Inside the ICSID Secretariat - Colleen E. Ferguson: Paralegal

What brought you to ICSID?

I wanted to move on from a law firm and applied for the ICSID Paralegal position. I was not really familiar with what ICSID did outside of reading what was on the website, so needless to say it was a learning experience once I got the job! I immediately appreciated the diverse international environment at ICSID (as a U.S. citizen, I think I am actually in the minority among my colleagues). I was also struck by how collegial everyone is here; there is a true sense of collaboration among the counsel, paralegal, and legal assistant roles. The day-to-day work is not so different from that of a law firm, but ICSID definitely has a more congenial environment.

What is your role at ICSID and what does a typical day looks like?

I’m a paralegal on the English team. I provide support to all of the counsel on our team, so my days mostly involve acknowledging and transmitting email correspondence, drafting letters, and proofreading and cite checking. At any given time I generally have about 25 to 30 cases that I help manage, though some might be suspended or some in a ‘quieter’ phase (e.g., parties submitting pleadings or tribunal drafting an award). I often find myself working on a big cite checking project (if you have ever seen a tribunal ruling with 1000+ footnotes, the paralegal is almost always involved in double-checking and uniformly formatting them all!) but then needing to switch gears to acknowledge and forward an email, or take care of a new case that has just come in, or assist a party in uploading supporting documents to our online platform.

I also help with hearings, particularly those held at ICSID’s hearing centre in Washington, D.C. If there is an in-person hearing in one of my cases, then that day will look a bit different. I usually arrive early to make sure everything is set up (folders, pens, papers, etc. for the tribunal and secretary, name plates for the parties, printing the list of participants, making sure the court reporter and interpreters have everything they need), and then I am ‘on call’ behind the scenes throughout the day, generally for printing and making copies, or assisting with anything the tribunal might request. So on those days there is generally some back-and-forth between my desk doing my usual work and then checking in on the hearing room or breakout rooms.

What is one of the most important skills or qualities for a paralegal to possess at ICSID?

I think it’s helpful to have a sense of ‘forward thinking’ or being able to anticipate what will happen next in a case. For example, there are parts of a case that are generally the same across the board and have ‘routine’ correspondence: acknowledging a new request for arbitration, registering a case, constituting a tribunal, etc. When I know those events are upcoming, I can prepare the materials for counsel in advance, which in turn helps them do their job more efficiently. Or if there is a hearing coming up, I know I will be tasked with writing up the procedural history (i.e., all of the administrative events that happened in the case up until that point), which will take up a good amount of my time. So understanding the life of a case and ICSID’s role and service standards is very important.

And an effective paralegal needs to be a bit ‘eagle-eyed’ and definitely attentive to detail. I am always on the lookout for little proofreading nits and inconsistencies so as to help a tribunal put out a high quality and polished final order or ruling.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Outside of work I am generally spending time with my family, and I also love to knit, do crosswords, and watch sports.

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