The Swiss firm has been a fixture in international arbitration for over half a century
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$11 billion
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 65 (of which 36 are as sole or chair)
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
Lalive is one of the oldest arbitration practices in the world, having operated since the 1950s. The firm began as an international disputes boutique founded by Jean-Flavien Lalive, following his tenure as the first legal secretary of the International Court of Justice. He was joined by his brother, Pierre Lalive, who remains the senior partner of the firm and head of the international arbitration group. Originally known as Lalive Budin & Partners, the firm was launched as we know it today in 1994, with the two Lalive brothers, Michael E Schneider and Teresa Giovannini as its co-founders.
The firm’s name – and its huge reputation in the field – has everything to do with Pierre Lalive, who was described in Dealing in Virtue (a sociological study of private justice in the commercial sphere) as the “grand old man of Swiss arbitration”. From the 1950s to the 1980s, members of the firm participated in some of the first “true” international commercial arbitrations that followed nationalisations by petrol-states, including Sapphire International Petroleum v National Iranian Oil Company, Texaco v Libya, Kuwait v Aminoil. It also acted in early ICSID cases and state-to-state disputes before the ICJ.
Nowadays the firm continues to rule the roost in Switzerland, with arguably the largest team of full-time arbitration specialists out of any Swiss firm – including such well-respected figures as Veijo Heiskanen, Matthias Scherer, Domitille Baizeau and Bernd Ehle.
It has continued to prioritise public international law. Finnish-born Veijo Heiskanen is perhaps one of the names to know in this area. He has extensive experience of the mass claims that can follow international conflict, having worked as counsel, adviser and arbitrator for the Iran-US Claims Tribunal, the UN Compensation Commission, the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Accounts in Switzerland, the UN Property Claims Commission in Kosovo and the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Tribunal.
In terms of strategy, the firm prioritises global cases; work with no strong nexus to Switzerland. It has assembled a multinational, multilingual team of lawyers, similar to those found at Shearman & Sterling and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, where in fact many Lalive lawyers trained. It seeks very little co-counsel work of the type some Swiss firms regularly undertake.
Now over 80, Pierre Lalive remains an active participant in the firm’s life. His protégé, Michael Schneider, is now the firm’s tallest tree though. He was the chair of the working group charged with revising the UNCITRAL Rules and is now president of the Swiss Arbitration Association.
Besides its Geneva base, the firm opened an office in Zurich in early 2010 and has had a presence in the Qatari capital of Doha since 2006.
Who uses it?
Even by Swiss standards, Lalive is cagey about discussing current work, but it’s known that Polish mobile operator PTC and Turkish state-owned oil company Botas are clients, as is US tobacco group Philip Morris in its controversial tobacco packaging claim against Uruguay at ICSID.
It also has numerous states as clients, from the Middle East and Africa in particular. Some use the firm to defend against mass claims, where the figures can be astronomical. It recently defended Iraq against US$260 billion worth of claims by the Kuwait Investment Authority before the United Nations Compensation Commission. The amounts eventually awarded were but a fraction of the initial sums claimed.
In the more mainstream investment law area, it worked for Romania as co-counsel in a claim by Rompetrol at ICSID.
It’s also been working on some of the European gas-pricing arbitrations.
It isn’t just Iraq that’s done well in Lalive’s hands. Turkey’s Botas won US$760 million in a dispute with Iran and Lalive was also on the winning side in Swiss court proceedings in the bitter Elektrim v Vivendi case. A leading German car manufacturer in international arbitrations also has Lalive to thank for the fact it largely escaped from claims worth several million dollars in arbitrations brought by two former sales partners in the Middle East.
In court, the firm has managed the rare feat, in Swiss practice, of obtaining stays of enforcement on more than one occasion.
The firm promoted British-Lebanese lawyer Noradèle Radjai to partner in Geneva at the start of 2012, just 18 months after she’d been elevated to counsel. In Zurich, Werner Jahnel became counsel.
Four new full-time arbitration associates joined the team from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Paris, Sidley Austin in Geneva, a Milanese firm and the UN Office of Legal Affairs in New York.
French-New Zealander Domitille Baizeau was one of two Swiss-based practitioners based in Switzerland listed in the GAR “45 under 45” and was the first non-Swiss lawyer to be appointed to the Arbitration Committee of the Swiss Chambers of Commerce, which administers the Swiss arbitration rules (replacing Scherer).
Meanwhile, Michael Schneider accepted an award at the GAR Awards in Seoul for “Best Development of 2010” for the work of the group that revised the UNCITRAL rules. In his role as president of the Swiss Arbitration Association, he spearheaded the Swiss Initiative for Transparency in Arbitration Costs.
Teresa Giovannini was appointed to the American Arbitration Association board of directors and Baizeau to the executive committee of the Swedish Arbitration Association.