Sorainen promoted sworn advocate Maria Pihlak, who heads the firm’s International Arbitration sub-practice in Estonia, to partner. Maria becomes the fourth partner on the Sorainen Estonian office’s Dispute Resolution and Risk Management team, alongside partners Carri Ginter, Allar Jõks and Norman Aas. Sorainen currently has 350 employees across four countries, including 45 partners, 13 of whom are women. Maria is the first female partner on Sorainen’s international Dispute Resolution and Risk Management practice. The firm’s Estonian office has a staff of 123, including 13 partners, four of whom are women.

Maria helps clients to solve highly complex and resource-heavy disputes before arbitral tribunals both in Estonia and abroad. She is advising a number of major clients, including Elering, Eesti Energia and GE Steam Power, to name a few. Clients have resorted to her expertise and assistance in international disputes whose total value in the year 2022 alone amounted to EUR 56 million. Among other notable cases, Maria is representing Windoor in a landmark international arbitration versus the state of Kazakhstan in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

“Over the past few years, the share of arbitration proceedings in the work of our Dispute Resolution and Risk Management team has increased notably and this trend is likely to continue,” predicts Maria. “Despite the growing trend, international arbitration remains uncharted territory for many companies and for this reason, I attach particular importance to general advice and myth-busting. Some businesses still waive their claims too easily after encountering words like ‘Sweden’ in arbitration clauses, or rush to file claims before analysing the specific risks of the country where the decision would eventually be enforced. International disputes require a strong strategic approach, a network of international partners (including financiers, legal advisers and industry experts), experience with different jurisdictions and arbitral tribunals, language skills and many other competencies,” Maria adds.

From intern to partner

Maria joined Sorainen in 2011 straight from university and started out as a reception assistant and archivist before partner Carri Ginter invited her to join his Dispute Resolution team a year later. Maria steadily worked to develop the firm’s international arbitration services. At present, arbitration accounts for 11% of the dispute resolution work done by the firm’s Estonian office and is growing regionally. Arbitration cases are handled by Maria and six other team members, who work in close cooperation to set and implement the team’s strategy.

“Maria is an arbitration expert with an outstanding international network. Her special strengths are team awareness and teamwork. With this, she also contributes to the development of future top players,” says partner Carri Ginter, commending Maria’s work.

“In the international arbitration service, we see the opportunity to both advise Estonian capital in foreign investments and to expand beyond our home markets and explore the global market for legal services. For Maria and our international arbitration service, the destination is in sight and the journey has only just started. We will be hearing a lot more from them,” adds Kaupo Lepasepp, country managing partner at Sorainen’s Estonian office.

Renowned arbitration expert at home and internationally

Maria is a dual-qualified dispute resolution attorney ‒ she has received higher education in both civil law and common law systems and is licensed to practice in Estonia as well as in the United States.

For several years, she has been among a few selected arbitration experts in Estonia who is recommended by the Who’s Who Legal: Arbitration list featuring market-leading arbitrators, counsel, and expert witnesses.

Maria actively participates in the work of several international arbitration organisations and is a management board member of the Estonian Young Lawyers Association and a member of the Committee of Ethics and Methodology of the Estonian Bar Association.  Maria is also a popular lecturer – she gives lectures on investment arbitration at the Sorainen Student Academy.