“Now I have a very authentic understanding of international trade law and the challenges facing U.S. businesses and their foreign partners.”
The first rule of doing business internationally is to speak the language. For Akbar Vokhidov, that means fluency in Russian and English as well as his native Uzbek.
Vokhidov works in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, as senior legal counsel for LUKOIL Uzbekistan Operating Co., an oil and gas driller and producer; the company is a subsidiary of the giant Moscow-based energy conglomerate LUKOIL. He has been with the firm for over a decade.
The role, he says, is varied: reviewing contracts, overseeing the documentation of bidding, and more recently working in government relations, negotiating with people in key ministries such as energy, economy and taxation. “We work in cooperation with big government,” he says.
His motivation for pursuing the Fulbright and studying in the United States, he says, was to have a better understanding of common law.
“Uzbek lawyers have some difficulties understanding the common law system,” Vokhidov says. “Our legal system is post-Soviet, and it’s more civil law, based on legislation and statutes. Common law is based both on court decisions, and on legislation.”
“It was a great experience for me to come here to learn how this legal system works. We have many foreign investors, and many times they conclude agreements and contracts under common law. Now I have an understanding of how to deal with such contracts.”
The Fulbright program, he says, pointed him to UB School of Law because of the strength of the Cross-Border Legal Studies LLM program. “It’s very focused on the international activities of current companies,” Vokhidov, “especially with Canadian and U.S. businesses, and providing legal support for such activities. I hadn’t heard about UB, but when I contacted Professor Meredith Kolsky Lewis, she supported me and encouraged me to come to Buffalo.
“The activities here are real-world tasks with several big law firms that do cross-border work in Canada and Mexico. It’s not only academic training but it’s also professional training. You can learn basic law like contract, torts and property, but it’s also exposure to real-world American law firms. Now I have a very authentic understanding of international trade and the challenges facing U.S. businesses and their foreign partners.” In addition to Prof. Lewis, Vokhidov is especially grateful to all of his other professors and mentioned them each by name: Makau Mutua, Athena Mutua, Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, Katrin Rowan, William MacDonald, Amy Elizabeth Semet, and Mark Bartholomew.
After he finishes his LLM program, he is heading to Houston, where he’ll work through the summer in the energy practice group of Greenberg Traurig under a State Department grant. Long term, he sees wider opportunities at his current company—including the potential for projects in Iraq, Azerbaijan and Africa—that would make use of his new understanding of common-law contracts, but he’s also open to other opportunities in Uzbekistan’s burgeoning energy sector.
“I never regret that I came here. This is not only a good place to study but it’s a great community,” says Vokhidov, who lives in Amherst with wife Nigora and their five children—two sets of twins ages 5 and 9, and their 10-year-old daughter. Their eldest found her own economic opportunity in America: She plays a great game of chess, and in one tournament walked away with a $600 prize.