Ayse Yazir on Istanbul Arbitration Week

Istanbul Arbitration Week kicks off next week, running October 10 to 14. This is the second year for the event, hosted by the Energy Disputes Arbitration Center, or EDAC. Topics include collecting on claims, ADR mechanisms, the Energy Charter Treaty, litigation funding and other subjects pertinent to arbitration.

The conference is spearheaded by a small group of legal and energy professionals, including Ayse Yazir, who is a litigation funder, an arbitrator with EDAC and a member of the Lawdragon 100 Global Leaders in Litigation Finance.

Yazir studied law in Turkey and England and earned a master’s degree in International Relations. While working for a law firm, she was head-hunted by an insurance company and became a chartered insurer. That insurance company was acquired by Burford Capital. After seven years at Burford, she briefly worked at Gallagher’s and joined the pioneering legal funding company, Bench Walk Advisors where Yazir currently serves as the Global Head of Origination.

We caught up with Yazir ahead of the Istanbul Arbitration Week, which sold out sponsorship opportunities in the summer and is now nearly sold out all 300 tickets. “The global interest has been amazing,” says Yazir.

Lawdragon: What prompted you to start Istanbul Arbitration Week?

Ayse Yazir: The idea came from my colleagues Tugce [Erguden] and Elif [Duranay] who attended Paris Arbitration Week and wanted to see something similar in Turkey. We started it last year, but because of Covid, it was smaller and hybrid. This year, we are going full-fledged.

Istanbul has vast potential as a hub for arbitration. There are incredibly bright lawyers and other professionals, particularly the younger generation. We have many top law school graduates, who speak three or four languages. We also have very engaged general counsels, who want to learn ways to manage their risk, and how international arbitration can work for them.

Turkey is also in the top three destinations for construction companies in the world. They do a lot of work in Africa, are building bridges in the Middle East and have projects in Asia, Ukraine, Russia and continental Europe. The biggest shopping center in London was built by a Turkish company. In addition to construction, Turkey is a significant hub for the energy industry.

Istanbul is where East meets the West. We have bright and very open-minded people. It is a very secular and liberal country, and everyone who is working in big in-house companies here are craving to learn more about their options.

Istanbul is also an incredibly beautiful country, an excellent destination for people. Our venue for Istanbul Arbitration Week is the iconic, waterfront Sait Halim Pasha Mansion, and as part of the conference, we’re having a three-hour boat tour to show around Istanbul in the sea. Our closing ceremony will be at the stunning Sabanci Museum.

LD: What panels are you most excited about?

AY: I'm very excited about Global Developments Affecting Turkey and the Region, on October 11. It shows how Istanbul is the core of everything happening, with the war in Ukraine, inflation and the climate crisis. Our panelists are in the middle of negotiations on many of these significant issues. We have people from London, Ukraine, the Balkans, Europe, America, Israel, and others representing the Middle East. It’s going to be fascinating.

Istanbul has vast potential as a hub for arbitration.

I will be chairing a panel, Diversity in International Arbitration and Business, which I’m also very excited about. We have the most incredible women on that panel. Burcu Geris, CFO at TAV Airports, is signing deals worldwide including in Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. Dorothy Udeme Ufot, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who was chosen as arbitrator of the year in the Africa Arbitration Awards. Natasha Harrison is a superb litigator who started her own firm. And of course, your very own Katrina Dewey, who has done such an incredible job carving out a space for herself in the male-dominated legal media and rankings world. All these panelists are very inspirational.

We have an incredible group of speakers across all our panels, representing everyone from the region. We have the head of the Qatar Arbitration Center and some of the most renowned Israeli arbitration specialists. I think this is one of the only events where everyone is merging together. We’re proud to bring everyone into one center.

We are also making the event extraordinary. We are having Vogue sponsor the ArbitralWomen panel. Vogue editors will attend the event and will do a spread about it. During the opening party we will have an art exhibition, a DJ – so very different from other events. Istanbul is coming with style!

LD: How did you decide on the topics to be covered for Istanbul Arbitration Week?

AY: First, we looked at the profile of people who will attend. This is a global audience, not just Turkish. Everyone is interested in cash because of currency problems, so we know we needed a panel about collecting on claims and one on litigation funding. Then we asked law firms, what they would like to talk about. The primary industries are construction and energy.

I decided to have the Diversity panel after some conversations with women. There were quite a few female Turkish lawyers who have said to me, “This is so impressive, you have a kid and also a career. We were told you can’t have both.” I wanted to close that gap for people.

LD: Sounds incredible. You’re so plugged in; let’s talk about some of the trends you’re seeing. Legal funding is a pretty new industry. Were arbitrations part of the game from the beginning? Or has that been a more recent area for funding?

AY: It is a recent area. We typically do more litigation and class actions, but arbitration is a growing area. I do a bit of everything and have brought a lot of insolvency and competition cases to Bench Walk Advisors, one of which is the most significant competition case in Europe.

I ended up in arbitration, especially on the Istanbul side, because most Turkish cases we fund are commercial or international arbitration matters. We don't invest in Turkish courts, but we are funding matters that are coming out of Turkey and being arbitrated in continental Europe, Asia, Washington and New York.

LD: Are you finding that general counsels and corporations are becoming more interested in legal funding?

AY: It’s an interesting question. We still see litigation funding coming primarily from law firms, I would say around 95 per cent. We rarely see companies asking for funding. It’s a big potential growth area. Turkish companies are very receptive to financing, and I funded a few direct cases from Turkish companies.

LD: How is the energy industry making use of arbitration?   

AY: There are a lot of disputes happening globally, at large, because of what's happening in Russia and Ukraine.

Aside from the war, energy problems and disputes have been around for a long time, such as the renewable energy disputes that have been coming against Spain, Romania and some other EU member states. The EU passed the Komstroy decision recently to stop the recoverability of energy claims between EU member states and the companies. So if you're an EU company wanting to sue Poland over wind farms under dispute, Poland doesn't need to pay you anything. It’s complex. Many energy companies are a bit surprised and upset because they don't have any compensation options left in Europe.

Everyone is interested in cash because of currency problems, so we know we needed a panel about collecting on claims and one on litigation funding.

There is a lot of competition to be the center for these arbitrations, throughout continental Europe, London, and Dubai.

Istanbul is in the unique position of not having the legal issues that are cropping up elsewhere, so it makes sense as an arbitration hub for energy disputes. That was one of the main aims of the Energy Disputes Arbitration Center, which was founded by Suleyman Bosca.

LD: Final question. What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

AY: Working with people. I’m very much a people person. I love to listen and find it very interesting to talk to different people. My work at Bench Walk Advisors is fantastic. Some days I fly to Holland to meet class action lawyers and learn about how the process works there. Then I'm in Paris talking with litigation lawyers. I'm in New York, meeting some other lawyers in arbitration and litigation. I am in London. I go to Turkey and talk to construction companies. The variety of work is unbelievable, and I love my company. It’s very supportive, and I am lucky to learn from outstanding leaders such as Adrian Chopin and Stuart Grant.

Preparing for this conference has been a lot of fun. Working with all these incredible people, Suleyman Bosca, Salih Cakir, Elif Durunay, Tugce Ergucen and Ece Dayioglu have been great. We are a great team, and that is why this event will turn up to be remarkable. What can I say… Istanbul is calling! Are you ready for one of the best arbitration events in the world? Here we come!