Faculty Feature

Assistant Professor Jean Ho
A League of Her Own



Assistant Professor Jean Ho ’03 lectures and supervises diverse aspects of international investment law. The principal areas of her research are the law of state responsibility, the law of treaties, and investment contracts. She is the first academic in the history of NUS Law to graduate with honours from l'Université de Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, topping her class in several courses including Droit des Contrats, Droit de la Responsabilité Civile, and Droit des Sociétés.

She is also the first Singaporean to be awarded a placement with the Conseil d'Etat in Paris, an honour normally reserved for foreign judges. Prior to academia, she specialised in investor-state disputes at Shearman & Sterling LLP. Fluent in French and Mandarin, she now divides her time between Singapore, London, Paris and Washington D.C.

Assistant Professor Ho shares with us more about her experiences.

 

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How did you decide on a career in academia?

ILike my previous incarnation as a practitioner in international investment law, I fell into it. I was halfway through my LL.M. studies at New York University when Professor Michael Hor (my first year Criminal Law tutor, and current Dean of the Faculty of Law at The University of Hong Kong) and Associate Professor Gary Bell (my Vis moot coach) contacted me asking if I was interested in a career in academia. After which I spoke to then NUS Law Dean, Professor Tan Cheng Han, and decided to submit my first ever job application.
 

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What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

Calling CJ Koh Professor M Sornarajah and Professor Tan Yock Lin my mentors is something I am always grateful for. They encourage me to stay the course and play to my strengths.

The first highlight and turning point was an invitation from the Secretary-General of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, Meg Kinnear, to speak at ICSID’s 50th Anniversary Conference at the World Bank in Paris. The conference was conducted in English and French, with 11 effectively bilingual invited speakers. I was the only speaker from Asia. The other speakers were Yas Banifatemi (Shearman & Sterling LLP), Colin Brown (European Commission), Professor Pierre-Marie Dupuy (Graduate Institute of Geneva), Juan Fernández-Armesto (Armesto & Asociados), Professor Emmanuel Gaillard (Shearman & Sterling LLP), Thierry Kalongi (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), Mathieu Raux (Treasury Department of France), Professor Christoph Schreuer (University of Vienna), Albert Jan van den Berg (Hanotiau & van den Berg), and V.V. Veeder QC (Essex Court Chambers).

The second highlight was an invitation to record a lecture for the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law. At the urging of the UN legal officers who hope that others will do the same, I am the first contributor to record video and podcast lectures in three official languages of the UN – English, Mandarin, and French. All three lectures, State Responsibility for Breaches of Investment Contracts, 国际法对投资合约的保障, and La responsabilité d’Etat et la rupture des contrats d’Etat, are based on my forthcoming sole-authored monograph, State Responsibility for Breaches of Investment Contracts. It will be published by Cambridge University Press as part of the Cambridge Studies in International and Comparative Law series.

The third highlight was being nominated by the United States Department of State as an Expert to the UNIDROIT (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) Working Group on Land Investment Contracts. The Working Group meets four times a year at the seat of UNIDROIT in Rome, Italy.
  

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You became the first Singaporean to be awarded a placement with the Conseil d’Etat in Paris, can you tell us a little bit more about this?


It is tradition for l’Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne) to recommend one of their foreign graduate students to the Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative tribunal in France, for consideration for a placement. Given the CDE’s strong preference for a judicial background, successful applicants from Paris have always been administrative law judges in their home jurisdiction. In my year, the director of the graduate programme informed me that she was breaking with tradition and recommending two students to the CDE. She felt that I stood a chance on account of my spoken and written French, even though I did not have the preferred profile. It transpired during the interview at the CDE that as all the business at the CDE is conducted in French, fluency in French was a must. Fluency in languages other than English was a bonus. I was awarded the only placement and spent several months attending hearings, as well as drafting reports and research memoranda for Councillors. I also acted as an interpreter for visiting foreign dignitaries, including a delegation from the Ministry of Justice of China, and then President of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.


 

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What do you think are the most pressing issues in international investment law?


The propriety of demarcating the limits of regulatory autonomy through investor-state arbitration, and the severe gender and geographical imbalance in arbitrator appointments are pressing concerns. In response, some states have terminated the investment treaties that generated the current framework for investment protection, while others float the possibility of an investment court that will purportedly alter this framework for the better. International arbitration emerged as an alternative to litigation for business disputes. Bringing a claim before party-appointed arbitrators or before state-appointed judges has its respective strengths and shortcomings. In my view, neither mode of dispute settlement is necessarily superior to the other.

 

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What is your advice to law students who are interested in specialising in international investment law?

Follow your heart and be open to opportunities outside Singapore. When you are passionate about what you do, you will become good at it, and be recognised globally for it. Trust your own judgment, consult those whose opinions you value, and time will take care of everything else.