GAR 100 - 8th Edition

Schellenberg Wittmer

Professional notice

The Swiss firm has opened its first office in Asia

People in Who’s Who Legal:5
Pending cases as counsel:38
Value of pending counsel work:US$2.5 billion
Treaty cases:0
Current arbitrator appointments:97 (of which 52 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator:14

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 on the area, one he 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 joined, 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 recently 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 minting 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 is co-led by partners Nathalie Voser in Zurich and Anne Véronique Schlaepfer in Geneva.


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. This year 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 witnessed a rise in pharmaceuticals clients seeking advice in the past year, 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.

Recent events

In April, the firm marked its first international expansion, with the opening of its Singapore office headed by Christopher Boog, who will split his time between there and Zurich.

In terms of case results, the firm achieved a favourable settlement for Merck in a US$2 billion dispute with a major US drug-maker over patents for one of the world’s bestselling pharmaceutical products. The settlement came on the eve of merits hearings.

It also reached settlements for Swedish and Russian clients ahead of a US$90 million ICC arbitration concerning construction and engineering works for a power plant in Russia.

Other wins were achieved for Italian construction company Impresa Pizzarotti in a dispute over a consultancy and services agreement relating to a construction project in Algeria and a commodity trading company in a dispute under Senegalese law.

The firm followed up earlier successes in set-aside proceedings before the Swiss courts by getting an award against Mechel Trading relating to the sale of Russian coal overturned. The decision was notable for the court’s statements regarding the setting aside of awards on procedural rights grounds.

Anne-Veronique Schlaepfer was appointed as co-chair of the IBA arbitration committee, along with White & Case partner Paul Friedland. She also sits on the new board of the London Court of International Arbitration.

Voser was part of the IBA group that came up with revised guidelines on conflicts of interest.

Under Geisinger, ASA is playing a prominent role in the debate on counsel ethics in international arbitration, and has called for the creation of an international body to consider complaints about counsel conduct.

The firm introduced the new rank of senior associate this year, promoting 11 associates in the international arbitration team to this position. Another associate, James Menz, became counsel.

It has hired from Python & Peter and Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle, among other firms.

Client comment

Ümit Yamantürk, deputy general manager of Turkish contractor Güris, hired a team led by Elliott 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 by them.” He praises the team’s efficiency and professionalism, and says he has already recommended them to friends.

Mike McIlwrath, chief litigation counsel for GE’s oil and gas division, has used Anne-Véronique Schlaepfer for some of its most significant matters. He praises her strategic thinking and creative finesse. “The case is efficiently steered toward critical issues so that unnecessary work (and cost) is avoided,” he says.

Another of Schlaepfer’s clients in a pending case praises her as “a quick thinker, with an acute sense of strategy. [...] She can be very effective when examining witnesses.”

He says 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,” he concludes.

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

Schellenberg Wittmer Ltd’s International Arbitration Group is composed of leading specialists, all of whom have a distinctly international outlook and the experience and expertise to provide representation at the highest level in a broad range of cases, be it under Swiss law or under the laws of other major jurisdictions worldwide. Drawing on an outstanding combination of skills and resources, we are committed to providing our clients with cost-efficient, creative and result-oriented representation in international arbitration, from critical pre-arbitration injunctions to effective enforcement strategies.

We have acted as counsel in disputes involving parties from around the world, under all major arbitration rules and in all the major arbitration venues. Our expertise spans over a wide range of industries, including construction & engineering, energy, pharmaceutical & life sciences, automotive, mining & minerals, commodities trading, hotel & hospitality, or sports-related commercial disputes, to name just a few.

We offer our clients a unique combination of skills and resources:

> Our team includes very high-profile practitioners who have long-standing and extensive experience in international arbitration. Our expertise enables us to achieve our clients' objectives effectively and efficiently in a broad spectrum of cases, from straightforward matters to complex, large-scale disputes.

> Our team is multi-cultural and multi-lingual, with lawyers having very diverse legal backgrounds. This enables us to understand our clients' perspective, and to handle matters governed by a wide range of laws and in several languages.

> Our team focuses on our clients' needs not only in terms of legal advice and litigation strategy, but also in terms of business and industry focus, and of alternative dispute resolution opportunities that each case may present.

> Our team includes several practitioners who also act as arbitrators. This gives us valuable insight on what arbitrators recognize to be effective advocacy and on the decision-making process of arbitral tribunals.

> For Asia-related work we can draw on the infrastructure of our Singapore affiliate Schellenberg Wittmer Pte Ltd.

We look forward to working with you.

Unlock unlimited access to all Global Arbitration Review content