Online intern learns the ropes of international arbitration

Auckland University graduate Gauri Prabhakar describes her online Foundation internship at Hong Kong-based international disputes resolution organisation, HKIAC. Gauri completed her LLB (Hons) / BA at Auckland University in 2021.
Gauri Prabhakar portrait image

The internship provided Gauri with a unique opportunity to learn the ins and outs of working in disputes resolution

Before 2021, I didn’t really have a clue what arbitration was. Even though I studied law and had heard the words “litigation” and “in court” thrown around every few days, “arbitration” was always a vague and fleeting concept.

 That changed when I, along with four of my classmates, represented the University of Auckland in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot.

“Vis”, as it’s affectionately known, is the pre-eminent competition for arbitration – a process that involves resolving a dispute without the need to go to traditional court. In short, arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism that allows the parties involved to have more power over the dispute resolution process than litigation.

Because the parties involved have so much more control, arbitration is generally considered to be more efficient, flexible and affordable than taking someone to court.

 Participating in Vis was the reason why I was so excited to apply for the internship when it came up. I could put all the things I had learned in theory into practice.

Because the internship was with the HKIAC – with its headquarters in Hong Kong – it also meant an incredible opportunity to learn about the commercial deals in a place I had very little knowledge about.

This was compounded by the fact that the internship was facilitated by the Asia New Zealand Foundation, an organisation that aims to foster and maintain relationships between countries in Asia and New Zealand. Both reasons meant I could get some valuable insights into a new culture, a new geographic area, and a new working environment.  

Moreover, what made this internship unique was that you occupied the role of the neutral third-party; the administrative body that oversaw the entire dispute. It was especially valuable to have a bird’s eye view of a particular matter because, in my experience, you typically only see one side of a dispute.

Gauri sitting at her desk with a laptop on it

Gauri: "It was a true privilege to have not only participated in this internship, but to have created all these new relationships."

Most of the disputes I worked on were commercial in nature, with topics spanning maritime, aviation, banking, and corporate law. Learning about maritime law was particularly interesting, as I finally understood why it was such a big deal when that ship got stuck in the Suez Canal!

My day-to-day responsibilities included drafting documents, legal research, and helping the HKIAC Secretariat in facilitating disputes. The other interns and I were also tasked with presenting on up-and-coming areas in arbitration law, which further expanded our knowledge of the topic. I was also lucky enough to sit in on a virtual hearing, which really put the entire arbitration process into perspective.  

While I didn’t get the opportunity to physically go to Hong Kong, my supervisor, Sicen, and the Asia New Zealand Foundation made a huge effort to help me get a taste of what it would have been like if I had gone there.

On our induction day, for example, we were encouraged to research more into our chosen country, to come up with a few quiz questions about it, and to try out the cuisine.

We were also paired up with a local mentor who, in my case, had studied and lived in Hong Kong. It was an awesome opportunity to be able to chat to her about her experiences of studying law, and living and working in Hong Kong.

 After finishing my internship, I made the decision to jump across the ditch to Sydney, Australia. I have since started my career as a law graduate at a firm whose headquarters are actually in Hong Kong.

My internship with the HKIAC significantly influenced my decision to move, not only to a place where I could be exposed to international arbitration, but also to a firm that was intricately tied to the Asia-Pacific region.

In that regard, I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who made this internship possible: Sicen, Lucy, and Alistair and Linh from the Asia New Zealand Foundation. It was a true privilege to have not only participated in this internship, but to have created all these new relationships.