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Getting to Know You: Zuko Nonxuba, International Arbitration Lawyer

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Zuko Mack Nonxuba is an acclaimed International Arbitration Lawyer from Sandton, South Africa.

Throughout his formative years, Zuko achieved great success both in academics and athletics. After finishing secondary school, he enrolled in a four-year legal studies program, eventually earning a Bproc degree (Baccalaureus Procurationis) in 1998. He furthered his education in the law by obtaining a Certificate in Commercial Law in 2002, a Post-Graduate Diploma in International Commercial Law in 2019, and an LLM in International Commercial Law in 2020.

As an International Arbitration Lawyer, the breadth of Zuko Nonxuba’s position includes giving expert opinion and evidence in international public law and in investment law, as well as bilateral investment treaties between member states in international arbitration tribunals. Many of these tribunals take place in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), which is the world’s leading institution devoted to international investment dispute settlement.

Presently, many of Zuko’s professional efforts are focused on third party litigation funding, and he is involved in the funding of one of the largest international arbitrations currently being adjudicated in the International Court of Arbitration (sometimes referred to as the PCA, or Permanent Court of Arbitration). He is also a member of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) and an associate member of North America’s Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb).

 What do you currently do at your practice?

Currently, my practice is focused on international arbitration, which is a relatively new type of legal work. Originally, my practice focused on cases involving medical negligence, but when I decided that I would no longer handle those, I started developing my career based around this new area of law. The practice also focuses on arbitration in a general sense.

What inspired you to go into this specialty?

It was my interest in arbitration in general. But there are two more specific reasons that pushed me into this new field. First, there reached a point with medical negligence malpractice law where I could see a lot of competition emerging and no potential for growth forthcoming. There was also the fact that this type of practice was under threat from the state. I come from South Africa, and more often than not, the types of cases that arise from medical malpractice occur in state-run hospitals. The second reason why I shifted my legal practice to international arbitration was because I specifically chose to study international law and international commercial law.

What are the keys to being productive that you can share?

I believe a high degree of productivity is achieved by mastering two elements. The first is self-discipline, and the second is proper time management.

Can you share a long term goal for your practice?

My long-term goal is to broaden my focus on international arbitration. I have taken quite a few cases in this realm of law before, but I would like the practice to grow and become an international presence that focuses on the arbitration between companies, countries, and individuals from all walks of life.

How do you measure success?

I measure success by the referrals I get from clients and colleagues. I know that I’m on the right track when new clients tell me that they heard I helped another client—perhaps a friend or family member of theirs—and because of that, they want me to help them with their case. In my view, retaining clients through word-of-mouth is a vital part of my past success, my present success, as well as my potential future success. It objectively shows that my clients believe that I can achieve positive results.

What would you say is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?

My job is to interact with people, and through doing so I’ve learned a lot about human behavior. I’ve learned that it’s wrong to generalize about people. Individuals are all so different and diverse, each with their own subtleties, personalities, and histories. When you take the time to listen to them carefully, you can learn quite a bit. Of all the lessons I have learned in this line of work, how best to deal with human nature has to be the most valuable one.

What advice would you give to others who wish to succeed in the field of international arbitration?

International arbitration is not an easy field to get into, and to anyone out there who wants to pursue it as a career, I would advise that there’s no substitute for hard work. Besides that, I would suggest that anyone interested would have to like this branch of law from the outset. If your heart’s not really in it, others in the field will notice and that will negatively affect your career. Unless you’re passionate about international arbitration, you’ll have a difficult time succeeding in it, because it’s a field of law that you can’t really focus on casually. It requires a great deal of effort and dedication.

What are your favorite things to do outside of work?

I enjoy reading a lot. It’s always a delight reading new stories. Secondly, I enjoy reading as a means of keeping up on international law. I find it to be mentally stimulating, as well as restful. And it enables me to properly process concepts that usually prove valuable to the practice down the road.

How do you maintain a work life balance?

I try my best to separate my work from my personal life. Accomplishing this has to be a conscious decision and you have to stick to it. If work requires your constant attention, it can easily lead to exhaustion and burnout, and that should be avoided at all costs for obvious reasons. For this upcoming weekend, I’ve already made the conscious decision to not do anything work-related.

What is a piece of technology that helps you in your daily routine?

I enjoy using my MacBook. I use it for work and it helps me with everything I need to get a given project done, whatever that may be. I also rely heavily on my phone. I find its mobility especially useful. For example, by using my phone, I’m able to send and receive emails when I’m not able to access my MacBook. Those two devices have been very helpful for me.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

It’s been my mother. I watched her as she struggled to raise seven kids while working two jobs. She was a nurse by profession. When I was a child, she worked in a state hospital, but she found that job by itself didn’t pay well enough to support our family. So, she started taking shifts working at a private hospital on the side, as well. There would be days when she would have to work both jobs during very hot weather and it would just totally exhaust her. Her work ethic has always served as an inspiration to me to do my best for the people I represent. That is why she’s my role model.

What is a piece of advice you have never forgotten?

When I was articling as a law student—which is a practical period that you work on once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree—I met a principal, and he gave some really good advice. He told me there is one thing you must never do: Never leave a job or a client on bad terms. If you have to leave, give plenty of notice to all those involved. Make sure there is no reason for bad feelings, because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. You might need to come back and ask that company for a favor, or ask that client for cooperation. As the old cliché dictates, ‘Don’t burn any bridges.’