From His Students: Book Pays Tribute to George A. Bermann ’75 LL.M.
More than 100 Columbia Law School alumni and colleagues contributed essays to ‘Pro-Arbitration’ Revisited.
How do you honor a legend?
When four members of Columbia Law School’s LL.M. Class of 2022 gathered for coffee one day after class, they began discussing how much they revered George A. Bermann ’75 LL.M., Walter Gellhorn Professor of Law and Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law. The students thought an ideal way to honor Bermann, a world-renowned authority on international arbitration who has taught an estimated 10,000 students during his nearly 50 years at Columbia Law School, would be to publish a book written by his Law School colleagues and former students. The result is “Pro-Arbitration” Revisited: A Tribute to Professor George Bermann From His Students Over the Years, which was released in April 2023 to coincide with the annual Columbia Arbitration Day conference, where retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer presented Bermann with the Columbia Arbitration Association’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions to the field of international arbitration.
The four alumni who conceived of the tribute book while they were students and edited “Pro-Arbitration” Revisited—Elora Neto Godry Farias ’22 LL.M., Mateo Verdías Mezzera ’22 LL.M., Gino Rivas ’22 LL.M., and Gustavo Fávero Vaughn ’22 LL.M.—were arbitration practitioners in their home countries before coming to study at Columbia Law School in 2021. All say the primary reason they chose the Columbia LL.M. program was the opportunity to study with Bermann, whose scholarship has been widely recognized for its influence in the areas of international and commercial arbitration, transnational litigation and dispute resolution, and international and comparative law.
To help develop a theme for the book, the former students sought advice from Lecturer in Law Kabir Duggal, who co-teaches International Investment Law and Arbitration with Bermann. They settled on “What Does It Mean to Be ‘Pro-Arbitration’?”—inspired by one of Bermann’s seminal articles, which argues, perhaps counterintuitively, that the most arbitration-friendly policies might actually involve trade-offs that fail to advance a narrowly interpreted pro-arbitration agenda.
“When you think of scholarship in international arbitration, you are likely going to be reading one of Professor Bermann’s articles as your first option,” explains Duggal. “His scholarship and contribution to this field is unmatched and unprecedented. That is why when the American Law Institute (ALI) needed to develop the Restatement of Law of International Commercial and Investor-State Arbitration, Professor Bermann was selected as the chief rapporteur. Academic, scholar, arbitrator, frequent expert before tribunals and courts—you name it, and Professor Bermann has done it.”
The book’s editors sought out alumni contributors who work at law firms and in academia around the world, and they gave them a broad mandate: “They could write on any topic they were interested in provided it supported the pro-arbitration theme,” says Vaughn, who works at Cesar Asfor Rocha Advogados in São Paulo, Brazil.
“Pro-Arbitration” Revisited includes 107 essays, including one from a student in one of the first classes Bermann taught in 1975. “Some of the biggest names in international arbitration contributed to the book,” says Verdías Mezzera, who hails from Uruguay and is an associate at the Cuatrecasas law firm in Chile. “Each article was original and previously unpublished, and so the tribute really provides unique perspectives and is an important contribution to the scholarship in the arbitration field more generally.”
Bermann found the breadth of their essays surprising. “I had not realized that the subject—arbitration friendliness—could be viewed through so many different lenses and approached in so many original ways,” he says. “I should have not been surprised at that, but I was.”
Beyond their high regard for Bermann’s scholarship and pedagogy, the editors also admire his character. “What may be unknown to those who did not take his classes is that he is one of the most extraordinary human beings,” says Farias, an attorney in the São Paulo office of Milbank.
“He is kind, captivating, and patient,” says Rivas, a professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. “He really listens to all of his students and delivers the best class he possibly can every single time.” The editors also said that they appreciated the extra time they were able to spend with him outside of class or during office hours.
As Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, wrote in her foreword to the book: “The line of students outside George’s office frequently extends down the hallway, as he helps demystify the law while also providing treasured advice about legal careers and practice.”
Bermann found it “thrilling” to read the book when it was published in April. “What pleased me most was not only that so many former students—all busy international arbitration practitioners—contributed essays, but also that their essays were of such quality. The authors truly took the subject seriously. The book represents real collective thoughtfulness,” he says.
The publication of “Pro-Arbitration” Revisited provided Bermann an opportunity to pause to reflect on his career. “For a teacher, nothing is more gratifying than knowing you’ve made a difference, whether personally or professionally, or ideally both,” he says. “When I embarked on teaching, I thought I would find it deeply rewarding. But I didn’t quite appreciate how rewarding it could be for my students.”