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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Lévy Kaufmann-Kohler

05 April 2018

Home to ICCA’s first female president 

People in Who’s Who Legal 4
People in Future Leaders 3
Pending cases as counsel 21
Value of pending counsel work US$648 million
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 8

This boutique began in 2007 when the co-founders of Schellenberg Wittmer’s international arbitration practice in Geneva – Laurent Lévy and Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler – realised their success as arbitrators was starting to impede their junior colleagues’ work as counsel and vice versa.

As well as handling the busy caseloads of these two arbitrators, the firm undertakes some counsel work in commercial, investment and sports arbitration.

Kaufmann-Kohler and Lévy need little introduction, being two of the most famous and active international arbitrators on the circuit. A study published in GAR that applied analysis of the frequency with which investment arbitrators are appointed and cited also named Kaufmann-Kohler as the most influential arbitrator in the world. As of April 2018, she will be president of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration, or ICCA.

She’s also influential in academia, as a professor at the University of Geneva and the founder and director of the Geneva MIDS, an LLM programme in international dispute settlement. In addition, she co-founded the Foundation for International Arbitration Advocacy and is an honorary president of the Swiss Arbitration Association (ASA). She was recently part of a group of experts tasked with advising the Swiss government on revisions to the country’s international arbitration statute.

Lévy meanwhile is a former vice president of the ICC Court and the LCIA and a council member of the ICC Institute of World Business Law.

Antonio Rigozzi heads the firm’s sports practice and is considered to be one of the leading specialists in Court of Arbitration for Sport matters, where he has represented associations such as the United States Olympic Committee, UEFA and FIFA (including in proceedings against former UEFA vice president Michel Platini and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter). He has also represented football players, clubs and national federations, Olympic medallists and a three-time winner of the Tour de France.

The firm made its first addition to the partnership in 2011 by promoting Chilean-Italian Sabina Sacco.

In 2015, it recruited partner Sébastien Besson who spent 10 years with Python & Peter and is a member of the ASA board.

Kaufmann-Kohler, Lévy and Besson all featured in an inaugural listing of “Thought Leaders” in international arbitration published by GAR’s sister publication Who’s Who Legal in 2017.

The team also includes recently promoted counsel Eva Kalnina, a Latvian national who features on ICSID’s panel of arbitrators (along with Kaufmann-Kohler) and is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The firm prides itself on its multicultural and multilingual background, noting that its lawyers hail from 10 different countries, are well versed in the civil law and common law systems and are proficient in 13 languages.

Who uses it?

The firm’s commercial clients include two Swiss and several other European banks, a European tobacco company and a special purpose vehicle representing Qatari interests. It has acted for two Egyptian state entities (in a Swiss court challenge to a US$2 billion ICC award).

Other users are a South American mining company, a European aerospace company and an international development bank.

Track record

The firm’s sports counsel work attracted international attention through Rigozzi and Besson’s successful defence of FIFA against CAS claims filed by Platini and Blatter following corruption allegations. Platini failed to have his 90-day suspension from football-related activities rescinded, while Blatter was unable to overturn a decision banning him from all football-related activities for six years.

It successfully represented a European tobacco company in an ICC arbitration and subsequent annulment proceedings.

Recent events

Kaufmann-Kohler was elected president of ICCA with effect from April 2018, becoming its first-ever female president.

She and associate Michele Potestà published a report in 2016 examining potential reforms to the investor-state dispute settlement system, which arguably helped to influence the UN Commission on International Trade Law’s decision in July 2017 to direct a working group to draw up a comprehensive plan for ISDS reforms. UNCITRAL later invited the pair to submit a follow-up report.

Examples of her recent arbitrator work include chairing an ad hoc tribunal that threw out claims by a group of German solar investors against the Czech Republic – the first of seven cases the state faces over reforms to its renewable energy sector. She also chaired an ICSID panel that tossed out an Australian energy company’s claim against East Timor.

Kaufmann-Kohler continues to preside over a US$5 billion ICSID claim brought against Guinea by a company linked to Israeli diamond tycoon Beny Steinmetz.

Lévy meanwhile chaired an ICSID panel that awarded oil company Caratube just US$39 million out of the US$1 billion it had claimed against Kazakhstan in a dispute over oil exploration rights.

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