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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Schellenberg Wittmer

18 February 2016

The Swiss firm lost a practice co-head to White & Case and is now led by Elliott Geisinger

People in Who’s Who Legal: 5
Pending cases as counsel: 43
Value of pending counsel work: US$2.95 billion
Treaty cases: 1
Current arbitrator appointments: 93 (of which 53 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 14

Created in 2000 through the merger of Schellenberg & Haissly in Zurich and Brunschwig Wittmer in Geneva, Schellenberg Wittmer married two firms already in sync when it came to thinking about international arbitration.

In Geneva, Laurent Lévy was building a team focused on the area that hoped would have sufficient horsepower to compete for non-Swiss work – with Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler to help pursue the vision.

In Zurich, Georg von Segesser and colleagues had also thought that diversity and more international work was the way to go.

When the two firms merged , the result was a team with unusual equipoise between Zurich and Geneva, a mixture of foreign-trained and Swiss lawyers and an emphasis on oral advocacy – not a skill set Swiss firms traditionally sought.

Nowadays, Lévy and Kaufmann-Kohler are successful independent arbitrators at their own shop, and some of the Zurich partners are also more often on tribunals than before them. But the essence of the practice is the same: it’s still one of the few places in Switzerland where you can find common-law trained advocates and counsel who do nothing but arbitration.

Members of the practice have taken part in cases governed by English, Polish, Czech, UAE, Thai, Senegalese, Philippine and Cameroonian law, none of which were heard in Switzerland. Indeed the firm prides itself on an increasing number of cases with no connection to its home jurisdiction at all.

In recent times, the practice has begun making new partners – such as Christopher Boog and Philipp Groz in Zurich, and Philippe Bärtsch in Geneva – taking it into its third generation.

Away from case work, senior members are active in the wider life of the arbitral community. Elliott Geisinger is the president of the Swiss Arbitration Association (ASA).

The practice was co-led by partners Nathalie Voser and Anne Véronique Schlaepfer, but after Schlaepfer’s departure to White & Case in 2015 the firm had a reshuffle. Now Geneva-based partner Elliott Geisinger leads the practice, with Boog and Bärtsch as vice heads.

Network

The firm is one of the few Swiss arbitration practices held in equal regard in the French and German-speaking parts of the country, with offices in Zurich and Geneva. In 2014, it made its first expansion into Asia, opening an office in Singapore.

Who uses it?

Bayer Pharma, Ceylan, GE, Gucci, Siemens, Société Générale de Surveillance, Watson Pharmaceuticals Merck and Orange/France Télécom, to name but a few. The firm says it has witnessed a recent rise in pharmaceuticals clients seeking advice while cases in the construction and engineering sector are growing steadily and a rise in clients seeking advice in oil and gas matters has continued.

Track record

The team has had a string of successes defending awards in set-aside proceedings before the Swiss Supreme Court. For example, it ensured the preservation of a €220 million award in favour of Orange/France Télécom and an ICC award in favour of US company Hasbro.

A team led by Geisinger was also retained to defend a very public US$2.2 billion award in favour of Sonatrach in set-aside proceedings.

Getting an award set aside by the Swiss courts is traditionally much harder than defending one – fewer than 7 per cent of award challenges succeed. But the firm has achieved it.

In other matters, the firm enjoyed a big win in 2009 when it obtained US$100 million for Watson Pharmaceuticals and a ruling that it could continue selling an iron-deficiency drug in the United States for the remainder of the year. The client’s share price jumped 1.4 per cent on the news.

Another team obtained a €26 million award for carbon products manufacturer SGL Group in 2012, in an ICC case against a metals and mining multinational.

The firm emphasises that a significant number of its cases end in settlement before arbitration or early in the proceedings – but “if there is a fight, the gloves come off”.

One such settlement was achieved in 2013 for Técnicas Reunidas in a US$100 million ICC arbitration relating to the development of projects in the energy sector in the Middle East.

In 2014 the firm also achieved a favourable settlement for Merck in a US$2 billion dispute with a major US drug-maker on the eve of the merits hearing over patents for one of the world’s bestselling pharmaceutical products.

Recent events

In July 2015, the firm led a client to victory in a Dubai-seated ICC arbitration under Saudi law, obtaining a payment of US$47 million and ensuring all counterclaims by the opposing party were dismissed.

It also acted for a major pharmaceutical in a US$210 million ICC dispute against a rival company over non-conforming drug products. The firm won for its client on the merits, and were awarded a significant part of the damages claimed, plus costs.

There were several successful settlements, such as for a French construction group in a US$17 million dispute over a large piping project in Eastern Europe.

New instructions included acting as lead counsel for the claimants in a US$200 million dispute over a large infrastructure project in Dubai and a US$140 million Geneva-seated dispute with parallel proceedings in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The loss of Schlaepfer to White & Case was big news, but the firm also promoted Stefan Leimgruber to partner and former Bredin Prat associate Anne-Carole Cremades to counsel. A dual Spanish and French national working from the Geneva office, she focuses on the Spanish and Latin American markets.

Client comment

Ümit Yamantürk, deputy general manager of Turkish contractor Güris, hired a team led by Geisinger in a crucial dispute for his company. “We needed to regroup the line of defence at an advanced stage, and this was understood and executed very efficiently,” he said.

He adds that the firm has “a very good experience of our business” and that its lawyers are “imaginative in their defence strategy and very thorough – we have not been disappointed so far”.

A client in the energy sector praises lead counsel Philippe Bärtsch for his “communications skills, consistent availability, attention to the changing circumstances of this litigation and ability to provide focused and detailed advice”.