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Maria Gritsenko, LLM ’06, Breaking Gender Barriers in International Arbitration

By Jordan Poll
December 8, 2017

Maria Gritsenko, LLM ’06, is proof that the field of international arbitration—once an elite club dominated by older Western European men—has opened itself to progress. While it is still a regular occurrence for her to be the only woman on a panel when she speaks at arbitration events, Gritsenko uses these opportunities to encourage other young female attorneys to be more visible in the field. “I want to be my own example, so I try to speak when I am invited and promote the issue by doing what I can,” said Gritsenko, who recently spoke at the 4th annual Georgian International Arbitration Centre’s Arbitration Days in Tbilisi, Georgia. She was the only woman on a panel discussing judicial assistance to arbitration. She also will be the only female speaker at a roundtable event, which will focus on the enforcement of annulled awards, held at the 9th annual American Bar Association Moscow Dispute Resolution Conference. “I wish more of my female colleagues were visible as arbitration experts, but I think the change is coming.”

Originally from Eastern Europe, Gritsenko began studying law in France, with her main interest being public international law. She interned with the International Chamber of Commerce for the International Court of Arbitration and the international dispute resolution group at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP before coming to Michigan Law on a scholarship. It was a turning point for Gritsenko, who used the opportunity to really dig into her passion for international dispute resolution. “I am still extremely grateful. It was the most important building block for my career,” she said of her time at Michigan. “I am quite positive that I wouldn’t have otherwise been offered a job at top firms like Crowell & Moring, Skadden, and Bryan Cave if not for my Michigan Law degree.”

After graduation, Gritsenko joined the Washington, D.C. office of Crowell & Moring LLP as an international consultant. She handled investment treaty disputes, specifically disputes against states, before deciding to return to Europe a couple years later. She joined the London office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in 2008, where she pursued her interests in international arbitration while also utilizing her foreign language skills (particularly in Russian and French) on a regular basis. “It was a fantastic experience,” said Gritsenko, who was an associate in the international arbitration and litigation group for almost six years. “I learned a lot.” She is now counsel at the London office of Bryan Cave, where she continues representing parties in high-profile international disputes. “I am handling largely compelling disputes and have a hand in the management of these cases,” she said. “I enjoy this decision-making element. I not only contribute to the development of a case strategy, but I also see it through to implementation.”

Gritsenko was ranked a future leader by Who’s Who Legal: Arbitration 2018. “It is recognition for the work one does for their clients,” she said. “It means a lot.” Gritsenko has amassed an array of international experiences over the years, which she continues to draw from in her work today. “I have studied in France and the U.S., and have now practiced in England for nine years, and I understand the different countries’ perspectives,” she said. “Because of my world tour, I can put all of it together and see what skills I need to feed upon for a particular dispute.” For those interested in following her path, Gritsenko has two pieces of advice. Never stop pursuing your interest in international law and cross-culture concepts, she said. Never lose that drive to find a solution, particularly in situations involving individuals or entities with different—and sometimes contradictory—backgrounds and interests. There is always a way to make it work, despite cultural differences, she said.

Gritsenko travels around the world reaching out to emerging markets and promoting a cross-cultural, cross-generational exchange of ideas as a member of the Global Advisory Board for the International Centre for Dispute Resolution Young & International (ICDR Y&I). “That is ultimately what international arbitration is about,” she said. “You have to be able to resolve cross-border disputes, recognizing each other’s social and legal cultural differences, but still work effectively together.”

ICDR Y&I was created to provide opportunities for the younger members of the field to meet and learn from peers and more senior practitioners. To do this, they organize global events that bring together people who wouldn’t otherwise talk, let alone meet in person. “It is an important mission because knowledge needs to be shared,” said Gritsenko. “The law in this area is evolving beyond the diversity of its practitioners, and it is something I feel passionate about—the field of international dispute resolution.”

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