Postcard from…Paris

Now this might sound odd but, in parallel to being based in any given city, international arbitration lawyers mostly live in a ‘transnational world’ with colleagues who come from very different backgrounds, dealing with clients from every corner of the globe. 

My experience as an associate in the arbitration practice of Shearman & Sterling’s Paris office is a good illustration of this phenomenon. 

Our office is based on the Champs Elysées right in front of the famous restaurant, Fouquet’s.

From almost every street-side window in our premises we can see both the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.

However, contrasting with this most Parisian of landscapes is the transnational life of every lawyer in the department.

For instance, I share my office with a French/Iranian/American who until recently lived in Geneva. My next-door office neighbours are an Australian who moved to France after a stint in Oxford and a Colombian who came to France via Massachusetts and London. 

Also, any given day will typically include a conference call to or a meeting with one of our clients who are based in varied places such as the United Arab Emirates, Germany, the US or Bangladesh.

But when the workday is over and I leave this world for the decidedly European ambience of Paris, I ride the subway, making my way to my apartment in the Marais.

The Marais is one of Paris’ oldest neighborhoods and, in a style that is more English than French, it has been kept looking as such. 

While I am more of a fan of the French style where buildings boast a Haussmannian design but look as though they were built yesterday, my wife loves the English style where old buildings look old, which partly explains how we have come to live in this neighborhood.

I already knew Paris quite well before joining Shearman & Sterling, having moved here from Egypt six years ago. 

The plan was to stay for two years to finish my undergraduate studies then go back to Cairo. 

Little did I know! Paris is a very captivating place and the more I live here the more I find myself drawn to staying just a little longer. 

It’s hard not to love the city.  From its beautiful landscape to its culture and its extremely vibrant intellectual life, Paris offers a very unique mix that has kept me here for this long and that has made me consider it my second home.

Indeed, spending a good part of my days within the microcosm of the “United Nations” that we call the world of international arbitration, as I leave the office and walk into the city, I am always reminded of how contrasting, yet complementary, these two worlds are and how delightful it is to get to experience them simultaneously.

Mohamed Shelbaya is an associate in the Paris office of Shearman & Sterling.