The firm’s Geneva and Zurich practices are equally matched.
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 61 (37 as sole or chair)
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
Created in 2000 through the merger of Schellenberg & Haissly in Zurich with 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 explicitly on the area, one he hoped would have sufficient horsepower to compete for non-Swiss work (reasoning it could help to introduce new clients to the firm). He would soon recruit Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler to pursue that vision.
Meanwhile in Zurich, Georg von Segesser and some of his senior colleagues, including Martin Bernet and Alexander Jolles, had also thought that diversity and more international work was the way to go.
When the two firms joined, the result was a team with unusual equipoise between Zurich and Geneva, and a similar mindset in both that would offer foreign-trained lawyers in particular a level career playing field. It also made skill in oral advocacy one of the job requirements – not a skill set Swiss firms traditionally sought.
Nowadays, Lévy and Kaufmann-Kohler are successful independent arbitrators at their own shop, while some of the partners in Zurich are more often to be found on the arbitrator side of the hearing room – but otherwise the essence of the practice is the same. Though much bigger, 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.
Ambitions to compete internationally have also been fulfilled: members of the practice have recently taken part in cases governed by English, Polish, Czech, UAE, Thai, Filipino and Cameroonian law, none of which was heard in Switzerland.
In recent times, the practice has begun minting new partners – such as Christopher Boog and Philipp Groz in Zurich, and Philippe Bärtsch in Geneva – taking it into its third generation. (See Recent events, below, for more.)
Away from case work, senior members are active in the wider life of the arbitral community. Elliott Geisinger has been a vice president of the Swiss Arbitration Association (ASA) since 2010 and is responsible for setting up its annual advocacy prize, while Manuel Liatowitsch, one of the more recent younger partners, was elected a co-chair of the ASA Below 40 group and reappointed vice chair of the international arbitration committee of the ABA’s international section for 2012 to 2013.
Meanwhile, Nathalie Voser spent much of her time between 2009 and 2011 drafting and presenting the new ICC arbitration rules. She has also been appointed a board member of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce until 2014, and is part of a group looking at revising the IBA Guidelines on Conflict of Interest in International Arbitration.
Anne Véronique Schlaepfer has just stepped down after three years as chair of the committee that oversees arbitral proceedings taking place under the Swiss rules; she is also a vice chair of the IBA’s arbitration committee.
Voser and Schlaepfer are the practice co-heads.
The firm is one of the few Swiss arbitration practices regarded as leading in both the French and German speaking parts of the country, with offices in Zurich and Geneva.
Who uses it?
Bayer Pharma, Ceylan, GE, Siemens, Merck and Orange/France Telecom to name but a few. The firm says it witnessed a rise in oil and gas clients seeking advice in the past year, while cases in the construction and engineering sector are growing steadily.
The team has had a string of successes defending awards in set-aside proceedings before the Swiss Supreme Court. Elliott Geisinger defended a €220 million award in favour of Orange/France Telecom; and Andrea Mondini defended an ICC award in favour of US company Hasbro.
The team (led by Geisinger again) was also retained to defend a very public US$2.2 billion award in favour of Sonatrach in set-aside proceedings; that case ultimately settled after the exchange of written submissions, apparently on very favourable terms for Sonatrach.
Otherwise, the firm enjoyed a big win in 2009 when it obtained US$100 million on behalf of Watson Pharmaceuticals. A tribunal ruled the company could continue selling iron deficiency treatment drug Ferrlecit in the US for the remainder of the year. The client’s share price jumped 1.4 per cent on the news.
In general, the firm emphasises that a significant number of its cases end either without arbitration or early in the arbitration, and that clients seek its advice as much for the team’s expertise in risk assessment and settlement negotiations as for arbitration advocacy. (It warns, though, that “if there is a fight, the gloves come off”.)
By the end of April 2013, the firm will have made nine additions in total to its international arbitration practice: two in Geneva and seven in Zurich. These include a French-Nigerian-US citizen, a Canadian-UK-Swiss citizen, and other lawyers with Filipino and Argentine roots.
In 2012, the firm continued to build its reputation in Swiss Supreme Court proceedings with three cases decided in its clients’ favour. In one case, it helped an Italian company set aside an unfavourable award (no mean feat given that less than 7 per cent of challenges to arbitral awards succeed in Switzerland); the client was so pleased, it later hired the team when it reopened the arbitration. In two other cases, it successfully defended awards against set-aside actions.
Zurich partner Martin Bernet also succeeded in obtaining a section 1782 order from a US court in support of an arbitration in Switzerland.
Geisinger and Voser led a team that brought home a €26 million award for carbon products manufacturer SGL Group in an ICC case against a metals and mining multinational.
Meanwhile, Georg von Segesser’s arbitrator work included chairing an ICC panel that awarded Mexican cement maker Cemex €40 million over the collapse of an M&A deal with Austria’s largest construction group, Strabag.