GAR 100 - 15th Edition

Schellenberg Wittmer

Schellenberg Wittmer

Professional notice

The Swiss firm was defending Russia in a US$10 billion claim by a Ukrainian state entity as war broke out

People in Who’s Who Legal7
People in Future Leaders8
Pending cases as counsel50
Value of pending counsel workUS$25.7 billion
Treaty cases as counsel6
Third-party funded cases0
Current arbitrator appointments24 (10 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator9

Created in 2000 through the merger of Schellenberg & Haissly in Zurich and Brunschwig Wittmer in Geneva, Schellenberg Wittmer married two firms already in sync when it came to thinking about international arbitration.

In Geneva, Laurent Lévy and Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler built a team with sufficient horsepower to compete for non-Swiss work. Meanwhile, in Zurich, Georg von Segesser and colleagues thought that diversity and more international work was the way to go.

Although those partners have since left for their own boutiques, they and their successors have built a team with unusual equipoise between Zurich and Geneva, a mixture of foreign-trained and Swiss lawyers and an emphasis on oral advocacy.

Since 2015, the practice has been chaired by Geneva-based partner Elliott Geisinger, an honorary president of the Swiss Arbitration Association (ASA). The vice chairs of the practice are Philippe Bärtsch in Geneva, another active ASA member, and Christopher Boog, who is a vice president of the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution and divides his time between Zurich and Singapore. Both have been at the firm since 2003.  

A new generation of partners was promoted in 2019, including Julie Raneda in Singapore and Anya George and Anna Kozmenko in Zurich. Katherine Bell was also promoted to partner and made head of the construction practice in Zurich in 2022.

Schellenberg Wittmer reckons to be one of the few firms in Switzerland to field common law-trained advocates who do nothing but arbitration. In fact, the firm believes that among its competitors only Lalive matches it in terms of size, diversity and expertise of the arbitration team.

The team has taken part in cases governed by English, Polish, Czech, UAE, Thai, Senegalese, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Philippine and Cameroonian law, none of which was heard in Switzerland.

Network

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. In 2014, it made its first expansion into Asia, opening an office in Singapore.

Who uses it?

Clients from the pharmaceuticals, construction, and oil and gas sectors are common, the firm says. Alpiq, Bayer Pharma, Ceylan, GE, Gucci, Ingersoll Rand, Johnson & Johnson, Hungary’s MOL, France’s Medex Petroleum, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Siemens, SGS, Watson Pharmaceuticals, Merck and Orange/France Télécom are recent examples.

Geisinger has co-counselled a construction consortium including Sacyr and Webuild in ICC cases relating to the expansion of the Panama Canal.

The firm has also acted for states such as Russia and Libya and state-owned entities including Algeria’s national oil and gas company Sonatrach.

Track record

In 2016, the firm helped Hungarian oil and gas producer MOL to defeat a billion-dollar claim brought by Croatia. As part of a co-counsel team, it persuaded a tribunal to reject allegations that the client paid bribes to a former prime minister. The same team also defended the award in the Swiss courts.

Schellenberg Wittmer acted for a major pharmaceutical in a US$210 million ICC dispute over non-conforming drug products. The client won on the merits and was awarded a significant part of the damages claimed, plus costs.

The team has had a string of successes defending awards in set-aside proceedings before the Swiss Supreme Court. For example, it preserved a €220 million award in favour of Orange and a €91 million Energy Charter Treaty award in favour of a group of solar power investors against Spain.

The firm says a significant number of its cases end in settlement before arbitration or early in the proceedings. One such settlement was in 2013 for Merck in a US$2 billion dispute with a major US drug maker.

Some of the firm’s most eye-catching work has come in cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), particularly for Russian athletes challenging their lifetime bans from Olympic competition for alleged participation in state-sponsored doping.

It also overturned a Chinese swimmer’s eight-year doping ban after showing that the tribunal chair, a former Italian foreign minister, had shown bias in tweets criticising Chinese dog meat eating practices and referencing skin colour.

Recent events

Schellenberg had been advising Russia in the quantum phase of a US$10 billion treaty claim brought by Ukraine’s national oil and gas company Naftogaz (Russia having refused to appear during the liability phase). The dispute saw a hearing in the Peace Palace in The Hague in February 2022 that was overshadowed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In the following month, Schellenberg confirmed to GAR that it has “decided to terminate its mandates for the Russian Federation and state entities” and that it was “taking steps to exit these relationships in accordance with applicable rules of professional conduct”.

Schellenberg’s work for Russia had included acting in a Swiss court challenge to a US$5 billion Energy Charter Treaty award in favour of Yukos Capital.

It has also been acting for the International Boxing Federation in a series of arbitrations over its annual congress and elections and for a Qatari sports official.

It helped Madrid-based pharmaceutical broker Nutra Essential defeat an €18 million Swiss Rules arbitration brought by Polish pharmaceuticals wholesaler Sequoia. The dispute over a licensing agreement for over-the-counter products was dismissed for procedural reasons.

Other work includes representing a German client in a US$770 million ICC construction dispute with a Kazakh counterparty in relation to a ferroalloy processing plant. The firm is acting for another German client in an ICC case over the construction of a metal processing plant in Russia.

Client comment

One client used the firm to enforce a Netherlands Arbitration Institute award before the Swiss Supreme Court and praises its ability to provide “brief, accurate, targeted explanations”. The client says that the ratio of results to fees is the best his company has found in Switzerland and singles out partner George and counsel Benno Strub in Zurich for praise.

Michael Barry of IMAR Trading & Contracting in Qatar used the firm for a multimillion-dollar arbitration over a large construction project in Abu Dhabi. He praises Bärtsch for providing “great leadership” and Anne-Carole Cremades for ensuring the accuracy and relevancy of the final arguments.

We are a leading Swiss business law firm with offices in Zurich, Geneva and Singapore. We take care of all our clients' needs – transactions, advisory, disputes around the world. We are proud to celebrate 20 years of excellent practice with our highly valued talented team members, as well as top Swiss and worldwide corporations and law firms that rely on our services.

Schellenberg Wittmer is recognized as a top-tier Swiss law firm by leading directories such as Chambers, Legal 500, and Who's Who Legal. Most recently, Schellenberg Wittmer has been awarded the title of best Swiss law firm in 2020 and 2021 by The Lawyer, Swiss Law Firm of the Year 2021 by Who's Who Legal and winner of the Chambers Europe 2021 law firm ranking for Switzerland.

Our International Arbitration Group, which is one of the largest in Switzerland, comprises leading arbitration practitioners with extensive experience in a wide range of industries and complex arbitration matters not only in Switzerland and under Swiss law, but globally and under different laws. Our team is multicultural and multilingual, with diverse legal backgrounds. This enables us to understand our clients’ diverse perspectives and needs, and to handle matters governed by a wide array of laws, in various languages. We meet our clients’ expectations in terms of legal advice and strategy, and business and industry focus.

We act as lead counsel in disputes of all types and magnitude, including large, complex, multi-jurisdictional commercial, investment and sports disputes, seated in common law and civil law jurisdictions around the world. We act for states, state entities, multinational corporations, small and medium-size businesses and individual commercial players. Our team also has unrivalled experience in setting-aside proceedings before the Swiss Supreme Court.

Our representations range from pre-litigious advice over negotiation strategies to mediation, conciliation, adjudication, dispute boards, arbitration, arbitration-related litigation and (pre-trial) discovery to enforcement proceedings and strategies in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Although we focus on counsel work, we also sit as arbitrator, which allows us to offer our clients insight into how an arbitral tribunal ‘works’.

We remain at the forefront of trends and developments in international arbitration through involvement in international organisations and associations, academia and arbitral institutions.

Our team specialises in the construction, energy, life sciences, mining, shipping, trade, transportation, commodities, sport and entertainment sectors.  

We have acted in cases under all leading arbitration rules and ad hoc with seats of arbitration around the globe, including:

  • Representation of a consortium of contractors in a billion-dollar dispute concerning one of the world's largest infrastructure projects
  • Representation of states in investment treaty arbitrations and Supreme Court proceedings related to investment treaty arbitrations
  • Representation of many leading engineering and construction companies in a wide variety of fields, including infrastructure projects, industrial facilities, oil refining and gas terminals, mining and major hotel projects, under different applicable law (Swiss, French, German, Emirati, Polish, Filipino, Saudi, etc.)
  • Representation of a leading European pharmaceutical group against a major US pharmaceutical company in a multibillion-dollar WIPO arbitration arising from a patent license agreement covering one of the world’s best-selling pharmaceutical products  
  • Representation of a leading European energy company in a number of commercial disputes, including price review disputes and disputes over the construction and/or operation of power plants
  • Representation of several athletes (before the IOC, CAS and their sports federations) investigated for allegations of doping
  • Representation of a developer and producer of complex automotive parts in a number of high-value arbitrations concerning research and development joint ventures and claims deriving from recalls due to defective parts
  • Representation of MOL Hungarian Oil and Gas Company Plc. in setting-aside proceedings before the Swiss Supreme Court concerning a multibillion-dollar dispute with the Republic of Croatia

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