The firm is acting for a major European pharma company in a US$2 billion claim.
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$3.2 billion
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 83 (of which 46 are 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, Philippine and Cameroonian law, none of which were 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”).
Away from case work, senior members are active in the wider life of the arbitral community. Elliott Geisinger is the current president of the Swiss Arbitration Association (ASA) and is responsible for setting up its annual advocacy prize, while Manuel Liatowitsch, one of the younger partners, has served as co-chair of the ASA Below 40 group and vice chair of the international arbitration committee of the American Bar Association’s international law section.
Meanwhile, Nathalie Voser spent much of her time between 2009 and 2011 drafting and presenting the new ICC arbitration rules. She is a board member of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce and part of a group looking at revising the IBA guidelines on conflicts of interest in international arbitration.
Anne Véronique Schlaepfer formerly chaired the committee that oversees arbitral proceedings taking place under the Swiss rules; she is also senior 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 the German speaking parts of the country, with offices in Zurich and Geneva.
Who uses it?
Bayer Pharma, Ceylan, GE, Siemens, Merck and Orange/France Télécom 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 Télécom; 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.
The firm has also helped an Italian company to set aside an unfavourable award in the Swiss courts – no mean feat given that less than 7 per cent of challenges to arbitral awards succeed in Switzerland. The client was so pleased that it hired the team when it reopened the arbitration.
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 drug Ferrlecit in the US for the remainder of the year. The client’s share price jumped 1.4 per cent on the news.
Geisinger and Voser led a team that brought home a €26 million award for carbon products manufacturer SGL Group in 2012, in an ICC case against a metals and mining multinational.
In general, the firm emphasises that a significant number of its cases end either without arbitration or early in the proceedings, and that clients seek its advice as much for the team’s expertise in risk assessment and settlement negotiations as for arbitration advocacy. (But it warns that “if there is a fight, the gloves come off”.)
In the past year, the firm hired two associates in Geneva and five in Zurich.
The firm also had a number of successes. A team led by Anne Véronique Schlaepfer represented Tecnicas Reunidas in a US$100 million ICC arbitration relating to the development of several projects in the energy sector in the Middle East. A favourable settlement was reached.
Meanwhile, a team led by Nathalie Voser successfully represented an SGL Group company in a US$38 million ICC arbitration concerning a long term supply contract. The team obtained an award granting all the claims and a full award on costs.
Schellenberg Witmer was also retained by a major European pharmaceuticals group for a US$2 billion claim against a major US drugmaker, concerning a patent licence agreement for one of the world’s bestselling pharmaceutical products.
Additionally, the firm has been instructed by a Belgian company in a dispute over the acquisition of shares in a company that supposedly held mining rights in an African country worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Georg von Segesser also continues to act as arbitrator in some high-profile commercial cases. He was part of a panel at the Netherlands Arbitration Institute that ordered US jeweller Tiffany & Co to pay US$450 million to Swiss watchmaker Swatch Group over a failed joint venture in December 2013.
Schellenberg Wittmer Ltd’s International Arbitration Group is composed of leading specialists with the necessary experience and expertise to provide representation at the highest level. Drawing on an outstanding combination of skills and resources, we are committed to providing our clients with creative and result-oriented representation in international arbitration, from critical pre-arbitration injunctions to effective enforcement strategies. We have acted as counsel and arbitrators in disputes involving parties from around the world and many types of commercial transactions in a variety of industries including construction and engineering, energy, mergers and acquisitions, and the pharmaceutical industry. We work to achieve our clients’ objectives efficiently. Our expertise and resources enable us to do so in a broad spectrum of international cases, from straightforward matters to complex large-scale disputes. Our International Arbitration Group has experience with cases involving both Swiss law and a wide range of other laws.
Our lawyers have diverse backgrounds, training and practices, and have a distinctly international outlook. As a result, we offer our clients a special combination of skills and resources:
> All our arbitration partners also act as arbitrators. Therefore, when acting as counsel, we are able to provide our clients with valuable insight into the decision-making processes of international arbitral tribunals.
> Our lawyers are from both civil law and common law traditions. We are therefore able to handle cases subject to both civil and common substantive laws.
> All of the members of our team are multilingual and accordingly we are able to act as lead counsel with equal proficiency whether the language of the arbitral proceedings is English, French, Spanish or German.
> Given the nature of our practice, we are accustomed to working in a cross-cultural context and we understand the complex issues arising in the current global business environment which often lie at the heart of international disputes.
For Asia-related work we can draw on the infrastructure of our Singapore affiliate Schellenberg Wittmer Pte Ltd.