Samaa A. Haridi, Partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
I joined Weil in February 2012.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I have been practicing law for almost 12 years. I moved to the United States in 1999 to pursue an LL.M., after completing my legal studies at the Sorbonne, in France. I started my career in Los Angeles as a litigation associate at Mayer Brown. My interest in international dispute resolution, which started while I was in law school, took me to the London office of Mayer Brown, where I worked on one of the largest global disputes ever filed before the English High Court. In 2004, I joined the International Dispute Resolution group of Thacher Proffitt & Wood in New York, and I worked on a variety of international arbitration proceedings for almost five years. I moved to Crowell & Moring shortly before Thacher’s demise in 2008. At Crowell, I helped build the firm’s international arbitration practice and witnessed its growth from a small group of lawyers to a world-class, highly ranked practice in the U.S. and globally.
Two months ago, I joined Weil Gotshal & Manges along with three of my partners, to strengthen its global dispute resolution practice. Weil’s stellar reputation, brand name, and its wide geographic footprint were among the many reasons that led us to transition over to this new venture.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
It was a cross-examination I did while I was eight months pregnant, which helped lead to a complete victory on the merits in an international arbitration proceeding where I represented a global international organization.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Our global world is changing everyday, and our team is constantly working to keep up to date on economic and political trends in each part of the world, to anticipate what markets, industries, investments are at risk, and which are being impacted by unfavourable host-state treatment. We are often asked by clients to predict what the political and economical landscape in a given country will look like, in order to help them evaluate the soundness of their investments. We work hard to help our clients understand a variety of legal markets outside the ones we operate in, which can be challenging at times.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I have two children, aged 5 and 2, and I am not sure that the perfect balance is achievable, at least not by implementing a rigid and inflexible system. The method that works for me is to let my priorities guide me, whether they are at work or at home. Sometimes, the balance tilts towards work, and sometimes it allows for more free time at home. In the end, I try to make the most of each of these phases and to enjoy them to the fullest extent.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
Two individuals played a critical role in shaping my career. The first was my first-year civil law professor, Francois-Xavier Lucas, at the Cairo Branch of the Sorbonne University in Egypt. He ignited my interest in the law, and my passion for international arbitration. He spent countless hours with me debating various issues of French civil law, and he gave me his personal law treatises to read and learn from, at a time where such books could not be borrowed or purchased anywhere in Cairo. Thanks to his support and encouragement, I graduated first of my class and obtained a scholarship from the French Government to complete my legal studies at the Sorbonne in France.
The second is my partner, mentor, and the co-chair of the international arbitration practice at Weil, Arif Hyder Ali. Arif recruited me to Crowell & Moring in 2008. He had a vision of building a world class international arbitration practice at Crowell, and he did just that. He worked tirelessly to overcome many challenges that we were facing, and we were able to achieve, in just a few years, rankings that put us on par with some of the largest international arbitration practices worldwide. He helped me grow as a lawyer, and also capitalize on all the skills that I had to raise my profile as an international arbitration practitioner with particular expertise in disputes with a Middle East connection. What makes working with him such a privilege is to help contribute to his vision to build one of the most diverse multicultural, multi-jurisdictional, and multi-lingual international arbitration teams worldwide.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Corporate diversity initiatives are effective if they are substantive and not just implemented to check a box. As a leader of the Women Initiative in the New York office of my prior firm, I always tried to focus our events on various aspects of professional development for our women attorneys. I often solicited their views as to what would benefit them the most, and we quickly reached a consensus that our efforts should be focused on career and business development, rather than on purely social, more stereotyped events that cater to females. I also sought active participation by the male attorneys in our activities, because their support and commitment to diversity are essential towards an effective corporate diversity initiative. Without it, we would be operating in a bubble.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Frankly, I tried as best I could not to think about what side of the advantage line I was on. I always believed that the key to success was to do the best I could under my personal circumstances, good and bad, without comparing myself to others. I caught myself on a few occasions thinking that, as a mother, and wife of a spouse who is also a full-time practicing lawyer, it was harder for me than for some others, but I did not allow those thoughts to simmer. No one situation is comparable to another, and in the end, I made the choice to be where I am today, and I embrace it fully!
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The rise of women in senior ranks, both at law firms and in-house. Many of those women have mentored me and helped me develop into the lawyer I am today. I owe them my first business referrals (in the case of women partners at other firms) and my first self-generated matters (in the case of those who are in-house). Because those women are now in decision-making positions, they have been able to impact my career, and those of other younger female lawyers. I see the same phenomenon happening for other women around me, for whom more opportunities are created by virtue of having their female friends and colleagues rise through the ranks.