Carolina Barros, junior associate at Gaillard Banifatemi Shelbaya Disputes
Carolina, you joined Gaillard Banifatemi Shelbaya Disputes at the time it was launched. Could you tell us more about that?
Absolutely. What we lived was very exciting even if at the same time we were entering into the unknown. I had these butterflies in my stomach – this feeling – and felt grateful that I was given the chance to join Gaillard Banifatemi Shelbaya Disputes.
Were you aware of the project before its birth?
Not really. We only heard the news when Professor Gaillard announced it to everyone at Shearman & Sterling. I was an intern then. Everything happened very fast, in one week or so. As far as interns were concerned, we had a meeting with Yas Banifatemi, during which she invited us to determine whether or not we wished to join the new firm.
What kind of cases were you working on at that time?
On a variety of cases involving construction, investment and commercial matters. I was also fortunate to work on cases involving my own language, Portuguese, as the team represented Sonangol.
So, you speak Portuguese, French, English…
Let’s do a quick go back. Are there people in your family working in the legal field?
No, I’m the only lawyer in my family. My parents are doctors, and my older sisters are an engineer and a psychologist.
Was Paris your choice for living?
In 2017, when I was finishing my international law studies in Brazil, I told one of my professors that I wanted to persevere in this field. He told me: “if you want to do international law, you might as well consider learning French”. He was doing a post-doc at Aix-Marseille University and highly recommended me to go there. “The education is great, it’s sunny, it’s going to be a nice transition for you before Paris”, he said. I was convinced, and registered for a master’s degree there.
So, you didn’t speak French at all, four years ago (she is perfectly fluent now!)?
Not at all. At first, the coaches I met refused to teach me: they thought we did not have enough time (10 months) to get the proficiency I needed to start graduate studies in France. But it was not an option to postpone my plans to pursue a master’s degree. In the end, I was lucky enough to meet Jean-Claude, the only French teacher who was up to the challenge. At the time, he had just recently arrived in Brazil and was still learning Portuguese himself, so I had no option but speaking French with him. It was tough – he was a strict teacher, but I managed to get the level of French required at the time.
It was very quick!
When I was in Aix-en-Provence, I decided to participate in a francophone international law moot competition called Concours Charles Rousseau, since I was not happy with my French, I was not able to communicate properly and felt frustrated I could not follow everything during class… I thought that participating in this competition would help me. And it helped, actually, since I had the opportunity to write the memorials in French and present the oral argument on that basis. The competition took place in Strasbourg. That’s how I discovered the city and decided to study there for my second year.
That’s where you made your wish for an internship at Shearman & Sterling. Why were you attracted to it?
A professor of mine in Strasbourg was Yas Banifatemi’s colleague at Sorbonne University and he told me she was a very big name in public international law. He also mentioned Professor Gaillard of course, whose name I knew since I was taking international arbitration classes and his name was coming up all the time. So, Shearman was an obvious choice. That’s why I decided to apply.
Was it a long process?
After I applied, they responded very fast. The application system was completely different from what I had known before. Usually, you have to go through all these HR systems with automatic emails, which can be quite frustrating. Back then at Shearman, we had access to Yas’ email directly, she would receive the application and make a first selection for interviews. After I was hired, I spent 6 months there as an intern and th.en I asked for an extension.
Do you remember when you first met Emmanuel Gaillard?
A bit late actually. Because of the pandemic, we were not supposed to go to the office and were working remotely. I met him the first time on the day of the “pot de départ”, the party he and Yas organized to say goodbye to their colleagues at Shearman. I remember the first thing I saw was his super colorful iPhone case, orange, in his hand. I had this idea of him being a super serious person and this phone case said the opposite. I learnt later how mischievous he was. At that party, he approached us – the interns – and told us he was very happy that we were living this adventure together.
How did it go from that day?
I worked at Gaillard Banifatemi Shelbaya Disputes as an intern from the firm’s launch in February until June 2021, before I was offered a permanent position. I started as an associate in September. In the beginning, it was very intense because we had so many changes going on at the same time and not all the resources, but at the same time the team grew even closer. Especially after Professor Gaillard passed away. That was a milestone for me. Obviously, I wanted to apply for a permanent position from the outset, but the way everyone stuck together after Professor Gaillard passed away was so warm, and… human. I knew then I didn’t want to be part of anybody else’s team.
Have you already suffered from low women’s representation in this profession?
Not that much. That said, in a recent case, the fact that they were only men in the room except for Yas and me was something that really shocked me. At the same time, seeing that our lead counsel was a woman, and the way she was conducting everything – firmly, politely, intelligently and evenly – was very powerful. In fact, it was very cool to be the other girl in the room and to have Yas setting the example.
Have you already talked about that with any of your colleagues?
Not really. I suppose for Yas it’s so natural at this point that she doesn’t really realize how important it is to have her arguing her case in a room full of men, particularly when the stakes are so high. But I’m sure she deals with it every single day, and the same applies for the other partners – Ximena, Coralie and Maude, especially in construction arbitration. When I was at Shearman and worked on a construction case, for instance, I remember attending a hearing where they were all men, except for me: the tribunal, all counsel teams, all clients, all experts and witnesses, which was striking.
You look like a person who likes challenges. Which is your next goal?
I’m still “living the dream” because I just started as an associate, but one of the things that I would love to do next is work on a State-to-State dispute, as my true passion is public international law. I would also love working a little bit more on Latin American cases, and anything related to Brazil.
You haven’t worked on it before?
Not yet, I’m looking forward to it!
Have you ever worked on cases where one party was a State?
Yes, in a number of investment treaty arbitration cases.
What do you like about it?
First, the framework and applicable rules. Investment treaty arbitration often involves very interesting legal questions of international law but also matters of policy. They usually give a lot of space to interpretation which is very interesting as a lawyer. I also enjoy the work with public entities and States, given the complexity that comes with that.
Hum, so you like complicated things (laughs)?
You said “no traps” when we started 😉 I wouldn’t say “complicated”, I would say “challenging”. When it’s too easy, it’s not that exciting!
Interview by Lisa Vignoli on 29 September 2021