Peers and clients say:
"I recommend Ziad as a prominent arbitration practitioner"
"He is one of the go-to-guys in Lebanon"
"He is very smart and well known"
Ziad Obeid is a partner at Obeid & Partners. A French-Lebanese international arbitrator and counsel, Ziad has been identified among the world’s foremost dispute resolution practitioners. A specialist in Middle Eastern legislation, and a dual-qualified dispute resolution lawyer with a civil engineering background, Ziad has extensive cross-border experience of complex disputes and arbitrations across various industries, including cases brought under bilateral investment treaties conducted in Arabic, French and English.
How does your breadth of legal training, as well as your engineering background, enhance your arbitration practice?
Having a civil engineering background is a powerful asset, particularly in the context of construction disputes. Essentially, it allows me to rapidly apprehend the factual technicalities in a given case and get a sense of where the “real issues” lie. Being able to rely on my technical understanding while acting as counsel has been of particular use in assessing my clients’ needs, establishing a case strategy, working with experts and presenting complex technical matters in a way that is easily digestible for tribunals. When acting as arbitrator, my engineering background allows me to quickly grasp the issues at hand, and manage the proceedings in a cost-conscious and streamlined manner.
How does the interplay between common, civil and shariah law affect how contracts are interpreted and applied in arbitrations?
In the Middle East, parties recurrently enter into contracts with common law-inspired provisions that are actually intended to operate within civil law-based legal systems. In this context, a number of legal concepts are relevant (if not crucial) when dealing with disputes in the MENA region, including, inter alia, good faith, implied terms, abuse of rights, force majeure, the theory of exceptional circumstances and the principle of estoppel. Shariah law can also influence how contracts are interpreted and applied in certain jurisdictions, by providing a framework of key principles that, if not respected, can affect the enforceability of certain contractual provisions. In interpreting such contracts, it is therefore not only imperative to ascertain the intent of the parties, but also to comprehend the implications of the parties’ choice of law and how this affects the way the contract will apply in relation to certain disputed issues.
How integral is cultural awareness and sensitivity in international arbitration?
As counsel in an international arbitration, cultural awareness and sensitivity can inform how to present a case before a given tribunal. From an arbitrator’s perspective, I believe that having culturally informed tribunal members inspires confidence and can assist the tribunal in taking tangible steps to enhance the prospects of enforcement of arbitral awards by national courts. Construction disputes, more specifically, involve multiple stakeholders (eg, project owners, contractors, subcontractors, insurers, funders) from a wide range of backgrounds and legal traditions. Cultural awareness and sensitivity is crucial when interacting with these different actors in international arbitration.
In your opinion, how can construction dispute processes be streamlined?
In my opinion, construction disputes could be streamlined in two principal ways.
First, I think that parties would gain a lot by attempting to prevent disputes by addressing their differences in the course of the project through frank and open communications, partnering or dispute boards. Parties should also consider mediation prior to resorting to more expensive and timely mechanisms such as arbitration. Even if the parties are not able to avoid a dispute, this approach should help them frame the issues which find their way to a tribunal.
Second, construction disputes can be streamlined through the involvement of experienced counsel and arbitrators, using the benefit of their experience to adjust existing procedures to suit the specific needs of a case, and assist with the early identification of key issues for the resolution of the dispute.
How does your practice distinguish itself from its competitors?
For over three decades our firm has helped businesses optimise opportunities, mitigate risk and manage complex disputes in the MENA region. We see ourselves as the gateway to the MENA region; we have, in our team, experts on Middle Eastern legislation and specialist arbitration practitioners who are able to blend international best practices with unmatched regional know-how, coupled with an ability to work across multiple languages relevant to a single case.
What is the most memorable arbitration you have been a part of?
Each arbitration case in which I have acted as a counsel, sole arbitrator, chairperson or co-arbitrator has been particularly rewarding in its own way. Cases vary in their complexity and cover a wide range of areas; they have all uniquely contributed towards expanding my knowledge and expertise. My interactions with parties from various cultural and legal backgrounds has been particularly valuable. This interplay continues to interest me, and helps me continually refine my approach and adapt my practice of international arbitration.
You have enjoyed a distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
One of my long-term goals is to empower emerging arbitration practitioners in developing countries. While there is still much to be done, I have taken an active role in promoting these initiatives in the Middle East through my work with the CIArb, as chairman of its Lebanese branch.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
The best advice I have received was to never stop learning and adapting. In a continually evolving legal landscape, with new technology and major events constantly changing the way we do things, this advice has served me well throughout my career.