Alumni profile - Michael Larrick
I love learning, problem solving, and a good creative challenge. This is what led me to international law and arbitration in particular, because it presents challenges that really excite me. And if you are intellectually engaged, that makes it easier to provide genuine, quality representation.
(Comparative and International Dispute Resolution LLM, 2020)
What attracted you to a career in law?
The answer is two-fold: I saw the law as an opportunity to have a positive impact on others and I enjoy the intellectual challenge that a career in law presents. The law impacts many of our everyday interactions, which we take for granted until that becomes a problem. I want to have the specialised skills to help others in need navigate a system they are unfamiliar with when they come up against such an impediment.
The other reason is intellectual curiosity. I love learning, problem solving, and a good creative challenge. This is what led me to international law and arbitration in particular, because it presents challenges that really excite me. And if you are intellectually engaged, that makes it easier to provide genuine, quality representation.
What attracted you to Queen Mary in particular?
Queen Mary has the deserved reputation as the best (and longest running) arbitration-specific programme. The teaching staff and facilities are incomparable, and The Centre for Commercial Law Studies’ (CCLS) location at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the heart of legal London, is perfect. You have so many opportunities through the school, firms, and related services to get involved with arbitration as it is practiced today. And I knew that was what I wanted to further my career.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Queen Mary?
It’s more of a feeling than a specific memory, but just feeling involved and wrapped up in the bustle of legal London. It would hit me in quiet moments how lucky and privileged I was to be there, and what a great experience I was afforded. This occurred when walking past the Royal Courts of Justice on my way from Queen Mary to the London court of International Arbitration, enjoying a snack in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, or enjoying the view of London from a firm’s conference room during a lull in conferences. It’s a feeling of really being in the thick of things that I treasure today.
What led you to your current role and how do you feel the LLM in International and Comparative Alternative Dispute Resolution prepared you for it?
I recently started a role working in US Federal procurement – negotiation, review, and execution of contracts for services. It comes with a lot of responsibility. I was picked specifically for my experience because they needed someone who understood contracts very well and could get up to speed fast.
Because of my skills I learned in the classroom and with qLegal, I was able to meet that demand. I can jump right into a new space, work with people in a team, and understand what’s important and what isn’t in a complex contract. My time at Queen Mary definitely gave me not only the skills but the confidence to tackle this new challenge.
It’s funny, because now I’m on the other end of contracts. I studied the disputes side at Queen Mary and now I’m doing the drafting and negotiation. I can bring a unique perspective to pressure points – liability, dispute settlement, and confidentiality/data protection – that adds a lot of value to my current role.
I saw the law as an opportunity to have a positive impact on others and I enjoy the intellectual challenge that a career in law presents. The law impacts many of our everyday interactions, which we take for granted until that becomes a problem.
Could you tell us about your work as a qLegal Student Advisor? What did this involve?
Working as a Student Adviser at qLegal helped to keep my legal skills sharp and give to the community, which was really important for me. I worked with other students from around the globe to assist small businesses and start-ups in London with their legal issues. This honed my interviewing, issue spotting, and legal advice techniques in a way that cannot be replicated in the classroom.
Outside of helping specific clients, we also authored general legal advice – business incorporation types and the like (available on the qLegal website) to assist other persons. While more basic and less tailored, this advice will hopefully have a greater reach in helping other entrepreneurs.
But probably the most personally rewarding was presenting to college students at the Ada National College for Digital Design. I and some of my colleagues gave a talk on the intersection between video games design and the law. While I know it is hard to make Intellectual Property fun first thing in the morning, I think we did a cracking job.
qLegal was a wonderful learning experience. It also made me feel more connected to the city in a tangible way, and I cannot recommend it enough for students.
You have an interest in international commercial and investment arbitration and water law. What do you see as the most exciting questions in these fields at the moment?
A wonderful question, and one I wish I could tie all three subjects together in a tidy answer. I’ll give it my best go, though:
In commercial arbitration, I am most interested in the increase in transparency. More institutions are making data, challenge decisions, and even awards public, which historically has not been the case. I see it as a good thing, because it lowers the barrier to entry into the field for those not privileged enough to get an inside look and a lot of criticism of the field comes from the lack of openness of the process. But there will inevitably be a push and pull, because there are legitimate reasons parties might want to keep things private – protecting industry standing, proprietary information, or financial data, for example. There’s a lot to be said while trying to find the middle ground.
In Investment arbitration I am still interested in my thesis topic, State responsibility for internationally wrongful acts. With public-private partnerships, privatization of government services, and governments looking to increase funding through business, the lines between when a State is responsible for a company’s actions are increasingly blurry. Hopefully my thesis can help clear up some of that confusion.
In international water law, the question is how do we protect existing resources and increase availability for basic human needs and dignity, especially for those most vulnerable and disadvantaged? I am especially concerned with the increase in water as an instigator and tool to prolong or deepen conflict, something I unfortunately only see increasing and which currently has no legal outlet for resolution. I would love a serious discussion about developing an arbitration mechanism for private citizens to hold States accountable for failing to provide basic protection of human water rights, similar to investment arbitration protections for capital.
In your career to date, what achievement are you most proud of?
Having the occasion to intern at the London Court of International Arbitration – and then extend my contract for a full year – was a personal high point. Commercial arbitration is notoriously difficult to study from the outside. You can learn the concepts in class, but there is always a barrier between theorising and actual practice. Working at the LCIA gave me an opportunity unique amongst my classmates to “look under the hood” of how commercial arbitrations function, breathing life into my lessons. It was an incredible occasion to learn that gave me a very broad survey of arbitration in a relatively short amount of time, and I am deeply grateful to the LCIA for the experience.
Would you say this is an exciting time to be in law?
Absolutely, especially for international law. The legal workspace is changing dramatically and Covid really sped up the industry embracing some long-coming changes, such as ushering in virtual practice. Being tied to a physical office and face to face meetings, even holding arbitral hearings in person, are no longer hard requirements. I see this as democratising for lawyers and clients, and a long overdue revaluation of work/life prioritisation in the legal sector.
In a similar manner, I think we’ll see some shifts in the legal order as well. A lot of countries are reshuffling their domestic and international laws, and facing new pressures laid bare by the shutdowns this year. The world is ready for fresh thinkers and those willing to take a little more risk to take advantage of this new terrain.
Working as a Student Adviser at qLegal helped to keep my legal skills sharp and give to the community, which was really important for me. I worked with other students from around the globe to assist small businesses and start-ups in London with their legal issues.
What advice would you give to law students seeking careers in the legal profession?
Take advantage of the resources available to you at Queen Mary and in London. Queen Mary offers many opportunities to start your legal career with your best foot forward. Groups like qLegal give you practical experience, while the library facilities really are top notch. I received so much support from the staff, including getting a copy of a rare book on international legal theory that had only just been translated for the first time into English. I was also involved with the moot court scene, coaching the Vis Commercial Arbitration Moot, which is a great chance to meet others and sharpen your advocacy skills. And that was just scraping the surface of what was available.
Also make sure to take advantage of being in London. From English law to international law, London is the central nexus for so much legal activity. Get outside of campus. Network outside of LinkedIn. Grab a coffee with people in a field that interests you. Attend lectures in fields you might not know you are interested in. Try for an internship or summer job. At the very least you will enhance your people skills, which is always in demand.
But you must seek out these resources! Avoid becoming complacent and just hoping they will find you.
Where do you see yourself in 2030?
Hopefully seated behind a table in an international arbitral hearing!
Finally, outside of your work, what are your other passions and interests?
I love the outdoors, so anything that gets me outside.
I’ve been so busy studying recently – I’m also attempting the English bar this year – that I’m relearning what to do with my free time again! So far, I’ve filled it with reading, biking, a lot of cooking this past year, and art museums. And I’m very excited to return to traveling more this year!
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