students would typically have examined during their regular coursework on the subject, and I strongly recommend this summer course to students and young lawyers alike. Having a faculty comprised of such experts and arbitration practitioners from around the globe made my learning experience at the summer school a very enriching one. Consequently, it was very inspiring for me to hear all that the facilitators had accomplished in their respective careers and the landmarks cases they had all worked on. The faculty represented evidence for me that with hard work and resilience, I can also find my place at any professional table I wished. Interacting with the different scholars and professionals at this transitional phase of my career has been such a blessing as I had no prior experience or training in international arbitration which is why the course has been of immense benefit to me professionally. I have had deep reflections and assessments of where I currently am and where I would like my career to be some years from now. 

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Ifeoma Olisaeloka

Ifeoma Olisaeloka is a Nigerian qualified lawyer with over 3 years post qualification experience in dispute resolution, corporate law and antitrust law. She is currently undertaking an LLM in international trade and commercial law at the Durham Law School. Ifeoma is the 2021/2022 Hatfield Lioness Scholar and currently serves as the secretary of the Middle Common Room at Hatfield College. She was also on the team that represented Durham University at the Wilem.C.Vis Moot international arbitration competition. She was a participant at the Durham Summer Course on International Commercial Arbitration where she gained practical knowledge and skills on the law and practice of international arbitration.

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