International Women's Day 2022: Fireside Chat with Fahira Brodlija
2022-04-12

For International Women’s Day 2022, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee is pleased to celebrate the brilliant achievements of Fahira Brodlija. Fahira is a renowned international commercial and investment arbitration expert. She is the Director of Research for Arbitrator Intelligence, and its ambassador for the Central and Eastern European region. She is also the Country Coordinator for a legal reform project in the Western Balkans. Fahira has been a Vis Moot coach of the law faculties from Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2016. She is a member of Association ARBITRI, an NGO founded by young attorneys in Bosnia and Herzegovina, seeking to enhance and promote the arbitration system in the country. Fahira obtained her BA from the University of Sarajevo Faculty of Law in 2016  and LL.M from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2017.

Please tell us a bit more about yourself and your work on diversity in Dispute Resolution?

I am a Rule of Law Advisor in a GIZ project dedicated to legal reform in the Western Balkans. My work is focused particularly on the reform of investor-State dispute settlement. Diversity and inclusiveness permeate all the projects and activities of GIZ, particularly in the realm of legal reform and the rule of law. With a focus on arbitration, my project supports initiatives for increased diversity in practice, and the education of the next generation of diverse arbitration practitioners. For example, in collaboration with ArbitralWomen, GIZ has supported the Women Pioneers in International Arbitration publication that highlights the women trailblazers and rising stars in the profession. In addition, our project regularly supports regional pre-moots and organizes student workshops and clinics on international arbitration to engage students from various background and expand the pool of future arbitration practitioners.

At Arbitrator Intelligence, I manage a talented research team collecting and analysing data on arbitrators in pursuit of greater transparency, accountability and diversity in international arbitration. By spotlighting less known and diverse arbitrators, our analytics seek to level the playing field for arbitrators and practitioners from all over the world.

I also teach at the International University of Sarajevo, and I am a coach of the IUS Vis Moot team. Aside from professional engagements, I am a member of the Academic Forum for ISDS Reform, ArbitralWomen and Association ARBITRI (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Please describe to us your career trajectory.

After graduation, I have worked as an arbitration trainee at a boutique arbitration law firm in Amman, Jordan where I assisted the partners in preparations for various arbitral proceedings seated in Dubai and London. Following this experience, I have returned to Sarajevo where I got involved in a judicial capacity building project before moving to GIZ where I currently work directly with governments in the Western Balkans region to enhance their capacities for the avoidance and management of investment disputes. Considering the lack of a developed arbitration practice in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have strived to take advantage of any opportunity to get involved in arbitration-related projects, whether regional or international. Despite the temptation to apply to one of the larger law firms in Europe where I could practice arbitration directly, I have decided to focus on creating conditions for a robust arbitration practice in my country so that we can also become part of the global mosaic in the future. There is a long way to go, but there has been tremendous progress only in the past five years, and there is a lot of potential for further growth.

How did you become interested in diversity in the Dispute Resolution Community?

My interest and journey in dispute resolution started in the Law Faculty in Sarajevo, followed me through my involvement in the Vis Moot and then to my LL.M. studies at the University of Pittsburgh. I developed a keen understanding of the importance of robust dispute resolution mechanisms outside the courts, but also the importance of inclusiveness and representation in the legal profession. The Vis Moot experience (first as a student, and then as a coach for over five years) has opened my eyes to the benefits and challenges of pursuing and ensuring diversity in the field of international arbitration. Since then, most of my professional and academic endeavours have been interwoven with initiatives to foster diversity and inclusiveness. My interest in diversity, like that of many advocates, has a very strong personal element. With each step in my career, I have faced obstacles that were clearly linked to my gender, nationality and religion. Since my story is far from unique, I am determined to make the journey at least a little easier to those who are entering the profession in the years to come.

What are the highlights of your career so far?

I generally do not view specific events as highlights, but I am rather inspired and driven by the connections I make and the long-term effects of my work. Therefore, I am always happy to hear from my former students about moments when I helped them discover some hidden strength or overcome a fear or obstacle in their work. Many of them have told me that they chose to pursue work in international arbitration, whether in practice or academia, under my influence, which reaffirms that my work has a real-life impact. I hope there will be many more to come, because their generation will put Bosnia and Herzegovina on the map of the international arbitration community in the years to come.

What are the key lessons you have learnt so far during your career?

While I am still learning on a daily basis, there are a couple of things that follow me in all my work, that I have realized early in my career, which apply in all areas of life. Firstly, real success takes time and patience, and any form of instant gratification is not likely to bring true fulfilment and growth. It is very difficult for young lawyers to accept the fact that there will not be praise and rewards for all their hard work, but ultimately, when the time comes, it all pays off in scores. Another very important lesson is that no matter what the external pressures may be, it is very important to stay authentic and to follow your own moral compass and formula for excellence. Never lower your standards to fit in, and do not follow the path of others just because you think they know where they are going.

Have you faced any discrimination in your career? If so, how did you overcome these challenges?

Discrimination against women in my country and region is a common feature of everyday work, so I have certainly experienced severe salary inequality, having male colleagues travel abroad to present the outputs that I have developed, as well as constant inappropriate comments, including that I should dress a certain way for certain events. Luckily, I am in a much healthier environment now, and such things are far behind me. However, at times, even today, there are unpleasant episodes with external partners. My experiences have made me more alert to the smallest display of improper conduct, and I make sure to maintain a safe and nurturing environment in all my teams.  

Is there any advice would you give to women who are just starting their legal education and career as well as to your younger self?

The most important piece of advice would be to stop looking for external advice as a formula for success. I often get questions about how to progress and succeed in international arbitration, and the fact is that there is no good answer. We are the only ones who are fully aware of our talents and weaknesses and the goals we ultimately want to achieve. If you focus of optimizing your skills and you have a clear path in mind, you will meet the right people that will help you get where you need to be. Do not underestimate any opportunity to learn from and connect with people – that is your best capital. Again, it will inevitably take time, so be patient and never stop working on your skills.

What changes to the world would you like to see?

Aside for my deepest desire for peace and respect for human life, I look forward to the day when we run out of “firsts”. No more first women, men or others in any position; when it is no longer a newsworthy thing to see the dispute resolution practitioners and decision makers reflecting the diversity of the world in which they exist and operate. I am not at all certain that I will witness such a world, but I like to believe that at some point society and the legal profession will be open on an equal basis to all of those who work hard to enter those places.

We thank you.

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee applauds the call for a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. We are committed to promoting women’s equality, as collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

 

Published by School of Law, University of Aberdeen

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