Justyna Szpara is an advocate, partner and head of dispute resolution practice group at Łaszczuk & Partners. For more than 15 years she has been advising and representing Polish and international clients in commercial disputes in litigation and in domestic and international arbitration disputes. She has been involved as a counsel in a number of high-profile arbitrations under the rules of the Court of Arbitration at the Polish Chamber of Commerce, Lewiatan Arbitration Court, ICC and UNCITRAL Rules, as well as in post-arbitration litigations.
1. Why have you decided to specialise in arbitration? Tell us about your legal journey to ADR.
Arbitration has not been my dream specialization when I was a student or a young practitioner. Well, I did hear about arbitration and even participated in moot competitions, but this was mainly for fun factor involved therewith.
My key objective when I was starting my legal carrier was to diversify my experience – both in terms of areas of law as well legal skills. Therefore, in my early years I practiced tax law, and I found this area to be truly fascinating. Later, I moved to real estate practice, and I did transactional work, as well as advice in commercial lease, construction, etc. I had also a short episode as an M&A lawyer and did general corporate work.
Dispute resolution, and in particular arbitration, came late into my career. There happened to be a major arbitration case that I got involved in, and then I realized this may be an area of legal practice that I want to settle with for a longer time.
There are certainly many possible ways to enter the ADR world. For me, this was a path through various other experiences. Thanks to all of that I am able to better understand the cases that I deal with as counsel or arbitrator.
2. How is your arbitration practice different from your general litigation experience?
Arbitration practice makes it possible to see cases from a very different perspective. When you sit as an arbitrator, the perception of submissions, witness statements and oral pleadings is entirely different than when you participate in a case as a counsel. Such experience allows to better understand the process and thanks to that I believe also to be a better counsel in arbitration.
In litigation, such diversified experience is of course not available. As in many other jurisdictions, also in Poland civil litigation is much more focused on the procedure than arbitration, and much effort is allocated to being in line with formal requirements. This is absent from arbitration and this is certainly something which, in my view, is a great benefit that the parties may take from arbitration. This is a benefit, but also a burden, as it takes skills and knowledge to be able to use the flexibility that arbitration offers in a proper way that contributes to efficient dispute resolution.
3. What do you consider to be your biggest achievement in the field thus far?
I started my work as an arbitrator in 2010. This is when I got my first appointment as an arbitrator. At that time, it was a very small case, but I can still remember the anxiety rising up when I was opening my first arbitration hearing as an arbitrator. As with everything else in life, it took time to learn this new role and be able to deliver the quality service to arbitration users. What has been my motto over those years is that as an arbitrator I wish to manage cases and treat counsel and parties in a way I would wish to be treated myself being a party or a counsel in arbitration. I am happy that this approach works. Throughout the years, I have managed – I believe – to get recognition in the arbitration community and I have been involved so far, as an arbitrator, in almost 100 cases. This recognition is what I consider to be my greatest achievement.
4. What is it like to work in a predominantly male profession such as ADR?
I do believe that this is a great time for women practicing international arbitration. With all the discussion and attention given to diversity in international arbitration, with The Pledge, with efforts taken by many arbitration institutions to promote appointments of female arbitrators, I believe it is easier than ever for women to start and develop a career as an arbitrator. Also, parties and counsel start to realize that diversity is a true value in international arbitration. I urge all my female colleagues to use this opportunity and take a step into a carrier in international arbitration.
5. How has a membership with the CIArb benefitted your career?
CIArb is a brand recognized all over the world. Being a Fellow of the CIArb stands, in the eyes of many professionals, for experience and quality. Being able to use this brand is certainly a career booster.
But CIArb gives much more that that. In the first place, it is a worldwide organization of arbitration professionals. This creates countless opportunities for networking, which is something that cannot be overestimated in the legal profession, and in particular in international arbitration.
Last but not least, CIArb allows to improve your knowledge and skills as an arbitrator. It is not only through actual work as an arbitrator that one can learn these. CIArb can help to get practical knowledge of the arbitration process and to become a better arbitrator.
6. Tell us about your interests, hobbies or any out of work activities.
When out of work as counsel or arbitrator, I put on my dancing shoes and turn into tanguera, i.e. an Argentine tango dancer. I used to say that you can translate a lot from the tango experience into your arbitration practice. When dancing tango, the most important rule it that whatever your partner does, you can never loose balance and must always stand on your own feet. I believe this is also a piece of advice that can be given to any arbitrator.
Tango requires commitment and hard work; you cannot learn to dance tango overnight and it takes years and years to actually learn how to lead or follow in tango. The same is true for developing a career in international arbitration; it does take effort, but if you get there, it can be a truly exciting and fulfilling experience.