From working on a case involving an 18th century Spanish shipwreck filled with treasure to helping Jay-Z resolve his dispute with Bacardi, Allard Law alum Rahim Moloo has become an established name in international disputes.
Now a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in New York, Moloo has been recognized as one of The Best Lawyers in America. He’s also an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, where he teaches an advanced course on international arbitration.
Moloo first became intrigued by cross-border business and international disputes while still articling in Calgary, “I was fascinated by the existence of an entire architecture for dealing with international and cross-border disputes that I had largely been unaware of,” Moloo explains.
Here, he discusses his experience in international disputes and offers advice for current Allard Law students – and for any Canadian law student who might be interested in practicing law in New York.
Why did you decide to go to law school?
I wanted to advocate for those who didn’t have a voice or whose voice was marginalized and I felt that a law degree, if not a law career, would help give me the skills I would need to do that sort of work.
Why I went to law school and what drives me now are related, but slightly different. Today, my practice and my pro bono and volunteer work center largely on promoting the rule of law. While I went to law school to help give marginalized members of our society a voice, I quickly realized that having a voice only matters if the institutions in our society abide by the rule of law. As lawyers, we can, and must, play a critical part in holding our institutions to account in this regard.
What drew you to international arbitration? Was this an area you became interested in during your studies?
When I was articling at Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer LLP in Calgary, my hometown, I worked on an International Chamber of Commerce oil and gas arbitration with a well-known international arbitrator, David Haigh KC. I was fascinated by the existence of an entire architecture for dealing with international and cross-border disputes that I had largely been unaware of until then.
For obvious reasons, law schools (in general) mainly taught students about the domestic legal system, where the adversarial system plays out, for the most part, in domestic courts. Now most law schools have at least one course on the parallel international dispute resolution system that, for the most part, plays out before international arbitral tribunals. Likewise, whereas most global law firms did not have a stand-alone international disputes practice when I graduated from UBC, today, most do.
What does a typical work day look like for you as a Partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher?
No day is the same. On any given day, I might be in a hearing in London, Paris, New York, the Hague, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bogota or Toronto. Or I might have a procedural conference by Zoom with counsel, parties and arbitrators in half a dozen time zones. Or I might have to attend court down the street in New York, in another state or in another country. Other days I spend my time revising briefs or in meetings with witnesses learning about the facts of a case.
My cases cover a range of industries and geographies. I represent the company that found the San José—a Spanish Galeon that sunk off the coast of Colombia in 1708—in a case against the Colombian Government under the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Earlier this year, I assisted Jay-Z in successfully resolving a dispute with Bacardi in relation to their jointly-owned cognac brand, D’Usse. At any given time, I have over 20 matters like these brewing.
The common thread throughout most of my work days is that I spend a lot of time trying to help my clients resolve their most complex problems, often with hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars at stake and multiple fora in play. That challenge makes every day interesting.
You’re also an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School. What do you enjoy about teaching?
Teaching allows me to take a step back from the day-to-day practice and assess our field from a different vantage point. Our class discussions constantly cause me to ask whether the way we currently do things makes sense or whether (and how) they can be improved. I have my students to thank for the great questions they ask and diverse perspectives they bring to our discussions.
As a practical matter, I’m also forced to stay up to date on the latest developments so I can teach my students about them. A helpful benefit!
What’s your favourite memory from your time at Allard Law?
I have many favorite memories from law school: from practicing for the Wilson Moot to playing foosball after class. Those moments both inside and outside of the classroom led to many cherished friendships. Eighteen years later, I remain in touch with a core group of students who were in my first-year small group.
I also have many fond memories traveling around the world to compete at debating tournaments. I was lucky enough to win the Canadian National Debating Championships at Dalhousie and the World Public Speaking Championships in Kuala Lumpur on behalf of UBC.
But most memorable was meeting my wife, Emily, while I was in my second year of law school. She was an art history major.
What advice do you have for current law students at Allard Law?
To be a good litigator, you need to understand what your client is trying to achieve and the nuances of the dispute they are facing. There are no shortcuts. You need to know your client’s case inside and out in order to determine the best strategy and be an effective advocate. And good advocacy takes a lot of practice. Being smart and having good judgment are table stakes. It’s hard work that sets the best apart from the rest.
Do you have any advice for Canadian law students interested in entering the New York legal market?
Don’t be intimidated by the differences between the Canadian and U.S. legal systems. They're more similar than you might think. But you do need to be persistent if you want to pursue a career in New York. Most New York law firms don’t actively recruit from Canadian law schools, so you need to be proactive and thoughtful about what makes you an attractive candidate from the perspective of the firm that interests you. That’s true about applying for any job: you have to pitch your competitive advantage.