London-based Withersworldwide is opening up a front in the Americas by bringing aboard global disputes lawyer Emma Lindsay as its international arbitration team leader in New York.

Lindsay, a veteran of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and, before that, of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, is expanding Withers’s presence in North America and South America, the firm announced this week.

Lindsay, a partner, had led Bryan Cave’s international arbitration team, and is among the slowly rising number of women in international arbitration practice leadership roles.

“We are trying to expand our offerings in the Americas, to meet the growing demand from our clients whether it’s a U.S. client with a matter somewhere else like Singapore or Hong Kong, or a Chinese company with an arbitration seated in New York,” said Lindsay of her new job.

Broaden Practice Offerings

As large corporations increasingly face transnational legal issues, more large firms are broadening their practice offerings to handle all their clients’ legal tangles.

Just as many of the biggest firms are bolstering their expertise in complex areas such as mergers and acquisitions and finance, some are also looking to deepen their bench to handle international disputes between and among investors.

Unless they are tussles over projects as gigantic as the overhauling the Panama Canal, such international disputes are often little known publicly. Another reason is that they are typically confidential.

Such high-value disputes are very important to multinational clients which can have massive dollar sums invested in infrastructure projects.

And when those projects encounter snags of various types, these disputes are almost always ironed out in arbitration tribunals. Those may include the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce, which are agreed in advance.

Such arbitration, which can be before an arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators, is binding.

Lindsay, who has been an arbitrator as well, has represented clients in most of the major arbitration forums, including a Japanese pharmaceutical company in a U.S. drug pricing dispute before the ICC.

She has also appeared before the American Arbitration Association International Centre for Dispute Resolution on behalf of an American hospitality company in a dispute over the acquisition of a restaurant chain from Japanese and U.S. sellers.

Her expertise will expand Withers’s offerings to its international clients, said Peter Wood, chief executive of the firm’s dispute resolution division. The firm has 18 locations, including Geneva, Milan, Los Angeles and Singapore.

“With Emma in place in New York, we can now offer our clients expert arbitration advice across the U.S., Asia and Europe,” he said.

Lindsay is among a small group of women who practice international arbitration law at global firms.

Lawyers such as Carolyn Lamm at White & Case have carved out renown in the international arbitration space, but the climb up for women has been steep.

There is no official count of women participation in firm international arbitration practices. Among them are Claudia T. Salomon, global co-chair of Latham & Watkins international arbitration practice, and Hagit M. Elul, co-chair of Hughes Hubbard & Reed’s arbitration practice group.

Women have struggled for years to get more visible roles in the male-dominated field.

For decades, men often landed the arbitrator jobs or legal representation in major disputes involving construction, intellectual property and other commercial litigation while women arbitration lawyers more often handled smaller claims, according to surveys.

Banded Together

Twenty-five years ago, women arbitrators banned together to form a group called ArbitralWomen to help women move up in the field.

The situation was still sufficiently bleak that in 2011 the American Bar Association founded the Women in Dispute Resolution committee. It promotes women’s participation both in commercial arbitration disputes in the United States and in international disputes that can involve investors or countries who are at odds.

Since then, the percentage of women appointed as arbitrators—most, but not all, are lawyers—has jumped from around 6 percent in 2010 to well over 20 percent more recently, according to Lucy Greenwood. She’s an arbitration lawyer, who has practiced in Houston and England, and tracks the progress of women in the area.

“There’s been a clear upward trend in the number of women appointed,” she noted, after arbitration forums and other institutions were asked two years ago to sign an Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge.

Most arbitration lawyers toggle between legal representation and arbitrator service, gaining experience in each and becoming better known in the practice area. A shift in the landscape to include more women affords them a higher likelihood of being chosen to iron out multibillion-dollar international disputes.

“Women have increasingly gained visibility in leading international arbitration practices,” said Rekha Rangachari, executive director of the New York International Arbitration Center, the most prevalent location for resolving major commercial disputes in the United States.